Do you remember Professor Hans Rosling’s ‘The Joy of Stats’, the award-winning programme that introduced statistics to a whole new TV audience last year? Now the same team has produced a follow-up. ‘Tails You Win – The Science of Chance’ is being broadcast next Thursday, 18th October, on BBC Four. In place of Swedish statistician and sword-swallower Professor Rosling it has the British-grown Professor David Spiegelhalter, who is not only Winton Professor for the Public Understanding of Risk at Cambridge University but is also the wittiest statistician I know, and is a frequent writer for Significance magazine AND was a recent contestant in the TV endurance ‘game’ (ie torture) show Winter Wipeout. (He came 7th.) In ‘Tails You Win’ he tries to pin down how chance really works in the real world. Here is a taster trailer clip.
Moving between Cambridge, Las Vegas, San Francisco and slightly-less-glamorous Reading he tells us how to maximise your chances of living till you’re 100 – and whether you should take an umbrella to work. More fundamental questions come into it as well. Is chance fundamental to the fabric of the universe? Or is it, as the French 18th century scientist Pierre Laplace put it, ‘merely a measure of our ignorance’?
Trying to answer such questions, David Spiegelhalter shows us ‘One Million Random Digits’ probably the most boring book in the world but one full of hidden patterns and shapes. He introduces us to the cheery little unit the micromort (a one in a million chance of dying), takes the rational decision to go sky-diving because doing so only increases his risk of dying this year from 7000 to 7007 micromorts. And he uses the latest infographic techniques, a la Rosling, to demonstrate how life expectancy is influenced by our lifestyle choices. Did you know that by running regularly for half an hour a day you can expect to extend your life – by half an hour a day…? Lifestyle choices can be tricky for couch potatoes like me.
If you want to learn to love chance – or at least want to learn how to live with it, since we may have no other option – UK viewers can see the programme on Thursday 18th October at 9.00 pm. A US broadcast has yet to be arranged, but American-based viewers can buy the DVD of the programme from http://www.wingspanproductions.com/shop.htm – for US viewers, order the NTSC version, not the PAL.
We will have a full review of the programme on this site on Monday. Log on to read it – then on Thursday tune in and enjoy it.