Friday, 17 June 2016

Bayes and the Law: Cambridge event and new review paper

When we set up the Bayes and the Law network in 2012 we made the following assertion:
Proper use of statistics and probabilistic reasoning has the potential to improve dramatically the efficiency, transparency and fairness of the criminal justice system and the accuracy of its verdicts, by enabling the relevance of evidence – especially forensic evidence - to be meaningfully evaluated and communicated. However, its actual use in practice is minimal, and indeed the most natural way to handle probabilistic evidence (Bayes) has generally been shunned. 
The first workshop (30th August to 2nd September 2016)  that is part of our 6-month programme "Probability and Statistics in Forensic Science" at the Issac Newton Institute of Mathematics Cambridge directly addresses the above assertion and seeks to understand the scope, limitations, and barriers of using statistics and probability in court. The Workshop brings together many of the world's leading academics and pracitioners (including lawyers) in this area. Information on the programme and how to participate can be found here.

A new review paper* "Bayes and the Law" has just been published in Annual Review of Statistics and Its Application.


This paper reviews the potential and actual use of Bayes in the law and explains the main reasons for its lack of impact on legal practice. These include misconceptions by the legal community about Bayes’ theorem, over-reliance on the use of the likelihood ratio and the lack of adoption of modern computational methods. The paper argues that Bayesian Networks (BNs), which automatically produce the necessary Bayesian calculations, provide an opportunity to address most concerns about using Bayes in the law.

*Full citation:
Fenton N.E, Neil M, Berger D, “Bayes and the Law”, Annual Review of Statistics and Its Application, Volume 3, pp51-77, June 2016 http://dx.doi.org/10.1146/annurev-statistics-041715-033428. Pre-publication version is here and the Supplementary Material is here.

Wednesday, 1 June 2016

Bayesian networks for Cost, Benefit and Risk Analysis of Agricultural Development Projects


Successful implementation of major projects requires careful management of uncertainty and risk. Yet, uncertainty is rarely effectively calculated when analysing project costs and benefits. In the case of major agricultural and other development projects in Africa this challenge is especially important.

A paper just published* in the journal Experts Systems with Applications presents a Bayesian network (BN) modelling framework to calculate the costs, benefits, and return on investment of a project over a specified time period, allowing for changing circumstances and trade-offs. Marianne Gadeberg and Eike Luedeling have written an overview of the work here.

The framework uses hybrid and dynamic BNs containing both discrete and continuous variables over multiple time stages. The BN framework calculates costs and benefits based on multiple causal factors including the effects of individual risk factors, budget deficits, and time value discounting, taking account of the parameter uncertainty of all continuous variables. The framework can serve as the basis for various project management assessments and is illustrated using a case study of an agricultural development project. The work was a collaboration between the World Agroforestry Centre (ICRAF), Nairobi, Kenya, the Risk Information Management Group at Queen Mary (as part of the BAYES-KNOWLEDGE project) and Agena Ltd.

*The full reference is:
Yet, B., Constantinou, A., Fenton, N., Neil, M., Luedeling, E., & Shepherd, K. (2016). "A Bayesian Network Framework for Project Cost, Benefit and Risk Analysis with an Agricultural Development Case Study" . Expert Systems with Applications, Volume 60, 30 October 2016, Pages 141–155. DOI: 10.1016/j.eswa.2016.05.005
Until July 2016 the full published pdf is available for free.  A permanent pre-publication pdf is available here.

See also: Can we build a better project: assessing complexities in development projects

Acknowledgements: Part of this work was performed under the auspices of EU project ERC-2013-AdG339182-BAYES_KNOWLEDGE and part under ICRAF Contract No SD4/2012/214 issued to Agena. We acknowledge support from the Water, Land and Ecosystems (WLE) program of the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR).

Thursday, 26 May 2016

Using Bayesian networks to assess new forensic evidence in an appeal case


If new forensic evidence becomes available after a conviction how do lawyers determine whether it raises sufficient questions about the verdict in order to launch an appeal? It turns out that there is no systematic framework to help lawyers do this. But a paper published today by Nadine Smit and colleagues in Crime Science presents such a framework driven by a recent case, in which a defendant was convicted primarily on the basis of sound evidence, but where subsequent analysis of the evidence revealed additional sounds that were not considered during the trial.

From the case documentation, we know the following:
  • A baby was injured during an incident on the top floor of a house
  • Blood from the baby was found on the wall in one of the rooms upstairs
  • On an audio recording of the emergency telephone call made by the suspect, a scraping sound (allegedly indicating scraping blood off a wall) can be heard
  • The suspect was charged with attempted murder 
The audio evidence played a significant role in the trial. But, during the appeal preparation process, the call was re-analysed by an audio expert on behalf of the defence, and four other sounds were identified on the same recording that, according to the expert, showed similarities to the original sound. In particular, one of these sounds was of interest because of background noise that could be heard simultaneously. The background noise was presumed to be the television, which was located in a different room to where the prosecution argued the scraping of the blood took place.  During this second sound, the TV (located downstairs) could be heard simultaneously on the emergency recording. A statement by the police reads that the suspect was frequently rubbing his face in their presence. The defence proposed that the incriminating sound in the recording was not blood scraping after all, but simply the defendant rubbing his face.

The framework described in Smit's paper is intended to overcome the gap between what is generally known from scientific analyses and what is hypothesized in a legal setting. It is based on Bayesian networks (BNs) which are a structured and understandable way to evaluate the evidence in the specific case context and present it in a clear manner in court. However, BN methods are often criticised for not being sufficiently transparent for legal professionals. To address this concern the paper shows the extent to which the reasoning and decisions of the particular case can be made explicit and transparent. The BN approach enables us to clearly define the relevant propositions and evidence, and uses sensitivity analysis to assess the impact of the evidence under different prior assumptions. The results show that such a framework is suitable to identify information that is currently missing, and clearly crucial for a valid and complete reasoning process. Furthermore, a method is provided whereby BNs can serve as a guide to not only reason with incomplete evidence in forensic cases, but also identify very specific research questions that should be addressed to extend the evidence base to solve similar issues in the future.

Full citation:
Smit, N. M., Lagnado, D. A., Morgan, R. M., & Fenton, N. E. (2016). "An investigation of the application of Bayesian networks to case assessment in an appeal case". Crime Science, 2016, 5: 9, DOI 10.1186/s40163-016-0057-6 (open source). Published version pdf.
The research was funded by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council of the UK through the Security Science Doctoral Research Training Centre (UCL SECReT) based at University College London (EP/G037264/1), and the European Research Council (ERC-2013-AdG339182-BAYES_KNOWLEDGE). 

The BN model (which is fully spceified in the paper) was built and run using the free version of AgenaRisk.

Tuesday, 26 April 2016

Hillsborough Inquest - my input


With today's verdict (fans unlawfully killed) coming after more than two years I can now speak about my own involvement in the Inquest.

Because of the years that have passed few people are aware that there was a 'near-miss'  disaster at Hillsborough eight years before the actual disaster. The circumstances were essentially identical -  an FA Cup Semi Final with far too many supporters let in to the Leppings Lane stand leading to a massive crush. Because of the quick thinking of a steward who was able to open a gate onto the pitch nobody died on that occasion (although there were many injuries).  I know this because I was present at that earlier near disaster and I was, in fact, Secretary of the Sheffield Spurs Supporters Club. At the time I wrote to the FA and South Yorkshire police as I felt mistakes had been made, and indeed the incident was sufficiently serious that Hillsborough (which had been used every year as one of the two semi-final venues) was avoided until 1988 (the year before the disaster). Immediately after the disaster in 1989 I wrote to the FA and Lord Taylor (who led the original enquiry) to inform them of the events of 1981. Although I was interviewed at that time by the Police investigators, my evidence was never used.

In 2014 - out of the blue - I was asked to attend the new Hillsborough Inquest as it had been decided that the 1981 incident was an important piece of the story.  Here are a couple of links to media reports about my appearance:
Norman Fenton, 26 April 2016



Friday, 25 March 2016

Statistics of coincidences: Ben Geen case revisited (ABC)


In November 2014 I reported on the case of nurse Ben Geen who was convicted in 2006 for murdering 2 patients and seriously harming 15 others. I had been asked to produce an expert report on the 'statistical coincidences' in the case for the Criminal Cases Review Board.

Now a 30-minute documentary on the case presented by Joel Werner is to be aired on Australia's national radio station ABC on 28 March. In the programme (which you can listen to in full from the links at the top of the ABC page) I present a lay summary of the statistical argument (from minutes 16:30 to 21:34).

Norman Fenton

Saturday, 19 March 2016

Turning poorly structured data into intelligent Bayesian Network models for medical decision support



Medical data is very often badly structured, incomplete and inconsistent. This limits our ability to  generate useful models for prediction and decision support if we rely purely on machine learning techniques. That means we need to exploit expert knowledge at various model development stages. This problem - which is common in many application domains - is tackled in a paper** published in the latest issue of Artificial Intelligence in Medicine.

The paper describes a rigorous and repeatable method for building effective Bayesian Network (BN) models from complex data - much of which comes in unstructured and incomplete responses by patients from questionnaires and interviews. Such data inevitably contains repetitive, redundant and contradictory responses; without expert knowledge learning a BN model from the data alone is especially problematic where we are interested in simulating causal interventions for risk management. The novelty of this work is that it provides a rigorous consolidated and generalised framework that addresses the whole life-cycle of BN model development. The method is validated using data from forensic psychiatry. The resulting BN models demonstrate competitive to superior predictive performance against the data-driven state-of-the-art models. More importantly, the resulting BN models go beyond improving predictive accuracy and into usefulness for risk management through intervention, and enhanced decision support in terms of answering complex clinical questions that are based on unobserved evidence.

The method is applicable to any application domain involving large-scale decision analysis based on such complex and unstructured information. It challenges decision scientists to reason about building models based on what information is really required for inference, rather than based on what data is available. Hence, it forces decision scientists to use available data in a much smarter way.

**The full reference for the paper is:
Constantinou, A. C., Fenton, N., Marsh, W., & Radlinski, L. (2016). "From complex questionnaire and interviewing data to intelligent Bayesian Network models for medical decision support".Artificial Intelligence in Medicine, Vol 67 pages 75-93. DOI http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.artmed.2016.01.002

For those who do not have access to the journal a pre-publication draft can be downloaded: http://constantinou.info/downloads/papers/complexBN.pdf 

Thursday, 10 March 2016

A Bayesian network to determine optimal strategy for Spurs' success


As a committed Spurs fan I have spent the last few months salivating at the club's sudden and unexpected rise and the prospect of them winning their first league title since 1961. By mid-February they were clear favourites to win the Premier League title. However, in my view, the challenge was compromised by the team becoming overstretched by playing too many matches in a short space of time. In particular, I felt that their involvement in the Europa League was an unnecessary distraction and burden. When I expressed these views on a Spurs online forum (backed up with some data showing consistent under-performance during periods when they were involved in the Europa League) I got heavily criticised by other fans who said it was important to try to win every competition.

Having simultaneously been involved in research discussions about the use of decisions in Bayesian networks, I decided to build a small model in AgenaRisk to resolve the dilemma once and for all. I have written up the results of the analysis here. The model can be downloaded from here.

In summary, there were 4 strategic options available to Spurs' manager Mauricio Pochettino at the time I started to do the analysis:
  1. Focus on Premier League 
  2. Focus on Premier League and FA Cup 
  3. Focus on Premier League and Europa League 
  4. Focus on all three competitions  
My BN model shows that the optimal decision (based on my subjective utility values of the different outcomes) was to go for 1 with 2 a close second. Unfortunately  (I believe) Pochettino opted for 3 which, as the model shows, suggests his personal utility value for winning the Europa League was actually higher than winning the Premier League.

Downloads:

See also: The problem with predicting football results - you cannot rely on the data