Science Book a Day Interviews David Spiegelhalter


Special thanks to David Spiegelhalter for answering 5 questions about his recently featured book – Sex by Numbers: What Statistics Can Tell Us About Sexual Behaviour

David Spiegelhalter is the Winton Professor for the Public Understanding of Risk, and Professor of Biostatistics, at the University of Cambridge. His background is in medical statistics, particularly the use of Bayesian methods in clinical trials, health technology assessment and drug safety. In 2014 he was awarded a Knighthood for services to statistics. – From Churchill College Cambridge

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#1 – What was the impetus for Sex by Numbers?

To be honest, the topic was initially a hook to encourage readership of a book about stats. But then I became fascinated by the subject!

#2 – You talk about many of the previous studies done into ‘sex’ stats and how they have been influenced. How have things like ideology and methodology influenced our current ideas about sex? Is your book trying to rectify these ideas?

Researchers attitudes and beliefs inevitably influence their work, and I am no exception. But I point out, and even get laughs from, some of the more obvious historical examples, such as the great masturbation panic, which has lasted nearly 300 years.

#3 – Of the studies you researched for this book, which was the most interesting to you? And why?

Why are more boys born at the end of wars? A simple, true, fact, that always interests people, but very difficult to explain.

#4 – Sex statistics are often used in popular media to titillate rather than inform. Do you think our attitudes to sex statistics might change into the future? How does their use this way hurt us?

Attitudes to sex can change very rapidly – for example dramatic changes over the last 20 years or so concerning same-sex relationships. So things will continue to change, although it’s impossible to predict how. it is extraordinary how sex statistics tend to be treated in the popular media, almost inevitably in a rather giggly style -what I call ‘saucy romp’ journalism. I hoped to steer a middle course between this and an over-scientific approach.

#5 – Are you working on any new books/projects you can tell us about?

Ah, that would be telling.

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