Dr Tilly Collins and Professor John Mumford

This is an essentially quantitative course; however, understanding sustainability requires that we can make sense of the myriad ways in which knowledge is constructed. Science, the humanities and personal knowledge all have important roles to play in the sustainability discourse and yet they tell different stories about what the world does and can look like. In the first lecture we will explore how disciplinary knowledge is constructed and used and ways in which it can be combined to create inter-disciplinary sense.  From this basis we move to developing a sound understanding of both how some of the standard statistical tests work and when to apply these.  Building on this we develop an understanding of probability and uncertainty in the answers to ecological management questions.  Further training in social science and more qualitative methods is provided in the summer term.


  • To provide an introduction to theories of knowledge and of research
  • To ensure that students have a basic understanding of the operation of a spreadsheet package and of how to apply this in different contexts
  • To illustrate some important uses of quantitative methods in environmental and ecological studies
  • To ensure that students are able to select, apply and interpret simple statistical tests
  • To alert students to common misunderstandings, misapplications and misinterpretations of statistics
  • To provide an introduction to the concepts of uncertainty in parameter estimation and outcome probability distributions
  • To provide a conceptual and practical understanding of risk analysis (concern, assessment, management and communication)
  • To understand the importance of risk analysis in environmental decision making

Learning objectives

After this module, students should be able to:

  • Understand that there are different methodological approaches to research and recognise that appropriate methods are necessary for progress
  • Identify, interpret and view critically the most important uses of statistics in their fields
  • Understand and know how to apply simple statistical concepts fundamental to sampling design and statistical inference
  • Understand how to evaluate uncertainty and how to weight this in decision making
  • Recognise that more than one method can be used as part of a research project in environmental technology

Find out more about the MSc course