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More or Less: Behind the Stats

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

Weekly hand curated podcast episodes for learning

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Should you wear a face mask?

Do face masks stop you getting coronavirus? You might instinctively think that covering your mouth and nose with cloth must offer protection from Covid-19. And some health authorities around the world say people should make their own masks. But expert opinion is divided. Tim Harford and Ruth Alexander unpick the arguments.


11 Apr 2020

Rank #1

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Vaccines: how safe and who gets it?

The UK has become the first country in the world to approve the use of a vaccine for Covid 19. But some people are worried that the decision was taken too quickly - can we really know it’s safe yet? Tim Harford tackles these safety concerns. Plus, what is the best way to distribute the vaccine? How do you maximise the benefit of the first round of vaccines? Stuart McDonald, a fellow of the Institute and Faculty of Actuaries in the UK works out what groups would benefit most.


5 Dec 2020

Rank #2

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Covid cases rising, a guide to life’s risks, and racing jelly-fish

A jump in the number of UK Covid-19 cases reported by the government has led to fears coronavirus is now spreading quickly again. What do the numbers tell us about how worried we should be? Plus a guide to balancing life’s risks in the time of coronavirus, the government’s targets on test and trace, and a suspicious statistic about the speed of jelly-fish.


9 Sep 2020

Rank #3

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60 Harvests and statistically savvy parrots

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)


23 May 2020

Rank #4

Most Popular Podcasts

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WS More or Less: How Deadly Was 1920s Melbourne?

Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries is one of Australia’s most popular television series and has been broadcast in 172 territories worldwide. Set in 1920’s Melbourne the series’ protagonist, Miss Phryne Fisher, seems to have a lot of dead bodies on her metaphorical plate. So how does the series compare with the real life murder rate at that time? Join the More Or Less team as we step back in time for some statistical sleuthing.


29 Mar 2018

Rank #5

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The world’s busiest shipping lanes

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 GrahamEditor: Richard VadonImage: Freighter ships in Thessaloniki, GreeceCredit: Getty Images


23 Nov 2019

Rank #6

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More or Less: Superforecasting, wood burning stoves and the real story of Hidden Figures

Dipping into the archive for stories on the art of prediction and wood burner pollution


28 Feb 2020

Rank #7

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Testing tomatoes

Have these saucy fruits become less healthy over time?


29 Nov 2019

Rank #8

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WS More or Less: Dozy Science

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.


25 Jan 2020

Rank #9

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Teen Suicide; Brexit Business Moves; Wood-Burner Pollution

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


8 Feb 2019

Rank #10

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Hottest Easter, Insects, Scottish villages

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.InsectageddonInsects 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 beachCredit: Getty Images


26 Apr 2019

Rank #11

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Netflix and Chill

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.


24 Jan 2020

Rank #12

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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)


13 Dec 2019

Rank #13

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Vitamin D, explaining R and the 2 metre rule

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?


13 May 2020

Rank #14

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Social Distancing and Government Borrowing

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?


16 May 2020

Rank #15

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C-sections and sharks

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?


4 Jan 2020

Rank #16

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Getting Creative with Statistics

How big are your testicles and what does that mean?


27 Jul 2018

Rank #17

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Election Special (2/2)

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


10 Dec 2019

Rank #18

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How Richard Thaler changed Economics

The behavioural economist who has inspired governments around the world.


13 Oct 2017

Rank #19