Norman Fenton

Wednesday, June 13 2018 at 7:30PM

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Norman Fenton

What's the talk about?

Every day in the news we are bombarded with statistics about risk: whether it is the health risks or benefits of consuming certain types of food and drink, the risk of climate ‘events’ from different types of human activity or the risks associated with different modes of transport, the narratives are often contradictory and difficult to understand.

In fact, Norman would argue that most of the statistics about risk that you read about are either misleading or completely flawed. This is due to basic misunderstandings of probability.

This talk will highlight how such misunderstandings often lead to flawed decision-making in many critical areas such as medicine, the law and transport safety planning. He will highlight how a simple mathematical formula (Bayes’ Theorem) can help avoid most of these errors when coupled with causal models of risk.

Bayesian reasoning and analysis offers us a remarkable insight into why the world behaves the way it does and how we can prepare ourselves for future events. This presentation is informed by many years of work in risk assessment which ranges from helping the aviation authorities to avoid mid-air collisions through to interpreting forensic evidence in murder trials, and even beating the bookies at football betting.


Norman Fenton is Professor of Risk Information Management at Queen Mary London University and is also a Director of Agena, a company that specialises in risk management for critical systems. Norman, who is a mathematician by training, works on quantitative risk assessment. This typically involves analysing and predicting the probabilities of unknown events using Bayesian statistical methods including especially causal, probabilistic models (Bayesian networks). This type of reasoning enables improved assessment by taking account of both statistical data and also expert judgment.

In April 2014 Norman was awarded one of the prestigious European Research Council Advanced Grants (BAYES-KNOWLEDGE) to focus on these issues. Norman's experience in risk assessment covers a wide range of application domains such as legal reasoning (he has been an expert witness in major criminal and civil cases), medical analytics, vehicle reliability, embedded software, transport systems, financial services, and football prediction.

Norman has a special interest in raising public awareness of the importance of probability theory and Bayesian reasoning in everyday life (including how to present such reasoning in simple lay terms) and he maintains a website dedicated to this and also a blog focusing on probability and the law. In March 2015 Norman presented the award-winning BBC documentary Climate Change by Numbers.