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Durham University

Department of Mathematical Sciences

The 2011/12 Collingwood Lecture

Professor A. O'Hagan (University of Sheffield)

"Masters of Uncertainty"

13 March 2012, 2.00pm, CLC203, The Calman Learning Centre

Abstract: "If we didn't have uncertainty, wouldn't everything be so much simpler?  We could make decisions and never regret the consequences.  The word 'risk' would disappear from our language.  But life is not like that.

Uncertainty is everywhere.

Do not despair, though.  Help is at hand.  This talk will introduce you to the masters of uncertainty, the people whose whole professional life is spent dealing with, managing and minimising uncertainty.  The statisticians.

The popular image of a statistician is of course completely different from the exotic and romantic picture I have just painted.  According to that popular view, when a statistician is not busy concocting "lies, damned lies", he or she has one of the most boring of all jobs.  Not so!

The job of the statistician is challenging, important and not at all like that stereotype.  The statistician's raw material is not numbers but uncertainty.

And the statistician's skill with uncertainty is appreciated in all walks of life.  This talk will have examples ranging over deciding whether the NHS should pay for an expensive new treatment, predicting major hurricanes (like Katrina), privatisation of the water industry and calculating the risk of dangerous global warming.

Nobody likes uncertainty.  Except ... perhaps ... a statistician."