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Education
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Science

More or Less: Behind the Stats

Updated 5 days ago

Education
News
Science
Read more

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

406 Ratings
Average Ratings
334
42
11
9
10

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.

Fact based research!

By Catherine & Bill - Sep 30 2019
Read more
Now more than ever - please BBC

iTunes Ratings

406 Ratings
Average Ratings
334
42
11
9
10

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.

Fact based research!

By Catherine & Bill - Sep 30 2019
Read more
Now more than ever - please BBC
Cover image of More or Less: Behind the Stats

More or Less: Behind the Stats

Updated 5 days ago

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: The Extra Episode: Minimum wage, drinking in Scotland and identical twins.

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We explore the numbers behind the new minimum wage announcements, whether drinking is going up or down in Scotland, the truth about squeezing people onto the Isle of Wight and how long one identical twin lives after the other twin dies. You’ll want to hear our special extra episode.

Oct 11 2019

28mins

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Rank #2: 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 #3: Fathers and babies

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Paternity Leave

This week it was claimed that only 1 percent of men are taking up the option of shared parental leave – a new provision that came into force a year ago. A number of media outlets covered the story, interviewing experts about why there was such a low take-up. But in reality the figures used are deeply flawed and cannot be used to prove such a statement.
Exponential Love

“I love you twice as much today as yesterday, but half as much as tomorrow.” – This is the inscription on a card that teacher Kyle Evans once saw in a card from his father to his mother. But if that was true, what would it have meant over the course of their relationship? Kyle takes us through a musical exploration of what exponential love would look like. The item is based on a performance he gave for a regional heat of Cheltenham Festivals Famelab – a competition trying to explain science in an engaging way.
The cost of the EU

One of our listeners spotted a comparison made this week between the UK’s contribution to the EU and a sandwich. One blogger says it’s like buying a £3 sandwich with a £5 note, and getting over a £1,000 in change. We look at the figures on how much the UK pays to the EU, and what it gets back.
The story of ‘average’

In the 1600s astronomers were coming up with measurements to help sailors read their maps with a compass. But with all the observations of the skies they were making, how did they choose the best number? We tell the story of how astronomers started to find the average from a group of numbers. By the 1800s, one Belgian astronomer began to apply it to all sorts of social and national statistics – and the ‘Average Man’ was born.
And we set a little maths problem to solve...
Presenter: Tim Harford

Producer: Charlotte McDonald

Apr 08 2016

27mins

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Rank #4: 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 #5: More or Less: Statistics of the Year 2017

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Phones, lawn mowers and how Kim Kardashian helped the public understanding of risk.

Dec 31 2017

9mins

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Rank #6: WS More or Less: Just how lucky are regular lottery winners?

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Are some people just very lucky? The maths suggest that is unlikely.

Dec 04 2017

10mins

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Rank #7: 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 #8: WS More or Less: How Rich was Jane Austen’s Mr Darcy?

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What the Pride and Prejudice character would have earned in today’s money.

Nov 26 2017

8mins

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Rank #9: WS More or Less: Are US millennials more politically engaged online?

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Did the 2016 US election galvanise young people to become more engaged in politics?

Oct 20 2017

8mins

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Rank #10: WS More or Less: Will Bitcoin use more electricity than the United States?

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Measuring the energy used to keep the cryptocurrency secure.

Dec 24 2017

9mins

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Rank #11: WS More or Less: Does San Francisco have more rough sleepers than Britain?

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Are the shocking statistics true? and how do you count people who don't wish to be found?

Oct 07 2019

8mins

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Rank #12: 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 #13: Missed appointments, graduate pay, plus cocaine on bank notes

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Did missed appointments cost the NHS £1 billion last year?

New figures published recently suggest that the financial cost to the NHS for missed appointments was £1 billion last year. But our listeners are curious. How has this figure been worked out? And don’t missed appointments actually ease the pressure on an overcrowded system?
Graduate pay – is it always higher than non-graduates’ pay?

It is often claimed that if you go to university and get a degree, you will earn more than those who do not. But is that always true? We take a look to see if there are occasions when having a degree makes little difference or whether the benefit of a degree has changed over time.
How much cocaine is on a bank note?

Tim Harford speaks to Richard Sleeman who works for a firm, Mass Spec Analytical, that specialises in working out how much cocaine can be found on bank notes across the country. Do some parts of the country have more cocaine on their notes than others? Is it true that 99% of bank notes in London have cocaine on them?
Is it true that one in five can’t name an author of literature?

Last year the Royal Society of Literature made this claim – but what was it based on? It turns out a polling company found that 20 percent questioned failed to name a single author. Should we be surprised? We took a look at the data.
Diet Coke Habit

The New York Times claims that Donald Trump drinks ‘a dozen’ Diet Cokes a day. With each can of 330ml containing 42mg of caffeine - what impact, if any, could this have on the President’s health?

Jan 12 2018

28mins

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Rank #14: 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 #15: WS More or Less: Simpson’s Paradox

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A Dutch statistician recently became suspicious by headlines in the Dutch news that women were being discriminated against when it came to getting science research funding. Professor Casper Albers of the Heymans Institute for Psychological Research, Groningen, discovered that the study into the funding process showed that when you looked at the overall numbers of successful candidates, women seemed to be less successful than men. And yet, when you looked at a breakdown of the different subjects people could apply for, it showed that women were not losing out disproportionately to men. How could two opposite findings be true? This contradiction is explained by a famous statistical paradox. We explain what is known as Simpson’s Paradox with the aid of a choir metaphor, performed by the BBC Singers.

May 02 2016

9mins

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Rank #16: Gender Pay Gaps and How to Learn a Language

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Gender Pay Gap

This week the Office for National Statistics has published analysis trying to find out why it is that on average women are paid less than men in specific industries and occupations. We examine their findings, as well as taking a look at the current discussion about equal pay at the BBC.
Alcohol reaction times

We take a look at a study that suggests that people's reaction speeds are affected over time by regular drinking. It recommends that official guidelines for the amount of alcohol consumed a week should be lowered. But what does the evidence show?
Bus announcements - when is too many?

Transport for London has introduced a new announcement on its buses to warn travellers that the bus is about to move. We discuss the benefit of such messages.
How many words do you need to speak a language?

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. We find out with help from Professor Stuart Webb, and put Tim through his paces to find out how big his own English vocabulary is.
Producer: Charlotte McDonald.
(Photo: Man and woman working on a car production plant. Credit: SEBASTIEN BOZON/AFP/Getty Images)

Jan 19 2018

27mins

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Rank #17: EU Migration

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How many people have come from the EU to live in the UK? And what impact do they have on the economy? This week it was reported there had been an increase in fire deaths – we aren’t so sure. We explain the achievement of Abel Prize winning mathematician Sir Andrew Wiles for Fermat’s Last Theorem. Plus, we explore the numbers behind Simpson’s Paradox.

Apr 29 2016

28mins

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Rank #18: 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 #19: WS More or Less: The world’s most diverse city

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Is London the most diverse city in the world? The new London mayor Sadiq Khan has claimed that it is, but is he right? How is diversity measured?
This month, British mathematician Sir Andrew Wiles will go to Oslo to collect the Abel prize, a prestigious maths prize for his work proving Fermat’s last theorem. Science author Simon Singh explains his work.
Producers: Laura Gray and Ed Davey.

May 13 2016

9mins

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Rank #20: Brexit numbers

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EU Treasury report
This week there was much debate over the Treasury report which modelled how leaving the EU would affect the economy. Tim Harford speaks to the Spectator’s Fraser Nelson about how the document was presented to the public, and how it was reported. Chris Giles of the Financial Times explains that there are useful points to take from the Treasury’s analysis.
Hinckley Point nuclear power station
What is the most expensive “object” ever built? The environmental charity Greenpeace has claimed it is set to be the most expensive object on Earth. But could it really cost more to build than the Great Pyramids? We take a look at some of the most costly building projects on the planet.
Chances of serving on a jury
A listener in Scotland is curious to know what the chances are of being selected for jury service. Several of his family members have received summons, but he has not. We look at who is eligible to serve, and what your odds are of receiving a summons.
European Girls Maths Olympiad
Last week we told the story of how the European Girls Maths Olympiad (EGMO) came into being. We followed the UK team on their recent journey to Romania to compete against 38 other teams from Europe and around the world.
Life expectancy of a Pope
In 2014 Pope Francis alluded to the fact he didn’t expect to live more than another two or three years. A group of statisticians have taken a look at the life expectancy of popes over the centuries and decided that he may have been rather pessimistic.
Presenter: Tim Harford

Producer: Charlotte McDonald

Apr 22 2016

27mins

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