What are the Chances of That?: How to Think About Uncertainty

ISBN : 9780198869023

Andrew Elliott
336 ページ
156 x 234 mm

Chance fills every day of our lives and affects every decision we make. Yet, for something woven so closely into the fabric of our being, we are not very good at thinking about uncertainty and risk. In this lively and engaging book, Andrew C. A. Elliott asks why this is so. He picks at the threads and, in showing how our world is built on probability rather than certainty, he identifies five obstacles to thinking about uncertainty that confuse us time after time. Elliott takes us into the casino, but this is not an invitation to gamble. He looks at financial markets, but this is not a guide to investment. There's discussion of health, but this is not a medical book. He touches on genetics and evolution, and music-making, and writing, because chance is at work there too. Entering many different fields, What are the Chances of That? is always following the trail of chance and randomness. One purpose of the book is to go cross-country, to show that there are connected ways of thinking that disrespect boundaries and cut across the domains of finance, and gambling, and genetics, and public health, and creativity. Through it, one visits the vantage points that give a broad view of the landscape and sees how these different areas of life and knowledge are connected - through chance. What are the Chances of That? discusses chance and the importance of understanding how it affects our lives. It goes beyond a mathematical approach to the subject, showing how our thinking about chance and uncertainty has been shaped by history and culture, and only relatively recently by the mathematical theory of probability. In considering how we think about uncertainty, Elliott proposes five "dualities" that encapsulate many of the ambiguities that arise.


Pure Chance
1 The Roll of the Dice
2 Reckoning the Chances
3 Random Thoughts
4 Patterns of Probability
Life Chances
5 Isn't that a coincidence?
6 What Luck!
7 Taking a Gamble
8 Danger of Death
9 What's There to Worry About?
Happy Accidents
10 Chance Discoveries
11 Mixing it Up
12 A Chance to Live
13 Random Technology
Taking Charge of Chance
14 The Weight of Evidence
15 Clarity from Chaos
16 Sharing the Risk
17 Shaping the Risk
18 What's Coming Next
19 Last Chance
See Also


Andrew Elliott cares about numbers and how people think about them. Coming from a career in financial systems, he understands the importance of fluent thinking about the impact of numbers in our lives. In 2016, unsettled by the lack of practical numeracy in public debate and in the media, he created a website and wrote the book Is That a Big Number? to help readers answer that question. His next book What are the Chances of That? continues that project by looking at some typically small numbers and probabilities.