This video shows a few clips from a presentation that I gave almost two years ago now for Leeds Skeptics (thank you to Chris Worfolk for inviting me to give the presentation and to follow in the footsteps of some fantastic speakers that the club has had over the years). The room was quite dark and so the video may not be very clear at times but hey, you get to watch it for free anyway!

The presentation came about through my annoyance with the huge amount of crappy statistics that float around everywhere (and I mean everywhere!) we go; in newspapers, on television, on the internet, advertisements, in our mail, on food packaging and of course the inevitable stream of carefully chosen (but often misleading and in many cases very suspect) statistics that flows out of any mealy-mouthed politician or pressure-group leader that gets a few minutes of airtime on the telly.

Although statistics and probability has good intentions and is a tremendously fascinating area of study (according to recent polls at least) it is wide open to abuses of all kinds. What a surprise! I’m sure most people have come to realise this over the years and may even have become quite passive about it and just accept it. Most of the time I do in all honesty! At the risk of sounding a bit negative, there is very little that can be done to stop statistical misuse; the only way that it can really change is if people choose (all by themselves) to be clear and transparent with the basis of the statistics that they produce. However, it does pay to be more familiar with the sorts of things that go on so that you can make a more informed decision as to whether the statistic that you are given is reasonable or is a big steaming pile of … (hold it right there!!) So I decided to familiarise myself with what goes on a bit more behind the scenes. Although I am quite well acquainted with various statistical methods learned in the academic bubble of university I was really quite surprised at how statistics can be manipulated so easily and so irresponsibly.

Here’s a few ways that everyday statistics might be fudged;

  • Choosing a biased sample – this may be deliberate or not in some cases.
  • Omitting certain undesirable outcomes – almost as if they never happened.
  • Moving the goalposts – changing the significance level of a statistical test after an experiment has been carried out to give the desired result.
  • Using a sample size that is too small which increases the chances of skewed reults.
  • Incompetence – You might think that it’s obvious that someone who doesn’t know how to deal with statistics isn’t going to be very good at producing reliable statistics.

The list goes on. If you are interested in reading more about uses and abuses of statistics here is a list of some good books that I read on the subject – they are aimed at the general reader and so they are not highly technical with pages crammed with jargon and the like. They’re definitely worth a read.

  • How to Lie with Statistics – Darrell Huff
  • A Mathematician Reads the Newspaper – John Allen Paulos
  • Damned Lies and Statistics – Joel Best

After the presentation I got talking to some of the audience members (I know; who would have thought that people would come to see a presentation on statistics!) and the following website was recommended to me for a voluntary organisation called Radical Statistics that analyse and put statistics through their paces to check their credibility. I’m not currently a member of the organisation but I have been on the website regularly and there is some really good information there.

By the way – my whole presentation can be seen on the Worfolk Lectures website in much better video quality than my own recording I hasten to add.

The evening of Thursday 1st August 2013 saw a brilliant meeting at Leeds City Toastmasters – and I was presenting! I was doing a project from one of the Toastmasters manuals – Speech #4 from the Speaking to Inform advanced manual; my speech was titled “A Beautiful Equation”.

The meeting was full of energy and I have to say was one of the best meetings that I have ever attended at Toastmasters during my more than two year membership to date. I took the opportunity to record my speech and here are a few of the highlights from the speech. To say the speech was less than 10 minutes long didn’t make things any easier – with such a tight time-limit it is crucial to only say what you need to say to keep things flowing and to cut out any superfluous material.

I loved giving the speech, though I was a bit worried when I turned up and couldn’t find a lead to connect me up to the projector until about a minute before the meeting was due to start and then about 10 seconds into my speech I realised I hadn’t connected my slide-clicker up properly! But no speech is perfect and it’s all part of the fun. I’m looking forward to the next meeting and of course, my next speech!

Here is a video that I have made with a few clips from a presentation that I made recently at the West Yorkshire Astronomical Society in Pontefract, Wakefield.

The presentation titled “From Euclid to Einstein – Generalising Geometry” lasted for about an hour and walked the audience through some of the major developments in geometry over the centuries from the Ancient Greek times up to the 21st Century – from Euclid’s Postulates right up to Einstein’s Theory of Relativity and then String Theory.

Despite being based around geometry and mathematics, I made the presentation as accessible to everyone as possible – I tried to make the presentation as visual as possible and avoid getting bogged down in technicalities.

This was a fantastic opportunity for me and I am extremely grateful to all members of the West Yorkshire Astronomical Society for the chance to present to them. I hope that everyone enjoyed listening to the presentation as much as I enjoyed delivering it!!