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Science

More or Less: Behind the Stats

Updated 10 days ago

Education
News
Science
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Tim Harford and the More or Less team try to make sense of the statistics which surround us. From BBC Radio 4

Read more

Tim Harford and the More or Less team try to make sense of the statistics which surround us. From BBC Radio 4

iTunes Ratings

427 Ratings
Average Ratings
348
46
11
9
13

Made me smarter

By maggiem79 - Dec 19 2019
Read more
I am much more critical when I hear or read stats in the news. Thank you so much! Please keep on!!

Excellent correction to public fictions.

By nicmart - Oct 31 2019
Read more
This is a refreshing antidote to the irrational hysteria of the media, including the BBC.

iTunes Ratings

427 Ratings
Average Ratings
348
46
11
9
13

Made me smarter

By maggiem79 - Dec 19 2019
Read more
I am much more critical when I hear or read stats in the news. Thank you so much! Please keep on!!

Excellent correction to public fictions.

By nicmart - Oct 31 2019
Read more
This is a refreshing antidote to the irrational hysteria of the media, including the BBC.
Cover image of More or Less: Behind the Stats

More or Less: Behind the Stats

Latest release on Jan 25, 2020

Read more

Tim Harford and the More or Less team try to make sense of the statistics which surround us. From BBC Radio 4

Rank #1: Spies, care homes, and ending sneak peeks

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Can security services follow everyone known to them?
The attack on Manchester Arena took place exactly four years since the killing of Drummer Lee Rigby in Woolwich. Back in 2013 we broadcast an interview with the former Head of MI5, Dame Stella Rimmington, about the difficulties of monitoring people who have been flagged up to the services. We are re-visiting that interview.
Chances of ending up in a care home
There are around 11.6 million people over the age of 65 in the UK, but how many need social care services? A listener got in chances to say that he was 72 - what are the chances that he will need social care services in his lifetime? We look at the numbers of people in both residential care and receiving formal care services in the home currently.
Penalty shoot outs update
A few weeks ago we explained UEFA's new procedure for carrying out penalty shoot outs. We bring news of how that system is playing out, and how a loyal listener has spotted a famous pattern in Blur's song, 'Girls and Boys'.
Stop sneak peak access
For years statisticians have been calling for an end to the practice of allowing ministers and officials to see official numbers before everyone else. Why does it matter? We tell the strange tale exploring whether economic data is leaked to City traders before its official publication. Could pre-release access to Government statistics be behind strange movements on financial markets? With help from Mike Bird of the Wall Street Journal, and Alex Kurov of the University of West Virginia, we take a look at the evidence.
Also - a tribute to Sir Roger Moore.

May 26 2017

23mins

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Rank #2: WS More or Less: Sleeping: the 8-hour myth

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It’s often said that we should all be aiming to get eight hours of sleep a night. But could it actually lead you to an early grave? Research shows that sleeping for longer, or shorter, than average is associated with an increased risk of disease and mortality. But what’s causing the health problems, and should you really give up the lie-in? Ruth Alexander looks at the latest sleep science with Dr Gregg Jacobs from UMASS Medical Center, US; Professor Franco Cappuccio from Warwick University, UK; Professor Jim Horne of Loughborough University, UK; and Professor Shawn Youngstedt of Arizona State University, US.
*Please note this is a repeat from February 2015*
(Photo: Man asleep in a bed. Credit: Corbis)

Jul 08 2016

9mins

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Rank #3: The Referendum by Numbers: Trade

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If it seems the EU referendum debate just involves two politicians shouting contradictory statistics at each other - then we are here to help. In this series, we're giving you a break from the politicians and we're going to try to figure out the truth. Bracing concept, isn't it? We'll be looking at some of the big questions - the cost of being a member, immigration, lawmaking and regulation. But today we're looking at trade. Tim Harford asks if the UK would be better off in or out when it comes to trade with other nations.

Jun 17 2016

11mins

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Rank #4: Carbs, Sugar and the Truth

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Does a baked potato contain the equivalent of 19 cubes of sugar?

Aug 03 2018

8mins

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Rank #5: Teen Suicide; Brexit Business Moves; Wood-Burner Pollution

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Tim Harford finds untrue a recent report that there is a 'suicidal generation' of teens.

Feb 08 2019

28mins

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Rank #6: Selfies, sugar daddies and dodgy surveys

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Adverstising dressed up as research has inspired us this week. Firstly recent reports that said that young women aged between 16 and 25 spend five and a half hours taking selfies on average. It doersn't take much thinking to realise that thhere something really wrong with this number. We pick apart the survey that suggested women are spending all that time taking pictures of themselves.
The second piece of questionable research comes from reports that a quarter of a million UK students are getting money from 'sugar daddies' they met online. The story came from a sugar daddy website. They claim around 225,000 students have registered with them and have met (mostly) men for what they call "mutually beneficial arrangements". We explain our doubts over the figures.
There were reports recently that there will more plastic in the ocean than fish by 2050. The report comes from The Ellen MacArthur Foundation. But, as we discover, there's something fishy about these figures.
Away from advertising, studies have shown that children born in the summer do not perform as well as children born earlier in the academic year. For this reason schools are being encouraged to be sympathetic to parents that want their summer-born children to start a year later. But what should parents do? Is this a good option? We speak to Claire Crawford, Assistant Professor of Economics at the University.
Gemma Tetlow from the Institute for Fiscal Studies explains how some areas of public spending having fallen to similar levels seen in 1948. She explains how spending has changed over time, and what might happen in the future.
And friend of the programme, Kevin McConway, explains some of the statistical words that non-statisticians do not understand.

Feb 12 2016

27mins

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Rank #7: Plastic Bags

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The Government says that since the introduction of the 5p fee for single use plastic bags their use has plummeted. We take a look at the numbers.
Olympic Medals at Rio 2016

The Olympic Games are with us again. So how can we use statistics to predict how many medals each nation will win? We speak to Dr Julia Bredtmann, an economist at the Leibniz Institute for Economic Research.
Income inequality

Politicians and commentators often claim that the rich are getting richer while the poor are getting poorer. But what do the numbers actually tell us about income inequality in the UK? Tim Harford interviews Jonathan Cribb of the Institute for Fiscal Studies, the co- author of a comprehensive analysis of Living Standards, Income Inequality and Poverty in the UK.
Desk of Good News – Maternal mortality rates

The number of women dying in childbirth is falling around the world. In 1990, maternal mortality rates were 385 deaths per 100,000 live births

Today there are 216 deaths per 100,000 live births. This means the death rate is down by nearly half.
The Coastline Paradox

Why is it so difficult to measure coastlines? The further you zoom into the detail of a coastline, the longer it becomes. This is referred to as ‘The Coastline Paradox’. We speak to Mairi Walker, a mathematician at the University of Edinburgh, and Danny Hyam, from The Ordnance Survey - the UK government agency responsible for mapping our coastlines.

Aug 05 2016

28mins

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Rank #8: WS More or Less: Violence, shootings and the police in the US

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Protests have spread across the United States over the last few weeks. The protestors have been registering their feelings about incidents where police have shot and killed black men. High profile recent incidents resulted in the deaths of Alton Sterling and Philando Castle, and the protestors feel that minorities are being disproportionately targeted by the police.
On top of this, at a recent protest in Dallas a gunman shot and killed five police officers.
But what can the numbers tell us about the issue? How many people do police officers kill each year in the USA? And how many police officers are killed? Tim Harford investigates.
Producers: Charlotte McDonald, Elizabeth Cassin

Jul 15 2016

9mins

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Rank #9: WS More or Less: How Many Animals are Born Every Day?

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From penguins to nematodes, is it possible to count how many animals are born around the world every day?
That’s the question one 10-year-old listener wants answered, and so reporter Kate Lamble sets off for the zoo to find out. Along the way, she discovers that very, very small animals are much more important than very, very big animals when it comes to the sums.
(09.05) Artificial Intelligence or A.I. has been hailed as the answer to an easier life – but will it really make the world a better place, or just reinforce existing prejudices? Tim Harford speaks to author Meredith Broussard about ‘techno-chauvinism’.

Jun 10 2018

15mins

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Rank #10: Hottest Easter, Insects, Scottish villages

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Was it a surprise that Easter Monday was so hot?

A heatwave struck the UK over Easter – and in fact Easter Monday was declared the hottest on record in the UK. But listeners asked - is it that surprising that it was the warmest when the date fell so late in April? We crunch the numbers supplied by the Met Office.

Insectageddon

Insects live all around us and if a recent scientific review is anything to go by, then they are on the path to extinction. The analysis found that more than 40% of insect species are decreasing and that a decline rate of 2.5% a year suggests they could disappear in 100 years. And as some headlines in February warned of the catastrophic collapse of nature, some More or Less listeners questioned the findings. Is insect life really in trouble?

Collecting income tax from the 1%

Recently Lord Sugar said in a Tweet “The fact is if you taxed everyone earning over £150k at a rate of 70% it would not raise enough to pay for 5% of the NHS.” Is that true? Helen Miller, Deputy Director and head of tax at the Institute for Fiscal Studies looks at how much such a policy might raise from the 1% of tax payers who earn over £150,000.

Where is Scotland’s highest village?

A battle is brewing in the Southern Scottish uplands between two rival villages. How can statistics help determine which village should take the crown? Wanlockhead and Leadhills both lay claim to the title of Scotland’s highest village but there can only be one winner. More or Less attempts to settle the age old dispute once and for all.

Image: A man and woman sitting on deckchairs on the beach
Credit: Getty Images

Apr 26 2019

27mins

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Rank #11: Abortion, modern slavery, math versus maths

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(00:26) The UK abortion statistics gaining attention in Ireland’s referendum debate (03:49) Superforecasting author Phillip Tetlock talks to Tim Harford (09:51) Modern Slavery figures in the UK (17:43) Should you say math or maths?

May 11 2018

23mins

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Rank #12: US election, stray cats and puzzles

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Who voted in the US elections? Plus are there nine million stray cats in the UK?

Nov 11 2016

24mins

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Rank #13: WSMoreOrLess: Fact checking The Big Short

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"Every one percent unemployment goes up, 40,000 people die, did you know that?" says Brad Pitt playing a former investment banker Ben Rickert, in the recent Oscar-winning film The Big Short. Although based on a true story, the filmmakers admit there is some creative license in some of the scenes. But is there any truth to this statistic? It turns out it’s a figure that has been around for many decades. We explore its origins.
The debate over whether the UK should leave the European Union is heating up ahead of the referendum this summer. Many politicians have said that the UK is the fifth largest economy in the world – is that a fair assessment? We look at the GDP figures.
(Image: Brad Pitt attends the premiere of "The Big Short" in New York 2015. Credit: Dimitrios Kambouris/Getty Images)

Mar 04 2016

9mins

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Rank #14: How Richard Thaler changed Economics

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The behavioural economist who has inspired governments around the world.

Oct 13 2017

22mins

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Rank #15: Economics of Overbooking

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Why airlines bet that not everybody will turn up for a flight.

Apr 14 2017

24mins

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Rank #16: The Referendum by Numbers: Immigration

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If it seems the EU referendum debate just involves two politicians shouting contradictory statistics at each other - then we are here to help. In this series, we're giving you a break from the politicians and we're going to try to figure out the truth. Bracing concept, isn't it? We'll be looking at some of the big questions - The cost of the EU, lawmaking, regulations and trade. In th secomd of these programmes Tim Harford asks what might happen to migration if we left the EU, and what are the benefits and costs of EU migrants to the UK economy?

Jun 14 2016

11mins

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Rank #17: Getting Creative with Statistics

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How big are your testicles and what does that mean?

Jul 27 2018

8mins

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Rank #18: How to Cycle Really Fast

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How much better are the pros than the rest of us and how effective is slipstreaming?

Jul 20 2018

8mins

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Rank #19: The High Street, Home Births and Harry Potter Wizardry

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Is WH Smith really the worst shop on the High Street?

Harry Potter fans want to know how many wizards there are – we try to work it out.

Is giving birth at home as safe as giving birth in hospital?
(Photo: Mother and baby. Credit: Shutterstock)

Jun 01 2018

20mins

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Rank #20: Should we have smaller families to save the planet?

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Having one fewer child could be the biggest thing you do to reduce your carbon footprint

Jul 23 2018

10mins

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WS More or Less: Dozy Science

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Anxiety around sleep is widespread. Many of us feel we don’t get enough. An army of experts has sprung up to help, and this week we test some of the claims from one of the most prominent among them: Professor Matthew Walker. He plays ball and answers some of the criticisms of his bestselling book Why We Sleep.

Jan 25 2020

9mins

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Netflix and Chill

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The list of ways campaigners say we need to change our behaviour in response to climate change seems to grow every week. Now, streaming video is in the frame. We test the claim that watching 30 minutes of Netflix has the same carbon footprint as driving four miles. We hear scepticism about a report that sepsis is responsible for one in five deaths worldwide. Author Bill Bryson stops by with a question about guns – and gets quizzed about a number in his new book. And, how much sleep do we really need? Find out if we need more or less.

Jan 24 2020

28mins

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WS More or Less: Japan’s 99% Conviction Rate

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The fugitive former Nissan boss, Carlos Ghosn, has raised questions about justice in Japan. The government in Tokyo has defended its system, where 99% of prosecutions lead to conviction. Prof Colin Jones, from Doshisha Law School in Kyoto, explains what's behind this seemingly shocking statistic. And a listener asks if it’s true Canada’s is roughly the same. Toronto lawyer Kim Schofield sets them straight.

Jan 18 2020

8mins

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Weighing the Cost of Brexit

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Is it possible to calculate the cost of Brexit? Gemma Tetlow from the Institute for Government helps us weigh the arguments. How much does luck play into Liverpool FC's amazing season? And, crucially, how fast is an alligator?

Jan 17 2020

16mins

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WS More or Less: Bushfire mystery

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Have a billion animals died in Australia’s fires? And which ones are likely to survive?

Jan 11 2020

9mins

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Australian Animal Deaths, Carbon Emissions, Election Mystery

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Tim Harford on animal deaths in Australia's fires, how many Labour voters went Conservative and are UK carbon emissions really down 40%. Plus: have we really entered a new decade?

Jan 10 2020

34mins

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C-sections and sharks

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How many women in China give birth in hospitals, and whether it was true that 50% of births there are delivered by caesarean section. Oh, and we also mention guts and bacteria…

Sharks kill 12 humans a year but humans kill 11,417 sharks an hour. That’s the statistic used in a Facebook meme that’s doing the rounds. Is it true?

Jan 04 2020

8mins

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Presidential candidates and dementia

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We talk about the age of some of the frontrunners in the Democrat nomination race and President Donald Trump and the health risks they face.

Also, More or Less listeners were surprised by a claim they read on the BBC website recently: “Pets are estimated to be consuming up to 20 percent of all meat globally.” So we – of course – investigated and will explain all.

Dec 28 2019

8mins

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The Simpsons and maths

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We explore the maths secrets of The Simpsons on their 30th anniversary.

Dec 20 2019

8mins

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Koalas

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As bushfires rage in Australia, the plight of the koala made front-page news around the world. There were warnings that fires wiped out 80% of the marsupial's habitat and that koalas are facing extinction.

We check the claims with the help of National Geographic's Natasha Daly and Dr Christine Hosking of the University of Queensland.

(A Koala receives treatment at the Koala Hospital in Port Macquarie after its rescue from a bushfire. Credit: Safeed Khan/Getty Images)

Dec 13 2019

8mins

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Election Special (2/2)

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Labour's spending plans, Conservatives claims on homelessness, the SNP's education record

Dec 10 2019

27mins

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Tree Planting Pledges

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The UK General Election is fast approaching, top of the agenda are the political parties green ambitions and one particular initiative is garnering a lot of attention, tree planting. The Labour Party has the most ambitious target – a whopping 2 billion trees planted by 2040. How much land would this take, how does it stack up against other party pledges and what difference will it make?

Presenter: Tim Harford
Producer: Lizzy McNeill

Dec 06 2019

8mins

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Election Special 1/2

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50,000 nurses? 40 new hospitals? Big corporate tax rises? Childcare promises? Election pledges might sound good, but do they stand up to scrutiny? In the run up to the General Election on 12th December, Tim Harford takes his scalpel of truth to the inflamed appendix of misinformation.

Presenter: Tim Harford
Producer: Neal Razzell

Dec 03 2019

27mins

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Testing tomatoes

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Have these saucy fruits become less healthy over time?

Nov 29 2019

8mins

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The world’s busiest shipping lanes

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A listener wrote in asking which is the busiest shipping lane in the world. Ruth Alexander tries to find out with sea traffic analyst and former captain, Amrit Singh and Jean Tournadre, a researcher that uses satellite date to ships.

Producer: Darin Graham
Editor: Richard Vadon

Image: Freighter ships in Thessaloniki, Greece
Credit: Getty Images

Nov 23 2019

9mins

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Bolivia: Can statistics help detect electoral fraud?

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Evo Morales, Bolivia’s longest-serving leader and first indigenous president, stepped down last week amid weeks of protests sparked by a dispute over a recent presidential election in the country. His opponents say the election was rigged but the embattled former president said it was a cunning coup. We take a closer look at the election results and ask if statistics can tell whether it was fair or fraudulent.

Dr Calla Hummel of the University of Miami and Professor Romulo Chumacero of the University of Chile join Ruth Alexander to discuss.

Nov 15 2019

11mins

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Reducing your risk of death

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Two statistics about reducing your risk of an early death made headlines around the world recently. The first seems to be a great reason to add a four-legged friend to your life. It suggests that owning a dog is tied to lowering your chance of dying early by nearly a quarter.

The second statistic claims that even a minimal amount of running is linked to reducing your risk of premature death by up to 30%. Ruth Alexander finds out what’s behind these numbers and we hear from epidemiologist, Gideon Meyerowitz-Katz.

Producer: Darin Graham

Nov 09 2019

8mins

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Unbelievable: The forgotten rape data

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In the United States, some police jurisdictions didn’t send off DNA evidence from people who were raped for testing in a crime lab and for uploading into a national criminal database. Instead, the sets of evidence, known as rape kits, were sat on shelves and in warehouses.

It’s estimated that hundreds of thousands need processing. In this edition, Ruth Alexander explores how some jurisdictions are testing the kits now and using the data to catch criminals.

Producer: Darin Graham
Presenter: Ruth Alexander

(Untested sexual assault kits on warehouse shelves. Image: courtesy Joyful Heart Foundation)

Nov 01 2019

8mins

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Edith Abbott and crime statistics

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Social worker and economist Edith Abbott and her contribution to crime statistics.

Oct 28 2019

8mins

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Esther Duflo and women in economics

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Discussing Esther Duflo, Abhijit Banerjee and Michael Kremer’s economics Nobel Prize.

Oct 18 2019

20mins

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iTunes Ratings

427 Ratings
Average Ratings
348
46
11
9
13

Made me smarter

By maggiem79 - Dec 19 2019
Read more
I am much more critical when I hear or read stats in the news. Thank you so much! Please keep on!!

Excellent correction to public fictions.

By nicmart - Oct 31 2019
Read more
This is a refreshing antidote to the irrational hysteria of the media, including the BBC.