CamFest Speaker Spotlight

Professor Sir David Spiegelhalter

Professor Sir David Spiegelhalter, Emeritus Professor of Statistics in the Centre for Mathematical Sciences at the University of Cambridge, is in conversation with Kamel Ahmed, former BBC economics editor and editor-in-chief of the News Movement, in Misinformation, statistics and lies about the manipulation of statistics in an era of misinformation and how we can all be better at spotting false narratives. Dorothy Byrne, President of Murray Edwards College, will chair. 8-9pm, 26th March. 

Credit: SolStock via Getty Images

Credit: SolStock via Getty Images

Do you think statistical literacy in the UK is improving? 
I don’t know, but I hope it is. Data journalism shone during Covid, but there are still not enough specialist journalists.  

There are more and more ways to manipulate statistics and information generally - for instance, deep fakes and so on. Are we at least more aware of the ways in which we can be manipulated? 
There is more awareness, but I am not sure this will help prevent doctored images and so on being circulated. I regard this as the greatest current threat of Artificial Intelligence, and think there is too much attention paid to existential risks and not enough to the here and now, with accompanying threats to democracy and trust. 

The News Movement is trying to counter misinformation on TikTok through its news reports.  How can academics best address misinformation? 
First, by not contributing to it. Academics should constantly reflect on whether they are being trustworthy, and not selecting evidence that supports their view on how the world should work.  Second, they can call out misinformation, wherever it comes from, and even if they agree with the views behind it. Finally, by researching the importance of recommendation algorithms. I don’t usually support academics being involved in policy advocacy, but in this instance I believe that countering misinformation is a professional obligation for academics - since their job is (supposedly) to improve understanding. 

How can we best teach young people to interrogate statistics better? 
By making data literacy an integral part of education. A positive development is the recommendation of the Royal Society’s Mathematical Futures Programme that maths education evolves into ‘MDE’ – Mathematics and Data Education. (Conflict of interest, I am part of this group). 

What is the most important thing people should understand about statistics? 
Oh dear, that’s a difficult question. Perhaps that statistics are always ‘constructed’ - someone has chosen to measure those things and tell you about it. So we should always look behind the numbers - they do not speak for themselves.