Worshipful Company of Actuaries Livery Lecture and Supper

Wednesday 22nd November 2017

Staple Inn Hall

The fourth engagement of the day ... one may be forgiven for thinking that a lecture at the Actuaries may be a dry affair. Wrong on two accounts. The wine flowed and the lecture was very entertaining.

The lecture was given by Sir David Spiegelhalter, Winton Professor at Churchill College Cambridge and it was entitled: "Dodgy data in the news how to spot it and how to stop it." Professor Spiegelhalter went to great lengths to avoid the term "fake news". He covered Bullsh*t v Lies; apparently bullsh*tters don’t care about truth.

We heard about the power of the press release and it seems that communications folk and press officers are the baddies. Having spent 20 years writing press releases and talking to the press, I felt slightly uncomfortable. We saw slides of headlines and news graphics that indicated journalists (or their sub-editors) do not have a clue.

We had the back stories behind several headlines involving Professor Spiegelhalter:

  • Light drinking “does no harm in pregnancy” which resulted in a small apology on page 34 of The Times a week later;
  • "Bacon has the same cancer risk as cigarettes". There may be the same certainty about risk but that does not equate to the the same risk,
  • Finally, the Daily Telegraph story, "Britons are having less sex, and Game of Thrones could be to blame". I am glad I have stopped reading the Telegraph. Embarrassing.

After the lecture, we enjoyed a delicious supper of braised shin of beef in the good company of fellow masters and actuaries. A perfect end to a very busy day.