Online course in Science, Engineering & Maths

Survival Statistics: Secrets for Demystifying Numbers

Learn to evaluate risk, make useful approximations and more rational decisions with this online course on statistics.

Survival Statistics: Secrets for Demystifying Numbers

  • Duration 3 weeks
  • Weekly study 3 hours
  • Learn Free
  • Extra benefits From $54 Find out more

Explain statistical myths and uncover the world of statistics around you

Is it safe to eat red meat? How seriously should you take the latest opinion poll on an upcoming election? We are constantly bombarded with information on what we can and can’t do based on statistics. Your ability to answer and respond to statistical questions can affect your health, happiness, job, and understanding of the world around you.

On this course, you will learn to understand statistical claims so you can make more rational decisions. You will also learn how to answer hard numerical questions and use approximations to calculate the risk of chance.

Download video: standard

Skip to 0 minutes and 5 secondsWay back in a previous century, I moved out of my university dormitory and into a flat, where, horror of horrors, I was expected to cook. My mother-- bless her soul-- supported this new adventure by getting me something called the Campus Survival Cookbook. This little masterpiece introduced me to advanced culinary techniques such as washing hands before cooking. Closing the oven door during cooking. And cleaning up after cooking. As you can see, I survived the ordeal. Although, only until now, when the question shifts to how many of us can survive the bewildering barrage of numerical claims and counterclaims that assault us on a daily basis in the modern world? In fact, some of these numbers are worse than just confusing.

Skip to 0 minutes and 51 secondsOften, they're willfully diabolical, specifically created to lead us astray. This course will make you savvy and smart about numbers. But it's not about statistical techniques. There are many good courses out there for that. This course is about not getting fooled by numbers. We look at common tricks for either exaggerating or downplaying the sizes of numbers. We'll cover the perils and pitfalls, as well as the positive potential for public opinion surveys and election prediction. And we'll examine the special issues that arise when we confront rare events-- for example, when we try to predict terrorist attacks. Or to react to a positive HIV test. Together, we'll unleash your common sense. And we'll have a whale of a time along the way.

Skip to 1 minute and 43 secondsJoin me for survival statistics-- secrets for demystifying numbers.

What topics will you cover?

  1. Absolute and relative risks: Health scares and other confusion over percentages
  2. Surveys: What they are good for and when they go wrong
  3. Rare events and false positives with applications to HIV testing and the detection of terrorists

When would you like to start?

Most FutureLearn courses run multiple times. Every run of a course has a set start date but you can join it and work through it after it starts. Find out more

  • Available now
    This course started 16 Sep 2019

What will you achieve?

By the end of the course, you'll be able to...

  • Evaluate risk statements, always maintaining sharp distinctions between absolute and relative risk
  • Calculate and interpret the chances of rare events and modify these calculations in response to new information.
  • Critically evaluate survey results and engage in fruitful debate about survey findings.
  • Identify and inoculate yourself against common data manipulation tricks

Who is the course for?

This course is for anyone who is curious about the world and has an interest in statistics.

This online course has been developed thanks to the support of the Bedford Society, the society for alumni and former staff of Bedford College, one of the founding colleges of Royal Holloway and Bedford New College.

Who will you learn with?

Michael Spagat

Michael Spagat

Royal Holloway University of London economics professor mainly studying war - including measurement and memory of war deaths, (possible) decline of war and fabrication in survey data from war zones

Who developed the course?

Queen Victoria presided over the grand opening of Royal Holloway in 1886. Since then the College has continued to grow in size and status to become one of the top research-led institutions in the UK.


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  • Access to this course for 5 weeks


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Available until 31 October 2019. T&Cs apply.