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More or Less: Behind the Stats

Updated about 1 month 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

484 Ratings
Average Ratings
398
51
12
10
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

484 Ratings
Average Ratings
398
51
12
10
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 Jul 04, 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: 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

Play

Rank #2: 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 #3: 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 #4: Covid-19 fatality rate

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The question of just how dangerous Covid-19 really is, is absolutely crucial. If a large number of those who are infected go on to die, there could be dreadful consequences if we relaxed the lockdowns that have been imposed across much of the world. If the number is smaller, for many countries the worst might already be behind us.

But the frustrating thing is: we’re still not sure. So how can we work this crucial number out?

May 09 2020

8mins

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Rank #5: WS More or Less: How Should We Think About Spending?

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Tim Harford talks to economist Dan Ariely about the psychology of money. They discuss how understanding the way we think about our finances can help us to spend more carefully and save more efficiently. Plus Dan explains how to never have an argument over sharing a restaurant bill again.
(Photo: Mannequins in a shop window wearing sale t-shirts. Credit: Sean Gallup/Getty Images)

Apr 20 2018

8mins

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Rank #6: 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 #7: Gender Pay Gap

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The “gender pay gap”

This topic has been in the news this week after the Institute for Fiscal Studies published research showing women end up 33% worse off than their male counterparts after they have children. But earlier in the summer, Fraser Nelson wrote in the Telegraph that the pay gap is “no longer an issue” for women born after 1975. Can both assessments be true? And could the label “gender pay gap” be hindering our understanding of what really lies behind the numbers?
The cost of a hospital

If a politician or commentator wants to underline just how wasteful a piece of expenditure is, a common strategy is to compare it to the number of hospitals you could build instead. Of course, hospitals are positive things – we all want more, right? But just how much is a hospital? Is it really a useful unit of measurement? We speak to health economist John Appleby.
Corbyn Facts

As Labour members begin voting on the party leadership, we investigate some of the claims made on the “Corbyn Facts” website set up by Jeremy Corbyn’s campaign. Did he really give 122 speeches on the EU referendum during the campaign? Were this year’s local election results as good as Labour’s best performance under Ed Miliband? We look at what the numbers tell us.
Death Penalty abolition

Statistics suggest that officially about half of the countries in the world have abolished Capital Punishment, and a further 52 have stopped its use in practice. But we tell the story behind the numbers and show why the picture is more complicated. We speak to Parvais Jabbar, co-director of the Death Penalty Project.
The Holiday Desk of Good News

This week we outline a handful of statistics to make everyone feel better about the UK and their holidays.

Aug 26 2016

27mins

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Rank #8: Testing truth, fatality rates, obesity risk and trampolines.

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The Health Minister Matt Hancock promised the UK would carry out 100,000 coronavirus tests a day by the end of April. He claims he succeeded. Did he?

The question of just how dangerous the new coronavirus really is, is absolutely crucial. If it’s high, there could be dreadful consequences if we relaxed the lockdowns. So why is the fatality rate so difficult to calculate?

Is it true that being obese makes Covid-19 ten times more dangerous? And whatis injuring more kids in lockdown, trampolines or Joe Wicks’ exercises?

May 06 2020

27mins

Play

Rank #9: 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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Rank #10: 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 #11: WS More or Less: Should we really be drinking eight glasses of water a day?

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How much water should you be drinking? There’s some age-old advice that suggests you should be drinking eight ounces (230 ml) eight times a day. Some people even advise you should be drinking this on top of what you normally drink. There is lots of advice out there but how do you know when you’ve had enough or if you’re drinking too much. With help from Professor Stanley Goldfarb from the University of Pennsylvania, Wesley Stephenson finds out.
(Image: Hand holding a glass of water. Credit: Charlotte Ball/PA Wire)

Jan 06 2017

9mins

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Rank #12: 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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Rank #13: Tax, speed dating and sea ice

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Exploring the Labour manifesto's tax plans for high earners.

May 19 2017

24mins

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Rank #14: WS More or Less: Exposing the biases we have of the world

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The great statistician, Hans Rosling, died in February last year. Throughout his life Hans used data to explain how the world was changing – and often improving – and he would challenge people to examine their own preconceptions and ignorance. Before he became ill, Hans had started working on a book about these questions and what they reveal about the mental biases that tend to lead us astray. Tim Harford speaks to his son Ola and daughter in law Anna who worked on the book with him.

May 07 2018

9mins

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Rank #15: Is nuclear power actually safer than you think?

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We questioned the death count of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster in last week’s More or Less podcast. In the end, Professor Jim Smith of Portsmouth University came up with an estimate of 15,000 deaths.

But we wondered how deadly nuclear power is overall when compared to other energy sources? Dr Hannah Ritchie of the University of Oxford joins Charlotte McDonald to explore.

Image:Chernobyl nuclear plant, October 1st 1986
Credit: Getty Images

Jun 28 2019

9mins

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Rank #16: How many words do you need to speak a language?

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Ein Bier bitte? Loyal listener David made a new year's resolution to learn German. Three years later, that's about as far as he's got. Keen to have something to aim for, he asked More or Less how many words you really need to know in order to speak a language. Reporter Beth Sagar-Fenton finds out with help from Professor Stuart Webb, and puts Tim through his paces to find out how big his own English vocabulary is. (Image: The World surrounded by Flags. Credit: Shutterstock) Presenter: Tim Harford Reporter: Beth Sagar-Fenton Producer: Charlotte McDonald, Lizzy McNeill

Jun 22 2018

8mins

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Rank #17: Questioning the Chernobyl disaster death count

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The recent TV miniseries ‘Chernobyl’ has stirred up debate online about the accuracy of its portrayal of the explosion at a nuclear power plant in the former Soviet state of Ukraine. We fact-check the programme and try and explain why it so hard to say how many people will die because of the Chernobyl disaster.

Image: Chernobyl nuclear power plant a few weeks after the disaster.
Credit: Getty Images

Jun 21 2019

15mins

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Rank #18: Are married women flipping miserable?

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Measuring happiness, university access in Scotland, plus will one in two get cancer?

Jun 07 2019

23mins

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Rank #19: Climate Change, Victorian Diseases, Alcohol

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Tim Harford on climate change, Victorian diseases, maths mistakes and alcohol consumption

Feb 15 2019

23mins

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Why Trump is wrong about the USA’s coronavirus case comeback

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Are cases really rising in the US or are they just testing more? Tim digs into the data.

Jul 04 2020

9mins

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Why did the UK have such a bad Covid-19 epidemic?

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The UK has suffered one of the worst outbreaks of coronavirus anywhere in the world. We’ve been tracking and analysing the numbers for the last 14 weeks, and in the last programme of this More or Less series, we look back through the events of March 2020 to ask why things went so wrong - was it bad decision-making, bad advice, or bad luck?

Jul 01 2020

28mins

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A new Covid-19 drug and a second wave

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The steroid Dexamethasone has been hailed a “major breakthrough” in the treatment of Covid-19. But what does the data say? Plus, why haven’t mass protests led to a second wave?

Jun 27 2020

9mins

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Child Poverty, School Inequality and a Second Wave

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As lockdown eases, why hasn't there been a spike in infections? We get a first look at the evidence for the much-trumpeted Covid-19 treatment, Dexamethasone. Stephanie Flanders tells us what’s happening to the UK economy. Keir Starmer says child poverty is up; Boris Johnson says it’s down, who's right? Plus which children are getting a solid home-school experience, and who is missing out?

Jun 24 2020

28mins

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Who Should be Quarantined?

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Some countries are requiring new arrivals to self-isolate, a policy designed to stop infection spreading from areas of high prevalence to low prevalence. Tim Harford and Ruth Alexander find out which countries have the highest rate of Covid-19 infection.
Plus, is it really true that the coronavirus mostly kills people who would die soon anyway?

Jun 20 2020

9mins

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Quarantine, Test and Trace and BODMAS

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The UK has introduced new rules requiring all people arriving in the country to self-isolate for 14 days. But given the severity of the UK’s outbreak can there be many places more infectious? Is it true that Covid-19 mostly kills people who would die soon anyway? The first figures are out showing how England’s Test and Trace programme is performing, but they contain a mystery we’re keen to resolve. And we play with some mathematical puzzles, courtesy of statistician Jen Rogers.

Jun 17 2020

28mins

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Antibody tests, early lockdown advice and European deaths

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At the start of March the government's Chief Scientific Adviser Sir Patrick Vallance said that the UK’s coronavirus outbreak was four weeks behind the epidemic in Italy. This ability to watch other countries deal with the disease ahead of us potentially influenced the decisions we made about which actions to take and when, including lockdown. So was he right?

Jun 10 2020

27mins

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Keep your distance

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What difference does a metre make? The World Health Organisation recommends that people keep at least 1 metre apart from each other to stop the spread of Covid-19, but different countries have adopted different standards.

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends staying six feet apart - that’s just short of 2 metres; in the UK, the rule is 2 metres.

But all this has a big impact on the way businesses and societies get back to work. Tim Harford investigates the economic costs and conundrums of keeping our distance in a post-lockdown world.

How can we avoid infection spreading again, while getting on with life?

Jun 06 2020

9mins

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False negatives, testing capacity and pheasants

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As lockdowns begin to lift the government is relying on testing and contact tracing programmes to prevent a second wave of Covid-19 infections. But how accurate are the swab tests used to diagnose the disease?

The UK Statistics Authority has criticised the government for the way it reports testing figures, saying it’s not surprising that these numbers “are so widely criticised and often mistrusted.” We take a look at how the government achieved its target of developing a daily testing capacity of 200,000 by the end of May.

Can we really have only 60 harvests left in the world? Plus, the very pleasant Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall has a pleasant pheasant question for us.

Jun 03 2020

27mins

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Obeying lockdown, flight arrivals and is this wave of the epidemic waning?

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More than 35,000 people in the UK have now officially died from Covid-19, but what does the data show about whether this wave of the epidemic is waning? We ask who respects lockdown, who breaks it, and why?

Our listeners are astounded by how many people allegedly flew into the UK in the first three months of the year - we’re on the story. We look at the performance of the Scottish health system on testing. And some pub-quiz joy involving a pencil.

May 27 2020

27mins

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60 Harvests and statistically savvy parrots

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A listener asks if there can really only be 60 harvests left in Earth's soil. Are we heading for an agricultural Armageddon? Plus we meet the parrots who are the first animals, outside humans and great apes, to be shown to understand probability.

(image: Kea parrots in New Zealand)

May 23 2020

8mins

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School re-opening, Germany’s Covid-19 success and statistically savvy parrots

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Risk expert David Spiegelhalter discusses whether re-opening some schools could be dangerous for children or their teachers. We ask what’s behind Germany’s success in containing the number of deaths from Covid-19. Many governments across the world are borrowing huge sums to prop up their economies during this difficult time, but with everyone in the same boat who are they borrowing from? Plus we revisit the UK’s testing figures yet again and meet some statistically savvy parrots.

May 20 2020

28mins

Play

Social Distancing and Government Borrowing

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As lockdowns start to lift, many countries are relying on social distancing to continue to slow the spread of coronavirus. The UK says we should stay 2 metres apart, the World Health Organisation recommends 1 metre, Canada six feet. So where do these different measurements come from?

Plus, governments around the world are trying to prop up their economies by borrowing money. But with everyone in the same situation, where are they borrrowing from?

May 16 2020

9mins

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Vitamin D, explaining R and the 2 metre rule

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R is one of the most important numbers of the pandemic. But what is it? And how is it estimated? We return to the topic of testing and ask again whether the governments numbers add up. As the government encourages those who can’t work at home to return to their workplaces - we’re relying on social distancing to continue to slow the spread of the virus. But where does the rule that people should stay 2 metres apart come from? And is Vitamin D an under-appreciated weapon in the fight against Covid-19?

May 13 2020

27mins

Play

Covid-19 fatality rate

Podcast cover
Read more
The question of just how dangerous Covid-19 really is, is absolutely crucial. If a large number of those who are infected go on to die, there could be dreadful consequences if we relaxed the lockdowns that have been imposed across much of the world. If the number is smaller, for many countries the worst might already be behind us.

But the frustrating thing is: we’re still not sure. So how can we work this crucial number out?

May 09 2020

8mins

Play

Testing truth, fatality rates, obesity risk and trampolines.

Podcast cover
Read more
The Health Minister Matt Hancock promised the UK would carry out 100,000 coronavirus tests a day by the end of April. He claims he succeeded. Did he?

The question of just how dangerous the new coronavirus really is, is absolutely crucial. If it’s high, there could be dreadful consequences if we relaxed the lockdowns. So why is the fatality rate so difficult to calculate?

Is it true that being obese makes Covid-19 ten times more dangerous? And whatis injuring more kids in lockdown, trampolines or Joe Wicks’ exercises?

May 06 2020

27mins

Play

Climate change and birdsong

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With much of the world’s population staying indoors, there are fewer cars on the roads, planes in the skies and workplaces and factories open. Will this have an impact on climate change?

Plus as the streets become quieter, is it just us, or have the birds begun to sing much more loudly?

May 02 2020

9mins

Play

Ethnic minority deaths, climate change and lockdown

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We continue our mission to use numbers to make sense of the world - pandemic or no pandemic. Are doctors from ethnic minority backgrounds disproportionately affected by Covid-19? Was the lockdown the decisive change which caused daily deaths in the UK to start to decrease? With much of the world’s population staying indoors, we ask what impact this might have on climate change and after weeks of staring out of the window at gorgeous April sunshine, does cruel fate now doom us to a rain-drenched summer? Plus, crime is down, boasts the home secretary Priti Patel. Should we be impressed?

Apr 29 2020

28mins

Play

Comparing countries' coronavirus performance

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Many articles in the media compare countries with one another - who’s faring better or worse in the fight against coronavirus? But is this helpful - or, in fact, fair?
Tim Harford and Ruth Alexander discuss the limitations that we come across when we try to compare the numbers of Covid-19 cases and deaths in different countries; population size, density, rates of testing and how connected the country is all play a role.

Apr 25 2020

9mins

Play

Bonus Podcast: Professor John Horton Conway

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John Horton Conway died in April this year at the age of 82 from Covid-19 related complications. An influential figure in mathematics, Conway’s ideas inspired generations of students around the world. We remember the man and his work with mathematician Matt Parker and Conway’s biographer Siobhan Roberts.

Apr 23 2020

14mins

Play

iTunes Ratings

484 Ratings
Average Ratings
398
51
12
10
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.