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Can chocolate save your life? Speaker debunks the statistics behind the headlines

2009-2010 IMA Public Lectures

For immediate release, April 1, 2010

For information: Alice Tibbetts, 612-625-3889

The chocolate headline appeared in a newspaper in 2005 and was based on a study involving only 14 people. Results from more current studies are in the news again, just in time for the Easter candy season. How do we determine if such health claims are credible? How do we interpret the statistics behind headlines? When are statistics manipulated to further an agenda?

Nancy Reid, a professor of statistics at the University of Toronto, will speak to these questions at a public lecture, Thursday, April 22, 2010 in 175 Willey Hall, 225 19th Avenue South at the University of Minnesota. She is the final speaker in this season's free lecture series sponsored by the Institute for Mathematics and its Applications (IMA).

When the media presents findings as definitive, the public is misinformed, she said. "Statistics are not black and white. In reality, there is a lot of nuance, and in the most complex problems, there is ambiguity. One number won't tell you anything important about climate change or cancer. Instead, we have to ask: Where did the number come from? How can we find more data to better inform us? What could have gone wrong? Data is just the beginning of the conversation."

Reid will discuss the statistics behind current news stories, including: chocolate's impact on health, whether girls are really less capable in math than boys, the Netflix Grand Prize for movie recommendations, and the use of new on-line visuals to explain large data sets, such as how stimulus money is being spent.

For updates on future public lectures: http://www.ima.umn.edu/public-lecture.

The IMA brings together the best minds in math and the sciences to solve pressing problems facing our society, our industries, and our planet. It receives major funding from the National Science Foundation and the University of Minnesota.

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