What if Wednesdays - Free public lectures, twice monthly

The University of Canterbury holds free public lectures on campus, twice a month on Wednesdays from 7.00pm.

The What if Wednesdays (WIW) public lecture series will run from March to October in 2014. This year the series will be held twice a month with interesting topics and speakers from the University of Canterbury.

Should you wish to revisit any of the WIW lectures from earlier this year or 2013, you can view them via our YouTube channel.

Upcoming Lectures

8 October

What if… We could predict Game of Thrones?

Dr Richard Vale, School of Mathematics and Statistics

  • Can we predict something as unpredictable as Game of Thrones?
  • How can we say how uncertain we are about our prediction?
  • How uncertain are we about our uncertainty?

George R. R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire novels have become very popular, especially since the TV series Game of Thrones started in 2011. One of the most fascinating things about the books is that they are very unpredictable, with long-running and popular characters being unexpectedly killed off, and widespread speculation about future plot developments. This makes them an interesting subject for statistical prediction.

This talk will cover some general aspects of prediction, probability and forecasting and describe a model which can be used to predict the future of Game of Thrones. We also discuss the shortcomings of the model and explain why some things probably cannot be predicted in a meaningful way, and why this should not stop us from trying to predict them anyway.

The talk requires no prior knowledge of statistics. However, note that it will be hard to avoid major spoilers for the five existing books, so please be careful!

Register now!

22 October

What if... a New Zealand writer won the Nobel Prize for Literature?

Professor Paul Millar, Head of School of Humanities and Creative Arts

  • Why was Katherine Mansfield never considered for the Nobel Prize for Literature?
  • Has New Zealand ever had any serious contenders for the prize?
  • Which current practising New Zealand writer is the strongest candidate for the prize?
  • What should a young New Zealand writer do to become a contender for the prize?
  • What would a New Zealander winning the Nobel Prize for Literature tell us about the state of New Zealand writing?

It seems the key criteria for winning the Nobel Prize for Literature is staying alive long enough to collect it; no writer younger than 42 has ever won the award. It also helps if the wielder of the pen is male; of the 110 Nobel laureates only 13 have been women. For both of these reasons the odds of winning a Nobel Prize for Literature were always strongly against New Zealand’s greatest writer, Katherine Mansfield.

In this lecture Paul Millar discusses what it takes to win the Nobel Prize for Literature and identifies a number of the great writers of New Zealand literary history who had things in common with past winners and might have been strong contenders for such a prize. He also identifies some fatal flaws that might have prejudiced their selection. Millar concludes by looking at the work of a number of New Zealand’s major living writers and calculating the odds of New Zealand adding a Nobel Prize for Literature to the two Man Booker prizes already on the national trophy shelf.

This is the last What if Wednesdays lecture for 2014.

Register now!