Support us | Visit us | Contact us
Organised by: Professor Tim Palmer FRS (University of Oxford and European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts) and Professor Paul Hardaker (Royal Meteorological Society)
A highly multi-disciplinary meeting discussing how scientists from a range of disciplines handle the issue of uncertainty in their area of specialisation: i.e. how uncertainty can be characterised, estimated, predicted and communicated. The meeting will also address the question of how decisions are made, and should be made, in the light of scientific uncertainty. An exceptionally eminent set of speakers have agreed to participate.
Audio recordings of the meeting are now available below.
The proceedings of this meeting have been published in Philosophical Transactions A.
Tim Palmer FRS, University of Oxford and European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts, UKIntroduction by Professor Tim Palmer, University of Oxford and European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts
Professor Tim Palmer is a Royal Society 2010 Anniversary Research Professor at Oxford University, and Head of the Probability Forecast Division at the European Centre for Medium Range Weather Forecasts, based in Reading. Tim's research is focussed on the dynamics and predictability of weather and climate, and he has pioneered the development of techniques to quantify flow-dependent uncertainty in weather and climate forecasts.
Professor Paul Hardaker, Royal Meteorological Society, UKOrganiser
After his early work in radio propagation, Paul moved to the Met Office where he spent 14 years in a variety of roles including heading up the International Consultancy team, the Remote Sensing and Observations Branches, as Programme Director for the Development Programmes and latterly as the Met Office’s Chief Advisor to Government. Paul has led the UK delegation to several UN and EU technical committees on meteorology, was Chairman of one of the national e-Science projects, and the founding editor of the international journal Atmospheric Science Letters (ASL). Paul has also worked in the private sector as the General Manager for EcoConnect Ltd, an international joint-venture providing environmental services, and as a Non-Executive Director and Chief Scientist of a City company working in risk management.
Paul is currently Chief Executive of the Royal Meteorological Society (the Learned and Professional Society for weather and climate). He is also Chairman of the Research Council’s programme on the Flood Risk from Extreme Events (FREE) and holds visiting professorships at both the University of Salford and the University of Reading. Amongst other representative roles, Paul is a member of the Science Advisory Group of the UK’s Joint Climate Research Programme and e-Research South, and is on the Board of the Science Council and the Society for the Environment, a Trustee of Sense about Science, and a member of the Standards Quality Council for the qualifications awarding body PAA\VQSET.
Outside of his work in meteorology, Paul is the Deputy Chair of NHS Berkshire West, where he is actively involved with local and regional healthcare initiatives.
Lord May of Oxford OM AC FRS, Zoology Department, Oxford University, UKScience as organised scepticism
Robert McCredie May, Lord May of Oxford, OM AC Kt FRS, holds a Professorship jointly at Oxford University and Imperial College, London and is a Fellow of Merton College, Oxford. He was until recently President of The Royal Society (2000-2005), and before that Chief Scientific Adviser to the UK Government and Head of the UK Office of Science and Technology (1995-2000). His career includes a Personal Chair in Physics at Sydney University aged 33, Class of 1877 Professor of Zoology and Chairman of the Research Board at Princeton, and in 1988 a move to Britain as Royal Society Research Professor. Particular interests include how populations are structured and respond to change, particularly with respect to infectious diseases and biodiversity. He was awarded a Knighthood in 1996, and appointed a Companion of the Order of Australia in 1998, both for “Services to Science”. In 2001 he was one of the first 15 Life Peers created by the “House of Lords Appointments Commission”. In 2002, The Queen appointed him to the Order of Merit (the fifth Australian in its 100-year history). Honours include: the Royal Swedish Academy’s Crafoord Prize (bioscience and ecology’s equivalent of a Nobel Prize); the Swiss-Italian Balzan Prize (for “seminal contributions to [understanding] biodiversity”); and the Japanese Blue Planet Prize (“for developing fundamental tools for ecological conservation planning”). He is a Foreign Member of the US National Academy of Sciences, an Overseas Fellow of the Australian Academy of Sciences, and an Honorary Fellow of various other Academies and Learned Societies. In 2007 he received the Royal Society’s Copley Medal, its oldest (1731) and most prestigious award, given annually for “outstanding achievements in research in any branch of science”.
Professor Harvey Brown, University of Oxford, UKUncertainty and probability in physics, old and new
Harvey Brown did undergraduate studies in physics in New Zealand and his doctoral studies in philosophy of physics in London. After teaching for some years in Brazil, in 1984 he took up a lectureship in the faculty of philosophy in Oxford, where he is now Professor of Philosophy of Physics. His research interests cover the foundations of quantum mechanics, relativity theory and thermal physics, the philosophy of space and time, and the role of symmetry principles in physics. He is a Fellow of the British Academy and author of Physical Relativity. Space-time structure from a dynamical perspective (OUP), 2005.
Professor Ian Stewart FRS, Mathematics Institute, University of Warwick, UKSources of uncertainty in deterministic dynamics
Ian Stewart was born in 1945, educated at Cambridge (MA) and Warwick (PhD). He has four honorary doctorates (Open University, Westminster, Louvain, and Kingston) and is Emeritus Professor of Mathematics at Warwick University. His awards include the Royal Society's Faraday Medal, the Communications Award of the Joint Policy Board for Mathematics, the Gold Medal of the Institute for Mathematics and Its Applications, and the Public Understanding of Science Award of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. He was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society in 2001.
He has published over 70 books including Nature's Numbers, The Collapse of Chaos, Does God Play Dice?Figments of Reality, Life’s Other Secret, Flatterland, What Shape is a Snowflake?, Why Beauty is Truth, Taming the Infinite, and the bestselling series The Science of Discworld I, II, and III (with Terry Pratchett and Jack Cohen). He has also written two science fiction novels Wheelers and Heaven (with Jack Cohen). The Italian translation of Letters to a Young Mathematician won the 2006 Peano Prize, and The Symmetry Perspective won the 2001 Balaguer Prize. Professor Stewart’s Cabinet of Mathematical Curiosities reached number 6 on Amazon UK in 2009.
He makes frequent radio and television appearances, including the 1997 Christmas Lectures. He is an active research mathematician with 180 published papers, and works on pattern formation, chaos, and network dynamics.
Professor David Spiegelhalter OBE FRS, Centre for Mathematical Sciences, University of Cambridge, UKQuantifying uncertainty
David Spiegelhalter has been Winton Professor of the Public Understanding of Risk at the University of Cambridge since October 2007, which he combines with being a Senior Scientist in the MRC Biostatistics Unit. His background is in medical statistics, with an emphasis on Bayesian methods: his MRC team developed the BUGS software which has become the primary platform for applying modern Bayesian analysis using simulation technology. He has worked on clinical trials and drug safety and consulted and taught in a number of pharmaceutical companies, and also collaborates on developing methods for health technology assessment applicable to organisations such as NICE. His interest in performance monitoring led to his being asked to lead the statistical team in the Bristol Royal Infirmary Inquiry, and he also gave evidence to the Shipman Inquiry.
In his post he leads a small team which attempts to improve the way in which the quantitative aspects of risk and uncertainty are discussed in society. The website UnderstandingUncertainty.org features a wide range of resources, and he works closely with the Millennium Mathematics Project in trying to bring risk and uncertainty into education. He gives many presentations to schools and others, advises organisations on risk communication, and is a regular newspaper columnist on current risk issues.
He was elected FRS in 2005 and awarded an OBE in 2006.
Professor Julia Slingo OBE, Met Office, UKUncertainty in weather and climate prediction
Professor Julia Slingo took up the post of Met Office Chief Scientist in February 2009. Prior to that she was the Director of Climate Research in NERC's National Centre for Atmospheric Science; she held that post at The University of Reading, where she continues as a Professor of Meteorology. In 2006 she founded the Walker Institute for Climate System Research at Reading, aimed at addressing the cross disciplinary challenges of climate change and its impacts. Professor Slingo has had a long-term career in climate modelling and research, working at the Met Office, the European Centre for Medium Range Forecasting (ECMWF) and the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) in the USA. Her personal research addresses problems in tropical climate variability, its influence on the global climate, its role in seasonal to decadal climate prediction, and its response to climate change. Her particular interests are in the monsoons of India and China, as well as El Niño. Increasingly Prof. Slingo’s research considers the multi-disciplinary aspects of the impacts of climate variability and change on crops and water resources, and hence the need to improve the representation of weather systems and rainfall distributions in climate prediction models. She has successfully promoted the use of much higher resolution in climate models, required to capture these important processes and phenomena, and this has meant working with some of the world’s largest supercomputers, such as the Earth Simulator in Japan.
Professor Slingo has contributed to the Stern Review on the Economics of Climate Change and to the Fourth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). She has served as a member of several national and international committees, including the Met Office and ECMWF Scientific Advisory Committees, and in 2007 was appointed to the Joint Scientific Committee of the World Climate Research Programme. She is regularly involved in Royal Society activities, and in 2008 became the first woman President of the Royal Meteorological Society.
Professor Peter J Webster, Schools of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences & Environmental Engineering, Georgia Institute of Technology, USA Uncertainties in predicting extremes of weather and climate
Peter J. Webster is Professor of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences and Environmental Engineering at Georgia Institute of Technology. For the last 20 years he has concentrated on the investigation of tropical atmospheres and oceans with an emphasis on the low-frequency variability of monsoons and more recently on the genesis and morphology of tropical storms. Most of Webster's research combines theoretical and modelling techniques
Webster received undergraduate degrees from the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology in Australia and his PhD from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He has advised and graduated 24 doctoral students and mentored 15 postdoctoral fellows. He has received numerous awards including the J. G. Charney and the Carl Gustav Rossby medals from the American Meteorological Society, the two highest research awards presented to an atmospheric scientist in the US. In addition, he has received the Adrian Gill Prize of the Royal Meteorological Society, two special creativity awards from the National Science Foundation and a senior Humboldt Research Award. He is a fellow of the American Meteorological Society, the American Geophysical Union, the Royal Meteorological Society and the American Association for the Advancement of Science. He is the President -elect of the American Geophysical Union. Webster has written one textbook, 15 book chapters and in excess of 200 scientific articles.
In recent years he has directed the Climate Forecast Applications in Bangladesh program which aims at producing probabilistic forecasts of rainfall and floods on time scales from seasonal to daily and at introducing modern predictive techniques to developing countries. Part of the CFAB effort is to forecast tropical storms in regions of low technical resources. In addition, he has organized international field experiments including TOGA Coupled Ocean-Atmosphere Response Experiment (a multinational experiment in the western Pacific Ocean), the Equatorial Mesoscale Experiment (EMEX) and the Joint Air-Sea Monsoon Interaction Experiment (JASMINE) in the Bay of Bengal.
Mr Mervyn King, Bank of England, UKUncertainty in macroeconomic policy making: art or science?
Mervyn King is Governor of the Bank of England and is Chairman of the Monetary Policy Committee. He was previously Deputy Governor from 1998 to 2003, and Chief Economist and Executive Director from 1991. Mervyn King was a non-executive director of the Bank from 1990 to 1991.
Born in 1948, Mervyn King studied at King’s College, Cambridge, and Harvard (as a Kennedy Scholar) and taught at Cambridge and Birmingham Universities before spells as Visiting Professor at both Harvard University and MIT. From October 1984 he was Professor of Economics at the London School of Economics where he founded the Financial Markets Group.
Mervyn King is a Fellow of the British Academy, an Honorary Fellow of King’s and St John’s Colleges, Cambridge and holds honorary degrees from Birmingham, City of London, Edinburgh, London Guildhall, London School of Economics, Wolverhampton, Worcestershire, Cambridge and Helsinki Universities . He is a Foreign Honorary Member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, is on the Advisory Council of the London Symphony Orchestra and a Patron of Worcestershire County Cricket Club.
Professor Leonard Smith, London School of Economics, UKUncertainty, ambiguity and risk in forming climate policy
Professor Leonard Smith was raised in Florida, receiving his Bachelors degree (Honours) in "Physics Mathematics and Computer Science" from the University of Florida and his PhD in Physics from Columbia University (USA). Since 1992 he has been a Senior Research Fellow (mathematics) at Pembroke College Oxford, and previously worked in Cambridge (UK) and École Normale Superior (Paris). He became a Professor of Statistics (Research), at the London School of Economics in 2004, where he is Director of the Centre for the Analysis of Time Series (CATS); he also directs two programmes within the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment. His research focuses on nonlinear dynamical systems, predictability, and the role of probability in real-world decision support, and publishes in areas ranging from mathematical systems and laboratory experiments, through industrial decision-support and financial time-series analysis, and on to understanding weather and climate. He recently published a book, A Very Short Introduction to Chaos, with OUP. He was awarded the Royal Meteorological Society's Fitzroy Prise in recognition of his contributions to mathematically-coherent user-relevant developments in meteorology, and a Senior Selby Fellow of the Australian Academy of Science.
Lord Krebs of Wytham FRS, Jesus College, University of Oxford, UK Risk and regulation
Lord (John) Krebs, is the Principal of Jesus College, Oxford and is the former Chairman of the Food Standards Agency (FSA) (Jan 2000 – April 2005). He is an internationally renowned scientist. He held a Royal Society Research Professorship in the Department of Zoology at Oxford University from 1988-2005. Between 1994 and 1999 he was Chief Executive of the Natural Environment Research Council. He is a Fellow of the Royal Society, the Academy of Medical Sciences, a member of Academia Europaea and of the Max Planck Society, an Honorary Foreign Member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, a Foreign Member of the American Philosophical Society and a Foreign Member of the US National Academy of Sciences. He holds Honorary Degrees and Fellowships from 16 universities and numerous awards and medals for his scientific research. He was knighted for services to behavioural ecology in 1999. He was appointed to the House of Lords as an independent crossbencher in 2007, where his particular areas of interest include environment, science, education and food, and he is currently chairing an enquiry by the Science and Technology Select Committee into Nanotechnology and Food.
In 2007 he chaired a working party of the Nuffield Council on Bioethics to produce a report on the Ethics of Public Health. He is also a Trustee of the Nuffield Foundation, Chairman of the UK Science and Technology Honours Committee and Chairman of the Royal Society's Science Policy Advisory Group. He sits on the UK Climate Change Committee and chairs its Adaptation Sub-Committee.
Professor Sally Davies DBE, Department of Health, UK A governmental perspective on uncertainties in the health sciences
Dame Sally Davies is the Director General (DG) of Research and Development and Chief Scientific Adviser for the Department of Health and NHS. As DG she developed the new government research strategy, Best Research for Best Health with a budget rising to £1billion, and is now responsible for embedding the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR). She also chairs the UK Clinical Research Collaboration (UKCRC) and is a member of the Board of the Office of Coordination of Health Research (OSCHR) and of the Medical Research Council. She was a member of the steering group for the Biotechnology Innovation and Growth Team, chaired by Sir David Cooksey and its “Refresh”, the Health Care Industry Task Force and is a member of the UK Health Innovation Council. She is a member of the WHO Global Advisory Committee on Health Research (ACHR) and chaired the Expert Advisory Committee for the development of the WHO research strategy, submitted as a resolution to the World Health Assembly 2009. She is a member of the International Advisory Committee for A*STAR, Singapore and the Caribbean Health Research Council and advises many others on research strategy and evaluation including the Australian NHMRC.
Sir Roger Penrose OM FRS, Mathematical Institute, University of Oxford, UKUncertainties of quantum mechanics – faith or fantasy?
Roger Penrose was born on 8 August, 1931, in Colchester, Essex, UK. He obtained a B.Sc. (in mathematics) at University College London, in 1952, and a Ph.D. (in algebraic geometry) at St John's College, Cambridge, in 1957. He has held several teaching and research positions in the UK and USA, most particularly at Birkbeck College London, then Rouse Ball Professor of mathematics at Oxford University in 1973 (becoming Emeritus in 1998). He holds the Francis and Helen Pentz Distinguished (visiting) Professorship of Physics and Mathematics at Penn State University, USA and is a Visiting Professor at Queen Mary, University of London. He was elected FRS in 1972, knighted in 1994 for services to science, and obtained the Order of Merit in 2000. He has won numerous awards, including the 1971 Heinemann Prize, sharing the 1988 Wolf Prize with Stephen Hawking, the London Mathematical Society’s de Morgan Medal, and the Royal Society’s Copley Medal, and holds 14 honorary degrees. He has written many scientific papers and several books, including The Emperor’s New Mind, which won the 1990 Science Book Prize. His most recent book is The Road to Reality. His research interests include many aspects of physics and geometry, where he has contributed to general relativity theory, to cosmology, to the foundations of quantum theory, and to the theory of non-periodic tilings. He is the originator of spin-networks and twistor theory. He has made proposals relating to the physical basis of consciousness.
Professor John D Barrow FRS, Centre for Mathematical Sciences, University of Cambridge, UKUncertainties in cosmology
John D. Barrow FRS is a cosmologist who studies the early history of the universe, the mathematical structure of cosmological models, and ways in which astronomy and cosmology can be used to test aspects of fundamental physics. He has worked at the Universities of Oxford, California at Berkeley, and Sussex; he has been Professor of Mathematical Sciences at Cambridge University since 1999. He has written more than 440 scientific articles in cosmology and astrophysics, 20 books on wide-ranging aspects of science and mathematics, and is the author of the award-winning play Infinities, directed by Luca Ronconi. He is also the Director of the Millennium Mathematics Project, an initiative to improve the understanding and appreciation of mathematics and its applications amongst young people and the general public, and the current Gresham Professor of Geometry at Gresham College, and was formerly Gresham Professor of Astronomy. He was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society in 2003 and has received many international awards for his work.
Dr Philip Campbell, Nature, UK Communicating scientific uncertainty
Dr Philip Campbell is Editor-in-Chief of Nature and Nature Publications, based in London. He has a BSc in aeronautical engineering, an MSc in astrophysics and a PhD and postdoctoral research in upper atmospheric physics. His areas of responsibility include the editorial content and management of Nature and the long-term editorial quality and impact of all Nature publications.
He has worked with the UK government, the European Commission and the US National Institutes of Health on issues relating to science and its impacts in society. He is a trustee of Cancer Research UK. He was the founding editor of Physics World.
He is a Fellow of the Royal Astronomical Society and a Fellow of the Institute of Physics. He has been awarded an honorary DSc by Leicester University and by Bristol University, an Honorary Fellowship by Queen Mary, University of London, and an Honorary Professorship by the Peking Union Medical College. He is an Associate of Clare Hall, Cambridge University.
Dr Nina M Skorupska, RWE AG, GermanyMaking commercial decisions in the light of incertain scientific advice
Nina Skorupska is a chemist with a Doctorate in the `exciting topic’ of Coal Combustibility from the University of Newcastle upon Tyne. With over 20 years in the Energy Industry, her career started as a fuel specialist but moved quickly onto power stations where she was the first female Power Station Manager of npower’s Didcot B gas-fired power station. Since that time she has led an Energy Trading team and has been RWE npower’s Director of Technology Services. In that role she led a Division of over 600 engineers, scientists, environmentalists, Learning & Development professionals that covered disciplines ranging from `cutting edge’ climate protection R&D activities and power station engineering services and maintenance overhauls, through to delivering npower’s graduate and apprentice programmes.
For the last two years, she has been working at the RWE Group HQ in Germany as Head of Performance Improvement. Reporting to the COO, she leads a small team of business experts whose focus is to work with the 25 international operating companies of the RWE Group to deliver significant improvements in their operating performance focusing on efficiency and technology improvements and innovative developments.
Rt Hon. Lord Smith of Finsbury, PC, Environment Agency, UKImplications of uncertainty for Government
Born in 1951, Chris was educated in Edinburgh and then Pembroke College, Cambridge, achieving a double first in English (and later a PhD on Wordsworth and Coleridge) and was also a Kennedy Scholar at Harvard.
Chris began his political career as a LabourCouncillor for Islington Borough, becoming MP for Islington South and Finsbury in 1983, serving on the Environment Select Committee until 1986. In 1992 he joined the Shadow Cabinet as Shadow Secretary of State for Environmental Protection, and two years later moved to Heritage, then Social Security and Health. When Labour came to power in 1997 he became Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport. He returned to the back benches in 2001, played a leading role in opposing the Iraq war, standing down in 2005. Immediately afterwards he was made a life peer, taking his seat in the House of Lords in July 2005.
In 2003, he became Director of the Clore Leadership Programme, which aims to help develop a new generation of leaders for the cultural sector in the UK and stepped down in July 2008 to become Chairman of the Environment Agency. Since 2007, he has also been Chairman of the Advertising Standards Authority. Previous roles include being President of SERA and the Ramblers’ Association and he is also Chairman of the Wordsworth Trust. He is currently a visiting Professor in Culture and the Creative Industries at the University of the Arts London and an honorary Fellow of Pembroke College Cambridge.
Evening events 1 Jul
Public exhibition 2 - 7 Jul
Enter your email address to receive updates about scientific meetings at the Royal Society
Full listing of our events and exhibitions.
Watch videos of past events.
Most of our talks are free and open to the public.
We host major conferences for leading scientists.
Explore our annual science exhibition
Contact the events team.