A Certain Uncertainty Nature's Random Ways

Cambridge University Press, 2014

ISBN-13: 978-1107032811

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Cambridge University Press

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About the Book

I have written a technical narrative about probability, statistics, and statistical physics. It is not a textbook, monograph, or popularisation. Rather, these narratives are accounts of scientific investigations I have undertaken—the reasons, the experiments, the analyses, the conclusions, the interpretations—through which run common themes of randomness, chance, uncertainty, and often enough serendipity.

A narrative—a story—humanises the starkness and abstraction of physical principles. Here are some reasons why my book may interest you:

  • If you travel by air, you may want to read my analysis of the survival of a man who fell 5 miles without a parachute—and how, from that, I developed a protocol for bringing down safely a jumbo jet whose engines fail.
  • If you invest in the stock market to save for retirement, you may want to read my analysis of how common stocks behave and what you can expect the market to do for you.
  • If you take medications or have an annual physical exam with a blood test, you may want to know what my analysis reveals about the reliability of the clinical laboratory reports.
  • If you have ever served on a jury or some group required to reach a collective judgment, you may be interested in my investigation of the so-called “wisdom-of-crowds” phenomenon.
  • If you use electricity in your home, you should read what the analysis of my own electric energy consumption reveals of the accuracy with which this energy is measured.
  • If you enjoy ball games, you may be intrigued by my study of the ways in which a baseball can move if struck appropriately—and how statistics can reveal the use of performance-enhancing drugs by players.
  • If you are concerned about climate change, then my investigation of underground temperature variations will give you a perspective on what is likely to be the most serious effect on urban residents.
  • And if you are interested in fundamental physics—then you may be astounded, as I was initially, to learn of persistent claims in the peer-reviewed physics literature of processes that would turn the laws of physics upside down if they actually were to occur. You will want to read the chapter that describes my experiments and analyses that lay these extraordinary claims to rest.
  • This is a book written from the perspective of a “practical physicist”, not a mathematician or statistician, with a goal of helping you understand and appreciate the interwoven tapestry of probability, statistics, and physics.

    Publisher's Commentary

    Based around a series of real-life scenarios, this engaging introduction to statistical reasoning will teach you how to apply powerful statistical, qualitative and probabilistic tools in a technical context. From analysis of electricity bills, baseball statistics, and stock market fluctuations, through to profound questions about physics of fermions and bosons, decaying nuclei, and climate change, each chapter introduces relevant physical, statistical and mathematical principles step-by-step in an engaging narrative style, helping to develop practical proficiency in the use of probability and statistical reasoning. With numerous illustrations making it easy to focus on the most important information, this insightful book is perfect for students and researchers of any discipline interested in the interwoven tapestry of probability, statistics, and physics.


    In summary, this is a great book. … I particularly like the way statistics and physics are interwoven. The notation is clean and comprehensible…and not obfuscated by a lot of the pretentious notation that has contaminated many more recent books. Although it is not designed as a text, it is definitely going on my recommended reading list. —American Journal of Physics 83 (2015) 901

    I really believe that this book would be of interest to a broad public, including students, professors and researchers with a clear interest in randomness, chance, and uncertainty. Furthermore, it provides a very different perspective to statistical physics beyond the standard one…—Contemporary Physics 56 (2015) 510