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More or Less: Behind the Stats Podcast by Tim Harford

More or Less: Behind the Stats Podcast

by Tim Harford

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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.


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http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p02nrss1

WS More Or Less: Baby Boxes – are they really saving infant’s lives?

Author: BBC Radio 4
Fri, Mar 24, 2017


Ever since a BBC article highlighted the use of baby boxes in Finland they have become a bit of a phenomenon. They’re not new though Finland has been doing this for 75 years. The simple cardboard boxes are given to families for their new born babies to sleep in. Since their introduction cot death and has fallen and child health improved. Governments and individuals across the world have adopted them and companies have sprung up selling them. But think about for minute – can a cardboard box on its own really have such a huge effect – Elizabeth Cassin and Charlotte McDonald have been looking at the truth behind the story. Presenter: Charlotte McDonald Producer: Elizabeth Cassin (Photo:One of Scotland's first baby boxes is seen at Clackmannanshire Community Health Centre. Credit: Getty Images)

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More or Less: The concrete facts about Trump’s wall and China

Author: BBC Radio 4
Fri, Mar 17, 2017


Did China use more concrete in three years than the US in the 20th Century?

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WS More or Less: The Attention Span of a Goldfish

Author: BBC Radio 4
Fri, Mar 10, 2017


Are our attention spans now shorter than a goldfish's?

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WS More or Less: Why are Hollywood actresses paid less than men?

Author: BBC Radio 4
Fri, Mar 03, 2017


Top Hollywood actresses have complained that they are paid less than their male co-stars

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WS More or Less: What happened last night in Sweden?

Author: BBC Radio 4
Fri, Feb 24, 2017


What happened last night in Sweden?

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Hidden Figures: The Real Story

Author: BBC Radio 4
Fri, Feb 17, 2017


Hidden Figures, the film, has been nominated for three awards at the Oscars and has been a box office hit in the US. It tells the little-known story of a group of African American women and their contribution to the space race in the 50s and 60s. We explore the history of how these women were recruited by Nasa and put to work on complex mathematical tasks – at a time when African Americans and women were far less likely to be employed in such jobs. (Photo: Taraji P. Henson as Katherine Johnson,in a scene from Hidden Figures. Credit: Hopper Stone/Twentieth Century Fox/AP)

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WS More or Less: Hans Rosling - the extraordinary life of a statistical guru

Author: BBC Radio 4
Mon, Feb 13, 2017


A huge hole was left in the world this week with the death of the Swedish statistician Han Rosling. He was a master communicator whose captivating presentations on global development were watched by millions. He had the ear of those with power and influence. His friend Bill Gates said Hans ‘brought data to life and helped the world see the human progress it often overlooked’. In a world that often looks at the bad news coming out of the developing world, Rosling was determined to spread the good news, extended life expectancy, falling rates of disease and infant mortality. He was fighting what he called the ‘post-fact era‘ of global health. He was passionate about global development and before he became famous he lived and worked in Mozambique, India and the Democratic Republic of Congo using data and his skills as a doctor to save lives. Despite ill health he also travelled to Liberia during the Ebola outbreak in 2014 to help gather and consolidate data to help fight the outbreak. On a personal level he was warm, funny and kind and will be greatly missed by a huge number of people. Presenter: Tim Harford Producer: Wesley Stephenson (Image: Hans Rosling, speaks at a conference in 2012. Credit: Matthew Lloyd/Getty Images for ReSource 2012)

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WS More or Less: Is democracy failing in America?

Author: BBC Radio 4
Fri, Feb 03, 2017


Does North Carolina really rank alongside North Korea if you measure electoral integrity

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WS More or Less: Counting Crowds

Author: BBC Radio 4
Fri, Jan 27, 2017


How many went to celebrate – and how many to protest – the Trump inauguration?

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WS More or Less: Why January makes us want to scream

Author: BBC Radio 4
Fri, Jan 20, 2017


Blue Monday and Oxfam’s comparison wealth of billionaires and the poor –the stories that come around every year.

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WS More or Less: Christian Martyrs

Author: BBC Radio 4
Fri, Jan 13, 2017


Were 90,000 Christians killed because of their faith in 2016?

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WS More or Less: Should we really be drinking eight glasses of water a day?

Author: BBC Radio 4
Fri, Jan 06, 2017


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)

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WS More or Less: Does Sweden Really Have a Six Hour Day?

Author: BBC Radio 4
Tue, Jan 03, 2017


There have been reports that those radical Swedes have decided to reduce the working day to just six hours because, it has been claimed, productivity does not suffer. Before you all rush to the Swedish job pages this is not quite the case – but there have been trials in Sweden to test whether you can shorten people’s working hours without having an effect on output. Tim Harford talks to our Swedish correspondent Keith Moore about what the trials have found. He also speaks to professor John Pencavel, Emeritus Professor of Economics, at Stanford University, and finds that reducing working hours may not be as radical idea as it first appears. (Photo: A business man carries a black briefcase)

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The Haber-Bosch Process

Author: BBC Radio 4
Wed, Dec 28, 2016


Saving lives with thin air - by taking nitrogen from the air to make fertiliser

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WS More or Less: Life, death and data

Author: BBC Radio 4
Mon, Dec 26, 2016


Improving data to target help to the poorest people

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Christmas Quiz

Author: BBC Radio 4
Fri, Dec 23, 2016


Tim Harford poses a tough statistical challenge

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WS More or Less: Yellow cards for Christmas

Author: BBC Radio 4
Fri, Dec 16, 2016


Are footballers trying to get suspended for Christmas?

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Have more famous people died this year?

Author: BBC Radio 4
Fri, Dec 16, 2016


Notable deaths, Rule Britannia and creating your own Christmas speech

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WS More or Less: How risky is the contraceptive pill?

Author: BBC Radio 4
Mon, Dec 12, 2016


We look at the numbers behind the scary headlines about birth control.

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How wrong were the Brexit forecasts?

Author: BBC Radio 4
Fri, Dec 09, 2016


The economic doom that never was; childhood cancer figures and Ed Balls

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WS More or Less: How not to test public opinion

Author: BBC Radio 4
Fri, Dec 02, 2016


The survey by the Indian PM that broke all the polling rules and started a mass protest

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Are you related to Edward III - and Danny Dyer?

Author: BBC Radio 4
Fri, Dec 02, 2016


What are the odds of being related to a medieval king? and how many cows for a fiver?

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WS More or Less: Good news on renewables?

Author: BBC Radio 4
Mon, Nov 28, 2016


Renewable capacity has surpassed that of coal–is this good news? Plus an asteroid update.

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Pensioners aren't poor anymore

Author: BBC Radio 4
Fri, Nov 25, 2016


High-rolling pensioners? predicting Norovirus, air pollution deaths and lost or found?

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WS More or Less: Avoiding Asteroids

Author: BBC Radio 4
Mon, Nov 21, 2016


A new NASA warning system means we’re getting better at spotting Earth-bound space rocks. But how safe are we?

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Is dementia the number one killer?

Author: BBC Radio 4
Fri, Nov 18, 2016


Is dementia on the rise? Plus immigration, incomplete contacts and chocolate muffins

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WS More or Less: Liberia’s Rape Statistic Debunked

Author: BBC Radio 4
Mon, Nov 14, 2016


Sexual violence was widespread in Liberia’s brutal and bloody year civil war. But were three quarters of women in the country raped? We tell the story behind the number and reveal how well-meaning efforts to expose what happened have fuelled myths and miss-leading statistics that continue to be propagated to this day, including by the UN. We speak to Amelia Hoover Green from Drexel University, Dara Cohen from the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University, researcher Phyllis Kimba and Aisha Dukule from the think tank Center For Liberia's Future in Monrovia. (Photo: Liberian women and children wait for rice rations in overcrowded Monrovia, June 2003. Credit: Georges Gobet/AFP/Getty Images)

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US election, stray cats and puzzles

Author: BBC Radio 4
Fri, Nov 11, 2016


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

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WS More or Less: Ice Cream versus aid

Author: BBC Radio 4
Mon, Nov 07, 2016


Does the world really spend three times as much on ice cream than on humanitarian aid?

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Trump tells the Truth

Author: BBC Radio 4
Fri, Nov 04, 2016


The fact-checkers have been working overtime looking into the numbers used by Donald Trump during his campaign to become President of the USA. In the wake of the election next week, we take a look at some of Trump’s more outrageous statistical claims

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WS More or Less: Child Marriage, Dangerous Algorithms

Author: BBC Radio 4
Fri, Oct 28, 2016


Is a girl under 15 married every seven seconds? And beware dangerous algorithms

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WS More or Less: Escobar’s Cocaine Deaths

Author: BBC Radio 4
Mon, Oct 24, 2016


How many people die for every kilo of cocaine? More Or Less investigates.

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WS More or Less: Algorithms, Crime and Punishment

Author: BBC Radio 4
Fri, Oct 14, 2016


When maths can get you locked up.

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WS More or Less: The Sustainable Development Goals – are there just too many?

Author: BBC Radio 4
Fri, Oct 07, 2016


It’s now a year since the UN set its new Sustainable Development Goals to try to make the world a better place. They include 17 goals and a massive 169 targets on subjects like disease, education and governance. But some people like Bjorn Lomborg are saying that there’s just too many and they are too broad, and left like that will never achieve anything. Is he right – and is there a better way to make the world better and stop some countries lagging behind? Wesley Stephenson and Charlotte McDonald find out.

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WS More or Less: Who Won the US Presidential Debate?

Author: BBC Radio 4
Fri, Sep 30, 2016


Polling on the first TV debate between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump appears to be divided over who won it. But not all polls are equal. If the people being polled aren’t representative of the population at large, then their responses may not tell you anything useful. And when internet polls can be hijacked by online activists, they can throw up some pretty strange results. (Photo: Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton first presidential debate. Credit: Getty Images)

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WS More or Less: Trump’s crime claims

Author: BBC Radio 4
Fri, Sep 23, 2016


This week Donald Trump claimed that there are some inner city areas in the US which are suffering from the worst crime rates ever. They are so dangerous, he says, that Afghanistan is safer than many of these areas. But could this be true? We take a look at crime in the US and assess whether you can compare it to a conflict zone such as Afghanistan. (Image: Chicago - Neighbourhood residents watch as police investigate a homicide scene. Credit: Scott Olson/Getty Images)

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WS More or Less: Wedding gift economics

Author: BBC Radio 4
Sun, Sep 18, 2016


Can economics help us work out the perfect amount to spend on a wedding gift? Our reporter Jordan Dunbar is in a tricky situation-he’s heading to an old friend’s wedding and needs to figure out how much to give as a gift without breaking the bank. Luckily, economist Maria Kozlovskaya is on hand to talk about her findings on what factors we need to consider for gift giving, as well as preserving Jordan’s friendship and wallet.

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WS More or Less: Drug deaths in the Philippines

Author: BBC Radio 4
Mon, Sep 12, 2016


Over the last two months the Government in the Philippines has been encouraging the police to clampdown on the illegal drug trade. The new President, Rodrigo Duterte, went as far as saying that citizens could shoot and kill drug dealers who resisted arrest, and the killings of drug suspects were lawful if the police acted in self-defence. The press have been reporting numbers of how many people have been killed during the crackdown – but how much trust can we put in these figures? Lottery wins We interview Adam Kucharski, author of The Perfect Bet, to find out if maths can give you an edge to playing the lottery or gambling.

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WS More or Less: Menstrual Syncing

Author: BBC Radio 4
Mon, Sep 05, 2016


It is a commonly held belief that if women spend enough time together, their bodies start to communicate through chemical signals, known as pheromones. Eventually the women’s bodies will start to menstruate at the same time. But where does this idea come from? And is it really true? We look at the evidence and wonder – could it be down to chance?

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Irish Passports

Author: BBC Radio 4
Fri, Sep 02, 2016


Britons entitled to Irish passports After the Brexit vote in June, so many Britons applied for Irish passports that Ireland’s foreign minister had to ask them to stop – pointing out that the UK remains, for now, in the EU. If some of the figures that have been quoted are correct, the Irish passport service may find itself completely inundated in future. But does one in four Britons really have Irish heritage? We reveal the dubious history of that number and attempt to estimate the number of Britons who are actually entitled to dual nationality with Ireland. Do women’s periods sync? It is a commonly held belief that if women spend time together, their bodies start to sync and they will have their periods at the same time. But where does this idea come from? And is it really true? We look at the evidence and wonder – could it be down to chance? Numbers in music Marcus du Sautoy takes us on a journey through some of his favourite musical pieces, pointing out the interesting mathematical patterns hidden in the compositions. Dangerous algorithms Cathy O’Neil, a data scientist and activist, has written a new book, “Weapons of Math Destruction.” She is concerned about the proliferation of certain kinds of algorithms – that help make important decisions, but that could be based on unfair statistics with hidden biases. She explains how to look out for them, and what we can do to protect ourselves. Desk of Good News – organ donations We look at the trends for organ donations and transplants.

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Death Penalty abolition

Author: BBC Radio 4
Tue, Aug 30, 2016


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.

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Gender Pay Gap

Author: BBC Radio 4
Fri, Aug 26, 2016


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.

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WS More or Less: Counting Terror Deaths

Author: BBC Radio 4
Mon, Aug 22, 2016


With high profile attacks in Brussels, Nice and Munich, you might think that 2016 has been a particularly bad year for terrorism in Europe. But what happens when you put the numbers in historical context and compare them with figures for the rest of the world? More Or Less hears from Dr Erin Miller of the Global Terrorism Database and Harvard psychology professor Steven Pinker. (Image: A man wrapped in a Belgian flag holds a candle as people gather at a makeshift memorial on Place de la Bourse two days after a triple bomb attack hit. Credit: Philippe Huguen/AFP/Getty Images)

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Counting Terror Deaths

Author: BBC Radio 4
Fri, Aug 19, 2016


Is 2016 an unusually deadly year for terrorism? In a joint investigation with BBC Newsbeat and BBC Monitoring, we’ve analysed nearly 25,000 news articles to assess whether 2016 so far has been a unusually deadly year for terrorism. It certainly feels like it. But what do the numbers say? We estimate that, between January and July this year, 892 people died in terrorist attacks in Europe – making it the most deadly first seven months of a year since 1994. But the vast majority of those deaths have been in Turkey. The number for Western Europe is 143, which is lower than many years in the 1970s. Dying ‘at the hands of the police’ This week retired footballer Dalian Atkinson died after being 'tasered' by police. His death has renewed concerns about the number of people who die after coming into contact with the police. Recently it was claimed that one person a week dies ‘at the hands of the police’ and that ‘black people are disproportionately affected.’ We take a look at the numbers. Olympic predictions As the Games in Rio draw to an end, we look back at the medal predictions we made before they started. Which countries have performed as expected? And which failed to meet our expectations? The cost of a wedding gift Can economics tell us how much to spend on a wedding gift? Our reporter Jordan is in a tight spot. He’s heading to an old friend’s wedding and needs to figure out how little he can get away with spending on a gift. Luckily, economist Maria Kozlovskaya is on hand to explain her findings on our ‘internal exchange rate’ for gift giving. Can she preserve Jordan’s friendship while protecting his wallet?

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WS More or Less: Swimming World Records

Author: BBC Radio 4
Mon, Aug 15, 2016


World Records are being set at a much faster rate in swimming than in other sports. At the Rio Olympics, British swimmer Adam Peaty managed to break the men's 100m breaststroke world record twice in two days. Tim Harford speaks to swimming coach, Rick Madge, about the reasons swimmers keep getting better results in the pool. Also, science writer Christie Aschwanden makes the case for the virtues of the 5,000 metre race. She says that in recent times it has become very popular for people to train to run a marathon. But when you look at the numbers, is the 5K a better distance? Presenter: Tim Harford Producer: Charlotte McDonald

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Grammar Schools

Author: BBC Radio 4
Fri, Aug 12, 2016


It has been reported that Prime Minister Theresa May is planning on lifting the ban on creating new grammar schools. Chris Cook, Policy Editor for Newsnight, has been looking at the evidence for whether these selective schools improve exam performance or social mobility. Swimming World Records New world records are being set in swimming at a much faster rate than other sports – but why? Tim Harford speaks to swim coach and blogger, Rick Madge about the reason swimmers keep getting better results in the pool. Why do other sports, like athletics, not seem to have the same continual improvements in results? Teenage girls aren’t so bad after all This week’s Desk of Good News challenges the concept that teenage girls and young women are badly behaved. It features statistics on falling teenage pregnancy rates, drinking figures and improving educational success. The rise of TV Was the Queen's Coronation the event that sparked the biggest rise in TV sales ever? We take a look at the rise of television in the UK. Lottery wins Adam Kucharski, author of The Perfect Bet, looks at the maths behind playing the lottery or gambling. Presenter: Tim Harford Producer: Charlotte McDonald

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WS More or Less: Predicting Olympic Medals

Author: BBC Radio 4
Mon, Aug 08, 2016


How can we use statistics to predict how many medals each nation will win? We speak to Dr Julia Bredtmann, an economist at the RWI Leibniz Institute for Economic Research. She has come up with a model to predict how many medals each country will win, along with her colleagues, Sebastian Otten, also from the Leibniz Institute, and Carsten Crede of the University of East Anglia. Some countries like the US and China have a large population and GDP, but a number of countries do very well for their size and wealth. Julia explains the different factors you have to consider to predict Olympic success.

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Plastic Bags

Author: BBC Radio 4
Fri, Aug 05, 2016


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.

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WS More or Less: Odd Socks and Algorithms

Author: BBC Radio 4
Mon, Aug 01, 2016


How can the techniques of computer science help us in everyday life? We speak to Brian Christian co-author of ‘Algorithms to Live by: The Computer Science of Human Decisions’. He argues that the techniques of computer science can help us manage everyday situations in a more logical and efficient manner. So which algorithm can help solve the problem of odd socks? And what is the most efficient way of alphabetising your book collection? Tim Harford investigates.

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The Supermarket Effect

Author: BBC Radio 4
Fri, Jul 29, 2016


Many news outlets have reported this week that a Waitrose supermarket pushes up house prices in the surrounding area. It’s based on research that also suggests that other supermarkets have a similar but smaller effect. We take a highly sceptical look at the correlation. Statistics and the EU referendum campaign We look at how the two campaigns, the media, and the much-discussed “experts” used statistics during the EU referendum campaign. Tim Harford interviews Will Moy, director of Fullfact, and Paul Johnson, director of the Institute for Fiscal Studies. Antiques Roadshow BBC One’s Antiques Roadshow is a hugely popular television programme, where experts examine and value antiques and collectables. We ask whether the items featured really jump in value, or are we just seeing the price tag rise over the centuries in line with inflation? More Or Less reporter Charlotte McDonald heads down to the show to find out. Computer Science and Socks Tim Harford speaks to Brian Christian, co-author of ‘Algorithms to Live by: The Computer Science of Human Decisions’. How can the techniques of computer science help us in every-day situations? And, most importantly, which algorithm will help our reporter Jordan Dunbar sort out his socks?

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WS More or Less: Ireland’s Shock GDP figures

Author: BBC Radio 4
Fri, Jul 22, 2016


The Irish Central Statistics Office has released figures showing that Ireland’s economy grew by 26% in 2015. That would make it the fastest growing economy in the world. But American economist Paul Krugman described this as “leprechaun economics” as this growth rate is so unrealistically high. More or Less explores how multinational companies with headquarters in Ireland have led to an accounting headache for working out the country’s GDP. Also, the mobile gaming app Pokemon Go has taken the US by storm and is now spreading across the world. But does Pokemon Go really have 26 million daily active users in the US? More Or Less investigates.

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

Author: BBC Radio 4
Fri, Jul 15, 2016


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

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WS More or Less: Sleeping: the 8-hour myth

Author: BBC Radio 4
Fri, Jul 08, 2016


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)

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Ranking Iceland’s Football Team

Author: BBC Radio 4
Fri, Jul 01, 2016


Is Iceland the best football team in the world per capita? England suffered a 2-1 defeat to Iceland in the European Football Championship in France. This was embarrassing for England when you consider its population is 163 times bigger than Iceland’s. We take a look at whether Iceland is now the best performing football team in the world if you compare UEFA ranking to the size of each country’s population. Plus, we take a look at the chances of a young man in Iceland and in England getting to represent their country on the pitch. Old versus young Brexit voters Many media outlets have reported that it was predominantly the older generations in the UK who voted to ‘Leave’ the EU in a recent referendum, while those under 25 were keenest to ‘Remain’. It has prompted many listeners to ask whether a referendum on this topic might yield a different result if held in a few years’ time as the electorate changes. We attempt some back of the envelope calculations with Tom Chivers from Buzzfeed. But actually – how good is the data available? How do we know how people voted or how they would vote in the future?

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WS More or Less: Brexit Economics

Author: BBC Radio 4
Fri, Jun 24, 2016


Following a referendum, the UK has voted to leave the European Union. Tim Harford and the team explore what that might mean for the UK’s economy. Most notably - what might be the impact on trade? We examine the economic forecasts from the government, and how the UK might manage its relationships with other countries. (Image: A pay-per-view binocular with the British and European Union flags. Credit: Sean Gallup/Getty Images)

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WS More or Less: When Companies Track Your Life

Author: BBC Radio 4
Mon, Jun 20, 2016


How are companies using our personal data? It’s a familiar concern. Online retailers are tracking us so they can sell things to us. Bricks and mortar retailers have loyalty card schemes. Our banks and credit card companies know all about us. And of course, the big computer and telecoms companies could potentially track our internet searches, our phone calls – even our location as we wander around. But this isn’t the first time that large corporations have gathered sensitive data about their customers. We tell the shadowy story of how the personal details of Americans were pooled among insurance companies more than a hundred years ago. Presenter: Tim Harford Producer: Elizabeth Cassin (Image: A police CCTV camera observes a woman walking. Credit: Leon Neal/AFP/Getty Images)

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The Referendum by Numbers: Trade

Author: BBC Radio 4
Fri, Jun 17, 2016


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.

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The Referendum by Numbers: Regulation

Author: BBC Radio 4
Thu, Jun 16, 2016


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, law-making and trade. But today we're looking at EU regulation. Tim Harford asks how much red tape from the EU is costs the UK and what might happen if we leave?

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The Referendum by Numbers: Law

Author: BBC Radio 4
Wed, Jun 15, 2016


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, regulations and trade. But today we're looking at lawmaking. Tim Harford asks how much UK law comes from the EU and are we always being outvoted on what to implement?

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The Referendum by Numbers: Immigration

Author: BBC Radio 4
Tue, Jun 14, 2016


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?

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The Referendum by Numbers: The Cost of EU Membership

Author: BBC Radio 4
Mon, Jun 13, 2016


If 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 - immigration, lawmaking, regulations and trade. But in this first program, Tim Harford tackles two very basic questions: how much would we save if we left the EU? And what would we lose if we did?

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WS More or Less: Sexist Data Crisis

Author: BBC Radio 4
Fri, Jun 10, 2016


There is a black hole in our knowledge of women and girls around the world. Campaigners say that they are often missing from official statistics and areas of their lives are ignored completely - but what needs to be done? Producer: Charlotte McDonald Presenter: Tim Harford

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WS More or Less: HIV in Africa

Author: BBC Radio 4
Fri, Jun 03, 2016


The news aggregation website Zimbabwe Today recently ran a headline stating that 74% of African girls aged 15-24 are HIV positive. Although the statistic is not true, Mary Mahy from UNAIDS reveals that young women do have a higher infection rate than young men. Kyle Evans is a folk singing mathematician by trade who is always looking for new ways to communicate his love of maths to a sometimes apprehensive audience. Next week he is representing the UK against 26 other countries at the Cheltenham Science festival in England. He came into the studio to perform his competition entry. Producer: Laura Gray Presenter: Ruth Alexander

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WS More or Less: Refugee Camp Statistics

Author: BBC Radio 4
Fri, May 27, 2016


What is the average length of stay in a refugee camp? It is regularly reported that it is 17 years but is this true? Floppy Disks This week’s shocking revelation of the computer world was that the Department of Defence still uses 1970s floppy disks to coordinate its nuclear weapons systems. But can it possibly be true that you could fit more than three million of them on a single ten dollar USB drive? Producer: Laura Gray Presenter: Ruth Alexander

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WS More or Less: The World's Most Profitable Product

Author: BBC Radio 4
Fri, May 20, 2016


Recently one of our listeners contacted us to say he heard a BBC correspondent describe the iPhone as the most profitable product in history. It was just an off-the-cuff comment but it got us thinking - could it be true? We compare and contrast a range of products suggested by More or Less listeners to work out if the iPhone truly is the most profitable. Producer: Laura Gray

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WS More or Less: The world’s most diverse city

Author: BBC Radio 4
Fri, May 13, 2016


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.

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WS More or Less: Leicester City football fluke?

Author: BBC Radio 4
Mon, May 09, 2016


At the beginning of the season of the English football Premier League, few people would have been brave enough to predict that Leicester City would finish top. But was it that surprising? Tim Harford speaks to Lord Finkelstein, a political journalist, who has been running his own statistical model to assess the teams in the Premier League. We also hear from James Yorke from the football analytics website Stats Bomb. Was Leicester’s success down to the team’s skills, or was it down to luck?

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The most profitable product in history

Author: BBC Radio 4
Fri, May 06, 2016


Recently one of our listeners contacted us to say he heard a BBC correspondent describe the iPhone as the most profitable product in history. It was just an off-the-cuff comment but it got us thinking – could it be true? We asked listeners to get in touch with their suggestions. We take a look at a handful of them, from Viagra to popcorn in our quest for an answer. Could it be something more historical? EU and trade: We take a look at the numbers on trade and at the UK’s relationship with the EU. Tim Harford interviews Chad P. Bown, a Senior Fellow at the Peterson Institute for International Economics. Leicester City's Premier League success: At the beginning of the football season we explored the fallibility of predictions from experts and fans. As the season is ending, that is the only prediction we made correctly – that they are usually very wrong. Leicester City has had an astonishing success in winning the English Premier League. We take a look at the numbers behind the team’s performance. Sexist Data Crisis: Are countries around the world failing to collect adequate details about their female citizens? Campaigners have argued we are missing data in areas that would help us understand women’s lives better, for example land and inheritance rights. We also explore how women’s work can be overlooked from labour surveys.

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WS More or Less: Simpson’s Paradox

Author: BBC Radio 4
Mon, May 02, 2016


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.

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EU Migration

Author: BBC Radio 4
Fri, Apr 29, 2016


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.

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WS More or Less: Most Expensive Building

Author: BBC Radio 4
Mon, Apr 25, 2016


What is the most expensive “object” ever built? There are plans in the UK to build a brand new nuclear power station called Hinckley Point. The environmental charity Greenpeace have claimed it is set to be the most expensive object on Earth. But could it really cost more to build than the Great Pyramid of Giza? We take a look at some of the most costly building projects on the planet.

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Brexit numbers

Author: BBC Radio 4
Fri, Apr 22, 2016


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

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WS More or Less: The life expectancy of a Pope

Author: BBC Radio 4
Mon, Apr 18, 2016


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. The curse of the London Olympics In a similar vein, is there an unusually high death count among athletes who took part in the London Olympics in 2012? The French press seem to think there is. Currently news reports estimate that 18 people have so far died since taking part in the sports event. The athletes come from teams around the world and have died from all sorts of causes – from cancer to drowning, murder, suicide, a helicopter crash among other things. But is there really a link between taking part in the London Olympics and the chances of dying? Or is it to be expected, statistically speaking, that 18 people have died over the last four years?

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Celebrity deaths

Author: BBC Radio 4
Fri, Apr 15, 2016


Celebrity deaths A number of people have asked the team if more famous people have died this year compared to other years. It’s a hard one to measure – but we have had a go at some back of the envelope calculations with data from Who’s Who and BBC obituaries. Is the intuitive feeling that more people have died this year misplaced? ‘What British Muslims really think’ poll This week many news outlets covered polling research carried out for a documentary on Channel 4. Some of the points that came out included that half of all British Muslims think homosexuality should be illegal and that 23% want Sharia Law. But how representative are these views? We speak to Anthony Wells from the blog UK Polling Report who explains the difficulties of carrying out polling. The number of Brits abroad Figures released this week suggested that there was an increase in the number of people coming to the UK from other parts of Europe. But many listeners have been asking – how many Brits are living in other parts of Europe? We try to find the best figures available. European Girls Maths Olympiad In 2012 a new international maths competition was started at the University of Cambridge. It was a chance for female students to get a chance of meeting girls from other countries and try to solve hard maths problems, as they are under represented at most other international competitions. We hear about how the competition got started in celebration of this year's competition in Romania. Presenter: Tim Harford Producer: Charlotte McDonald

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WS More or Less: The story of average

Author: BBC Radio 4
Mon, Apr 11, 2016


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 do 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 this to all sorts of social and national statistics – and the ‘Average Man’ was born.

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Fathers and babies

Author: BBC Radio 4
Fri, Apr 08, 2016


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

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WS More or Less: The Great EU Cabbage Myth

Author: BBC Radio 4
Tue, Apr 05, 2016


Could there really be 26,911 words of European Union regulation dedicated to the sale of cabbage? This figure is often used by those arguing there is too much bureaucracy in the EU. But we trace its origins back to 1940s America. It wasn’t true then, and it isn’t true today. So how did this cabbage myth grow and spread? And what is the real number of words relating to the sale of cabbages in the EU? Tim Harford presents.

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The Great EU Cabbage Myth

Author: BBC Radio 4
Mon, Apr 04, 2016


Could there really be 26,911 words of European Union regulation dedicated to the sale of cabbage? This figure is often used by those arguing there is too much bureaucracy in the EU. But we trace its origins back to 1940s America. It wasn't true then, and it isn't true today. So how did this cabbage myth grow and spread? And what is the real number of words relating to the sale of cabbages in the EU? After the recent announcement that all schools would be converted to academies, a number of listeners have asked us to look into the evidence of how they perform. Education Secretary Nicky Morgan wrote a guest post on Mumsnet and More or Less were called upon to check her numbers. The popular TV show The Only Way is Essex claimed in its 200th episode that it had contributed more than a billion pounds to the UK economy. We investigate if this is true. Plus, can we trust food surveys? Stories about which foods are good and bad for you, which foods are linked to cancer and which have beneficial qualities are always popular. But how do experts know what people are eating? Tim Harford speaks to Christie Aschwanden, FiveThirtyEight's lead writer for science, about the pitfalls of food surveys. She kept a food diary and answered nutrition surveys and found many of the questions were really hard to answer.

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WSMoreOrLess: Safe drinking

Author: BBC Radio 4
Thu, Mar 24, 2016


New alcohol guidelines were issued recently in the UK which lowered the number of units recommended for safe drinking. But are the benefits and harms of alcohol being judged correctly? We speak to Professor David Speigelhalter. Tim Harford presents. Producer: Charlotte McDonald/Richard Vadon

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WSMoreOrLess: Mobiles or lightbulbs

Author: BBC Radio 4
Fri, Mar 18, 2016


Mobile technology is spreading fast in Africa, and one lawyer Gerald Abila has done the maths and worked out that there are more mobile phones than lightbulbs in Uganda. We look at his figures and find that measuring them is more complicated than you might imagine. There are certainly numbers you can choose to demonstrate this, but are they the right ones? Thyroid cancer has gone up after the Fukushima accident - but it's not what you think. Japanese authorities were worried about the impact of radiation that escaped into the atmosphere after a nuclear plant was damaged during the earthquake of 2011. Around 300,000 under-19s received ultrasound scans to look for abnormalities, and the results appeared alarming. One expert claimed there were 30 times more cases than might have been expected. But a group of epidemiologists have since questioned this - they say if you survey so many people, you will always find more cases. Producer: Charlotte McDonald/Laura Gray

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WSMoreOrLess: Can we trust food surveys?

Author: BBC Radio 4
Fri, Mar 11, 2016


Stories about what foods are good and bad for you, which foods are linked to cancer and which have beneficial qualities are always popular online and in the news. But how do experts know what people are eating? Tim Harford speaks to Christie Aschwanden, FiveThirtyEight’s lead writer for science, about the pitfalls of food surveys. She kept a food diary and answered nutrition surveys and found many of the questions were really hard to answer – how could she tell all the ingredients in a restaurant curry; and how many tomatoes did she eat regularly over the past six months? Presenter: Tim Harford Producer: Charlotte McDonald/Wesley Stephenson

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WSMoreOrLess: Fact checking The Big Short

Author: BBC Radio 4
Fri, Mar 04, 2016


"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)

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WSMoreOrLess: Antibiotics and the problem of the broken market

Author: BBC Radio 4
Fri, Feb 26, 2016


It’s a life and death situation – the world is at its last line of defence against some pretty nasty bacteria and there are no new antibiotics. But it’s not the science that’s the big problem, it the economics. Despite the $40 billion market worldwide there’s no money to be made in antibiotics so big pharma have all but stopped their research. Why is this and how do we entice them back in? Wesley Stephenson finds out. (Image: Computer artwork of bacteria - credit: Science Photo Library)

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WSMoreOrLess: When ?10,000 isn’t a good incentive

Author: BBC Radio 4
Fri, Feb 19, 2016


Could no prize have been a better way to motivate snooker player Ronnie O’Sullivan?

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WSMoreOrLess: Fishy numbers?

Author: BBC Radio 4
Mon, Feb 15, 2016


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. And what are the chances that as a parent you share your birthday with two of your children.

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Selfies, sugar daddies and dodgy surveys

Author: BBC Radio 4
Fri, Feb 12, 2016


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.

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WSMoreOrLess: Do e-cigarettes really harm your chances of quitting smoking?

Author: BBC Radio 4
Mon, Feb 08, 2016


Research last month claimed to show that e-cigarettes harm your chances of quitting smoking. The paper got coverage world-wide but it also came in for unusually fierce criticism from academics who spend their lives trying to help people quit. It’s been described as "grossly misleading" and "not scientific". We look at what is wrong with the paper and ask if it should have been published in the first place. (Image: Man smoking e-cigarette. Credit: Dan Kitwood/Getty Images)

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E-cigarettes: Can They Help People Quit?

Author: BBC Radio 4
Fri, Feb 05, 2016


Do e-cigarettes make quitting smoking more difficult? Research last month claimed to show that e-cigarettes harm your chances of quitting smoking. The paper got coverage world-wide but it also came in for unusually fierce criticism from academics who spend their lives trying to help people quit. It's been described as 'grossly misleading' and 'not scientific'. We look at what is wrong with the paper and ask if it should have been published in the first place. A campaign of dodgy statistics Are American presidential hopefuls getting away with statistical murder? We speak to Angie Drobnic, Editor of the US fact-checking website Politifact, about the numbers politicians are using - which are not just misleading, but wrong. Will missing a week of school affect your GCSE results? Recently education minister Nick Gibb said that missing a week of school could affect a pupil's GCSE grades by a quarter. We examine the evidence and explore one of the first rules of More or Less – 'correlation is not causation'. We interview Stephen Gorard, Professor of Education at Durham University. What are the chances that a father and two of his children share the same birthday? A loyal listener got in touch to find out how rare an occurrence this is. Professor David Spiegelhalter from the University of Cambridge explains the probabilities involved. Presenter: Tim Harford Producer: Charlotte McDonald

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Swedish refugees

Author: BBC Radio 4
Mon, Feb 01, 2016


Have refugees caused a gender imbalance in Sweden? It has been reported that there are 123 boys for every 100 girls aged between 16 and 17 in Sweden. In China, the ratio is 117 boys to 100 girls. We explore if the numbers add up and why this might be.

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How harmful is alcohol?

Author: BBC Radio 4
Fri, Jan 29, 2016


New alcohol guidelines were issued recently which lowered the number of units recommended for safe drinking. But are the benefits and harms of alcohol being jusged correctly? We speak to Professor David Speigelhalter and Sepsis – do 44,000 people die of it a year? Is it the country's second biggest killer? We speak to Dr Marissa Mason about the difficulties of knowing the numbers. Dan Bouk tells the story of a statistician who crept around graveyards in South Carolina at the turn of the century recording how long people lived - all to help out an insurance firm. It's from his book 'How our days became numbered' – looking at how data from insurance company has shaped knowledge about our lives. Have refugees caused a gender imbalance in Sweden or is there something funny going on? It has been reported that there are 123 boys for every 100 girls aged between 16 and 17 in Sweden. In China, the ratio is 117 boys to 100 girls. We explore if the numbers add up and why this might be. Presenter: Tim Harford Producer: Charlotte McDonald

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WSMoreOrLess: Oxfam and Wealth Inequality

Author: BBC Radio 4
Mon, Jan 25, 2016


You may have seen the claim that ‘62 people now own as much wealth as half of the world’s population’. You may also have seen headlines that suggest that 1% of the world’s population now own more than the 99% put together. This is the latest iteration of Oxfam’s annual report looking at global inequality. They say that the overall the world may be getting richer but that most of the wealth is concentrated in the hands of fewer and fewer people. But is this really telling us what we think it’s telling us? Tim Harford asks economics writer Felix Salmon and development expert Charles Kenny.

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Billionaires versus the world

Author: BBC Radio 4
Fri, Jan 22, 2016


Oxfam says that 62 people now own as much wealth as half of the world’s population. But is this really telling us anything meaningful? And how is it that this study shows that some of the world’s poorest people live in the United States? What do you do with bored children on a bus? Rob Eastaway, author of ‘Maths on the go,’ gets three pupils to play a game on the Number 12 in south London. Prime Minister David Cameron said this week that 22% of British Muslim women speak little or no English. He says that equates to 190,000. We look at the figures. Plus, was the Hatton Garden Heist the biggest robbery ever? Is water more expensive than oil? And a new prime number is discovered.

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WS MoreOrLess: Gravitational Waves

Author: BBC Radio 4
Mon, Jan 18, 2016


One of our 2015 ‘Numbers of the Year’ predictions might have come to pass. There is great excitement over rumours that one of the predictions Einstein made in his theory of General Relativity has finally been observed. But it’s not the first time it’s been reported that ‘gravitational waves’ have been discovered, and the last time proved to be an equipment test. What is the total number of possible tweets that could be created from 140 characters? In a recent programme Professor John Allen-Paulos told us that when you take into account all of the symbols available, the total number of possible tweets is Googol^2.8 (which is a 1 followed by 280 zeros.) But has he missed some options?

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Weekend Stroke Deaths

Author: BBC Radio 4
Fri, Jan 15, 2016


Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt said this week that if you have a stroke at the weekends, you're 20% more likely to die. But is that true? We look at the evidence. Are you more likely to win prizes with newer Premium Bonds? We ask Radio 4’s Money Box presenter Paul Lewis if there is any truth in this. A few weeks ago many newspapers were reporting that alcohol was the cause of 70% of Accident and Emergency attendances over the weekends. Did the newspapers misunderstand the research? Why was the polling in the run up to the General Election last year so wrong? We speak to Professor John Curtice, lead author on a report using the 2015 British Social Attitudes Survey to see if they could come up with better data. There is great excitement over rumours that one of the predictions Einstein made in his theory of General Relativity has finally been observed. We ask UCL physicist Dr Andrew Pontzen why this is big news. Plus, is the air in Beijing is so bad that it's like smoking 40 cigarettes a day? We investigate.

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WS MoreOrLess: Numbers of the Year 2015: Part Three

Author: BBC Radio 4
Mon, Jan 11, 2016


What is preventing some Americans from being creative? And, how much money does the English Premier League contribute in tax? Tim Harford looks back over some of the numbers that made the news in 2015. He speaks to author and broadcaster Farai Chideya, former footballer Graeme le Saux, and BBC cricket statistician Andrew Samson.

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Flood Defence Spending

Author: BBC Radio 4
Fri, Jan 08, 2016


Tim Harford and the team take a look at some of the numbers in the news about flooding. What is a one hundred year flood? And is there really a north-south divide in the amount of money spent on flood defences in England? What is the total number of possible tweets that could be created from 140 characters? In a recent programme Professor John Allen-Paulos told us that when you take into account all of the symbols available, the total number of possible tweets is Googol2.8 (which is a 1 followed by 280 zeros.) But has he missed some options? One of our listener’s questions whether Christmas Eve is really the busiest day on the roads. We take a look at the figures. Plus – which is the bigger number? The total number of Storm Trooper toys ever made, or the number of real life soldiers serving in armies around the world?

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WSMoreOrLess: Numbers of the Year 2015 Part 2

Author: BBC Radio 4
Mon, Jan 04, 2016


How healthy is the Nigerian economy and how many possible tweets are there? Tim Harford looks back over some of the numbers that made the news in 2015. Guests include: Peter Cunliffe-Jones from Africa Check, Professor John Allen Paulos and Dr Andrew Pontzen

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Numbers of the Year 2015

Author: BBC Radio 4
Fri, Jan 01, 2016


Tim Harford looks back at some of the most interesting numbers behind the news in 2015, from the migrant crisis to social media messages. Contributors include: Professor Jane Green, Helen Arney, Paul Lewis, Andrew Samson, Leonard Doyle , Peter Cunliffe-Jones, Farai Chideya, Claire Melamed and Professor John Allen Paulos.

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WS MoreOrLess: Numbers of the Year 2015 Part 1

Author: BBC Radio 4
Fri, Dec 25, 2015


How has the European migrant crisis affected the number of people seeking asylum? In this special programme Tim Harford looks back at some of the numbers making the news in 2015. Guests include: Leonard Doyle from the International Organisation for Migration and Claire Melamed from the Overseas Development Institute.

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WS MoreOrLess: How Many Stormtroopers are there?

Author: BBC Radio 4
Fri, Dec 18, 2015


Are Star Wars’ Stormtroopers the biggest secret army on Earth? Ruth Alexander investigates, and looks at some of the other numbers behind one of the most successful movie franchises in history.

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WS MoreOrLess:100 Year Floods?

Author: BBC Radio 4
Fri, Dec 11, 2015


Do so-called ‘100 year floods’ only happen once a century? Ruth Alexander and Wesley Stephenson investigate. Also, does the air in Beijing cause as much damage as smoking 40 cigarettes a day?

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WS MoreOrLess: Climate Change

Author: BBC Radio 4
Tue, Dec 08, 2015


Ruth Alexander investigates claims climate change has contributed to the war in Syria, and with the climate change summit COP21 underway in Paris, we answer listener’s climate change number questions.

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WS MoreOrLess: '‘Sympathy’ for jihadis

Author: BBC Radio 4
Fri, Nov 27, 2015


A front page article in a British tabloid claimed that one in five British Muslims have sympathy for jihadis. Ruth Alexander investigates whether this is correct, and asks which countries have the most support for Islamic State fighters.

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WS MoreOrLess: Has Islamic State been Losing Territory?

Author: BBC Radio 4
Fri, Nov 20, 2015


Has so-called Islamic State been losing territory? Britain's Prime Minister David Cameron has claimed IS have lost about 25-30% of their territory in Iraq. Is this true? Plus, is Premier League footballer H?ctor Beller?n faster than Usain Bolt? Beller?n can reportedly run 40 metres in 4.41 seconds. Ruth Alexander asks how their times compare.

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WS MoreOrLess: Creativity and Mental Illness

Author: BBC Radio 4
Fri, Nov 13, 2015


Are creative people more likely to suffer mental illness, and has Cuba wiped out child hunger? Wesley Stephenson investigates.

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WS MoreOrLess: China's One Child Policy

Author: BBC Radio 4
Fri, Nov 06, 2015


As China ends its one child rule what has been its impact on the country’s population? The More or Less team take a look at whether the policy on its own has slowed the rate at which China’s population has been growing. And now that parents in China will be allowed to have two children, which country will have the largest population in 2030? China or India? Ruth Alexander presents.

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WS MoreOrLess: Processed Meat and Cancer

Author: BBC Radio 4
Fri, Oct 30, 2015


Are processed meats as cancer-causing as cigarettes, and has the Rugby world cup been the most brutal? Ruth Alexander investigates.

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WS MoreOrLess: Oil

Author: BBC Radio 4
Fri, Oct 23, 2015


Nigeria’s President Muhammadu Buhari said a million barrels of the country’s oil were stolen per day. Is he right? Ruth Alexander asks Peter Cunliffe-Jones of Africa Check. And, does 13% of the world’s undiscovered oil lie in the Arctic? Producers: Keith Moore and Phoebe Keane.

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WS MoreOrLess: Foreign Aid: More Harm Than Good?

Author: BBC Radio 4
Fri, Oct 16, 2015


Tim Harford interviews Nobel Prize winning economist professor Angus Deaton about a lifetime measuring inequality

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WS MoreOrLess: Are Tall People More Likely to Get Cancer?

Author: BBC Radio 4
Fri, Oct 09, 2015


Are tall people really more likely to get cancer? Ruth Alexander looks at a new Swedish study that’s caused headlines around the world, and asks how worried tall people like her should be about developing the conditions.

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WS MoreOrLess: Football’s Red Card Clich?

Author: BBC Radio 4
Fri, Oct 02, 2015


Managers and pundits often say “it’s harder to play against ten men”, but is there any truth in it? Also, Tim Harford speaks to the author Siobhan Roberts about Professor John Conway, who has been described as a genius and one of the world’s most charismatic mathematicians. Producers: Keith Moore and Wesley Stephenson

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WS MoreOrLess: How Reliable is Psychology Science?

Author: BBC Radio 4
Mon, Sep 28, 2015


How reliable is psychology science? The Reproducibility of Psychological Science project reported recently and it made grim reading. Having replicated 100 psychological studies published in three psychology journals only thirty six had significant results compared to 97% first time around. So is there a problem with psychological science and what should be done to fix it. Decimate Tim used the word in an interview last week to mean devastate rather than cut by ten percent – many listeners said this was unforgivable – was it? – We ask Oliver Kamm - Author of 'Accidence Will Happen: The Non-Pedantic Guide to English Usage'.

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Alzheimers, Psychology science, John Conway, Red cards, Decimate

Author: BBC Radio 4
Fri, Sep 25, 2015


Alzheimers What's behind the claim that 1 in 3 people born in the UK this year could get Alzheimers? How reliable is the science in psychology? The Reproducibility of Psychological Science project reported recently and it made grim reading. Having replicated 100 psychological studies published in three psychology journals only thirty six had significant results compared to 97% first time around. So is there a problem with psychological science and what should be done to fix it? One of mathematics' enigmas He is described as one of the most charismatic mathematicians but he is also shy and enigmatic. Professor John Conway has been described as a genius whose most famous innovation is the cell automaton The Game of Life - Tim talks to Siobhan Roberts about the man and his life. Is it more difficult to play against ten men? Arsene Wenger has said it, Sam Allerdyce and Steve Bruce have said it too - it's more difficult to play against ten men. It's an oft quoted footballing clich? but is there any truth in it? Decimate Tim used the word in an interview last week to mean devastate rather than cut by ten percent - many listeners said this was unforgivable - was it? - We ask Oliver Kamm - Author of 'Accidence Will Happen: The Non-Pedantic Guide to English Usage'.

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WS MoreOrLess: The Rise of the Giants?

Author: BBC Radio 4
Mon, Sep 21, 2015


The average rugby pack is much bigger than it was 20 years ago but has the growth finally plateaued? Living Blue Planet Index Populations of marine mammals, birds, fish and reptiles have declined by 49% since 1970, a report says. But what does this actually mean?

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Striking Numbers

Author: BBC Radio 4
Fri, Sep 18, 2015


Striking numbers? Are the unions really on the rise again and holding the country to ransom? The rise of the giants Are rugby players really getting biger and bigger? Living Blue Planet Index Populations of marine mammals, birds, fish and reptiles have declined by 49% since 1970, a report says. But what does this actually mean? Bean counter The Office for National Statistics is much maligned whether it's its data revisions, the fact that some of it statistics have been deemed not fit for purpose or that we still haven't worked out why UK productivity is so low. So George Osborne has launched a review of the economic statistics spewed out by the ONS to see where improvements can be made. Tim talks to Professor Sir Charles Bean who is conducting the review. Banana Equivalent dose Following on from our revelation that bananas can't kill you even if you eat seven we look deeper into their radioactivity and the 'banana equivalent dose'.

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WS MoreOrLess: How Many is Too Many Bananas?

Author: BBC Radio 4
Mon, Sep 14, 2015


Too dense Is population density the right measure to be looking at when working out how many refugees countries should take- and if not what is? How many bananas will kill you? There’s a belief among some people that too many bananas will kill you. Eat too many and you will overdose on potassium and die. But how many bananas would you need to eat?

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Is it worth targetting non-voters?

Author: BBC Radio 4
Fri, Sep 11, 2015


Can you rely on non-voters During the election for the leadership of the Labour Party in the UK Jeremy Corbyn has whipped up unprecedented support among grass roots activists pushing him into a surprising lead. Bernie Sanders the left-wing Democratic candidate has done the same energised grass roots support in the United States in a similar way. Their supporters believe in both cases they can shake up the political mainstream and convince non-voters to turn out at the ballot box. But is this a wise strategy? The latest on deaths for people admitted at a weekend? Reports suggested 11,000 are dying in hospital after being admitted at the weekend but what does the report actually say? Too dense Is the UK already more densely populated than other places in Europe and is this a good argument against taking more refugees. How many houses do we need? We're told that we need to build 200,000+ houses a year to meet housing need in this country. We talk to Kate Barker the woman who first came up with this number about where it comes from and what it means. How many bananas will kill you? There's a belief among some people that too many bananas will kill you. Eat too many and you will overdose on potassium and die. But how many bananas would you need to eat?

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Queuing Backwards

Author: BBC Radio 4
Mon, Sep 07, 2015


Queuing backwards Britons love to queue, but have we been getting it wrong? Lars Peter Osterdal from the University of Southern Denmark discusses his theory of how to make queuing more efficient. Thinking Like an Engineer Engineer Guru Madhavan tells the story of the development of the barcode and argues that those making policy should ask engineers as well as economists about solving social problems. Presenter: Tim Harford Producer: Wesley Stephenson

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Fit for work or at deaths door?

Author: BBC Radio 4
Fri, Sep 04, 2015


Deaths of people 'fit for work' Thousands of people are dying after being declared 'fit for work' by the government according to the Guardian. The figures are from a long awaited freedom of information release from the Department for Work and Pensions. But do the figures actually tell us anything? More or Less investigates. Sugar Sugar has had a pretty bad press over the last few months and seems to have replaced fat as the current 'evil' in our diets. We look at some of the claims that have been made about rotting teeth and the justifications for a sugar tax. Zero-hours contracts The latest figures show a 20% rise - but does this really mean that more people are on zero hours contracts thab=n last year? Queuing Backwards Britons love to queue, but have we been getting it wrong? Lars Peter Osterdal from the University of Southern Denmark discusses his theory of how to make queuing more efficient.

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WS MoreOrLess: China Stock Market Crash

Author: BBC Radio 4
Mon, Aug 31, 2015


The Chinese Market Crash in context. How big is the market, how many investors does it have and does it tell us anything about the wider Chinese economy? Sprinters legs It may seem strange, but world class runners don’t move their legs faster than average park runner. That’s the claim anyway – is it true and if so what is it that makes athletes like Usain Bolt and Justin Gatlin run so fast?

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China Stock Market Crash

Author: BBC Radio 4
Fri, Aug 28, 2015


The Chinese Market Crash in context. How big is the market, how many investors does it have and does it tell us anything about the wider Chinese economy? Eight Million Foreigners Are there really eight million foreigners in the UK? What does 95% less harmful actually mean? E-cigarettes are 95% less harmful than ordinary cigarettes according to last week's report by Public Health England. But what does this mean? The number was arrived at using something called 'multi criteria decision analysis' so how does it work – we ask the man who brought it to the UK, Professor Larry Phillips. Thinking Like an Engineer Guru Madhavan from America's National Academy of Scientists lifts the lid on how engineers think and argues that those making policy should ask engineers as well as economists about solving social problems. Sprinters legs It's may seem strange, but world class runners don't move their legs faster than average park runner. That's the claim anyway – is it true and if so what is it that means athletes like Usain Bolt and Justin Gatlin run so fast?

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WS MoreOrLess: The Elliptical Pool Table

Author: BBC Radio 4
Mon, Aug 24, 2015


Loop The ancient Greeks saw magic in the geometry of an ellipse and now mathematical writer Alex Bellos has put this to use in a specially designed table for a specially designed game of pool. Premier League predictions If a martian came to earth wanting to know where each team would finish in the English Premier League this season where should he go to get the most accurate prediction?

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Soaring diabetes - is there some good news?

Author: BBC Radio 4
Fri, Aug 21, 2015


Diabetes We heard earlier this week that there had been a 60% rise in the number of cases of diabetes in the last ten years. But is there actually some good news in these figures? Odd (attempted) burglaries Police in Leicestershire have been only sending forensic teams to attempted burglaries at houses with even numbers. The papers reported it as a scandal driven by money saving. But is it a scandal or a sensible attempt to work out how to deploy the police's tight resources? Men who pay for sex Do one in 10 men regulalrly pay for sex as a Channel 4 Documentary claimed? Loop The ancient Greeks saw magic in the geometry of an ellipse and now mathematical writer Alex Bellos has but this to use in a specially designed game of pool.

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WS More or Less: Worm wars

Author: BBC Radio 4
Mon, Aug 17, 2015


A debate has been raging over the last month about the benefits of mass deworming projects. Hugely popular with the UN and charities, the evidence behind the practice has come under attack. Are the criticisms justified? We hear from the different sides – both economists and epidemiologists and their approach to the numbers. Football predictions How useful are football predictions and should we always trust the so called experts? The More or Less team look into the idea that predicting where sides will finish in the English football Premier League is best based on how they performed in previous seasons.

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Migrant Crisis

Author: BBC Radio 4
Fri, Aug 14, 2015


Migrant Crisis There is a "swarm" of migrants coming into Europe according to the Prime Minister. Where are they coming from and how many are coming to Calais to try to get into Britain? Are 70 percent of migrants in Calais making it to the UK, as claimed in the Daily Mail? We scrutinise the numbers. Worm wars A debate has been raging over the last month about the benefits of mass deworming projects. Hugely popular with the UN and charities, the evidence behind the practice has come under attack. Are the criticisms justified? We hear from the different sides – both economists and epidemiologists. Football How useful are football predictions and should we always trust the so called experts? The More or Less team look into the idea that predicting where sides will finish in the Premier League is best based on how they performed in previous seasons. Also, why is Leicester City the most watched Premier League team in the Outer Hebrides? Generations Loyal Listener Neil asks: So much is currently reported as the best, worst, least certain 'in a generation' - but just how long is that? We find out..

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WS More or Less: Wrestlers - dying too young?

Author: BBC Radio 4
Fri, Aug 07, 2015


Following the recent death of wrestler "Rowdy" Roddy Piper we ask if wrestlers are more likely to die young. We explore why that might be and how they compare to athletes from other sports. Plus - is Nigeria the largest consumer of champagne in the world after France?

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WSMoreOrLess: Counting Foreign Fighters

Author: BBC Radio 4
Fri, Jul 31, 2015


It has been reported that as many as 20,000 foreign fighters have joined militants in the Middle East and that they make up around 10% of ISIS. Wesley Stephenson and Federica Cocco look at the numbers behind those claims and examine where those fighting in places like Syria and Iraq come from.

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WS MoreOrLess: Life Expectancy

Author: BBC Radio 4
Fri, Jul 24, 2015


Ruth Alexander and the team return to the question of how long you might live. Those born today are expected to live six and a half years longer than those born in 1990 but can this trend continue?

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WS MoreOrLess: Live 8, The G8 and Making Poverty History

Author: BBC Radio 4
Fri, Jul 17, 2015


Its ten years since some of the world’s richest nations met in Gleneagles, Scotland. It was there that the G8 agreed to improve trade with developing nations, increase aid, and to wipe the debt of some of the poorest countries. The agreement followed Live 8 where the likes of Bono and Bob Geldof demanded that they ‘Make Poverty History’. Wesley Stephenson and the More or Less team look at what has been achieved during the past decade.

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Greece Special

Author: BBC Radio 4
Fri, Jul 10, 2015


Is it true that Greece failed to collect 89% of taxes in 2010? Tim Harford and the More or Less team look at the numbers behind the tax system and the other statistics used to tell the story of the Greek crisis. Which ones are home truths and which ones are myths.

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Biggest Movies

Author: BBC Radio 4
Fri, Jun 26, 2015


The film Jurassic World broke the record for the biggest opening weekend taking $511m. It’s a record that has been broken once already this year and most of the top ten films with the biggest opening weekends were released in the last five years. So in an age where the competition is fierce for cinemas why are these films doing so well? Bees and the British Royal Family For reasons best known to the editors, one British newspaper decided to ask the question: ‘Who brings more to the British economy – the British Royal Family or bees. The answer? Bees of course. More or Less takes a look and finds the methodology is as bee-musing as the initial comparison.

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WS MoreOrLess: Horoscope Health

Author: BBC Radio 4
Fri, Jun 19, 2015


Can your horoscope predict which diseases you’ll develop? And does cricket’s Duckworth-Lewis method need to evolve?

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WS MoreOrLess: Global Footprint

Author: BBC Radio 4
Sat, Jun 13, 2015


Global Footprint We’re often told that we consume so much that we need one and a half planets. It comes from the Global Footprint Network a think-tank that has pioneered ecological foot-printing but what does that number even mean, and is it helpful? Chocolate makes you thinner We tell the story behind the chocolate experiment designed to deliberately fool the press. Concerned about the amount of pseudo-science surrounding diet and nutrition, John Bohannon and Peter Onneken ran a trial and had the results published in an online journal, sent out a press release. While the results were correct the trial wasn’t very robust but this didn’t stop the story that chocolate made you thinner running in newspapers, magazines and on TV around the world. Peter and John had fooled the press and they made a documentary about it. But the experiment has sparked a debate about whether it was ethical to fool the press in this way and whether the whole project was just self-serving.

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Obesity Projections, Global Footprint, Street Value of Drugs

Author: BBC Radio 4
Fri, Jun 12, 2015


It's the last in the series so we're packing in the statistical goodies so that you can go into numerical hibernation until August. We're looking at the street value of drugs: when police claim that they've confiscated hundreds of millions of pounds worth of narcotics, where do those numbers come from? And how has the dark internet changed drug prices? We'll also be looking at claims that those of us who aren't binging on drugs are binging on biscuits instead. Apparently much of the UK and almost the entire population of Ireland is going to be obese before long. But how have such alarming forecasts fared in the past? We're often told that we consume so much that we need one and a half planets - and not just to provide room for all those obese people. What does that number even mean, and is it helpful? And Richard Thaler, the co-author of "Nudge", joins us to talk about the psychology of risk.

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WS MoreOrLess: Qatar migrant worker deaths

Author: BBC Radio 4
Sat, Jun 06, 2015


Tim Harford asks if the World Cup is to blame for migrant deaths in Qatar. And we solve the fiendish maths exam question that baffled students so much it became a trend on Twitter.

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World Cup Migrant Deaths

Author: BBC Radio 4
Fri, Jun 05, 2015


Tim Harford asks if the World Cup is really responsible for migrant deaths in Qatar.

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WS MoreOrLess: John Nash

Author: BBC Radio 4
Sat, May 30, 2015


On 23 May, the mathematician John Nash was killed in a car crash, alongside his wife Alicia. The couple were in their 80s. Professor Nash was on his way home from Norway after receiving the prestigious Abel prize for mathematics. He also won the Nobel memorial prize in economics in 1994, and was made famous far beyond academia when he was played by Russell Crowe in the film, A Beautiful Mind. Tim Harford takes a look back at his life with economist Peyton Young who knew Nash well. Tim also looks at how many species of owl there are. A much more difficult question to answer than you would think.

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Seven-day NHS

Author: BBC Radio 4
Fri, May 29, 2015


This week: Seven Day NHS. As a commitment appears in the Queen's Speech to introduce a 'truly seven day-a-week NHS' we look at David Cameron's assertion that mortality rates are 16% higher for people admitted on a Sunday over those admitted on a Wednesday. And is seven day working really about saving lives. John Nash The mathematician and scientist, Nobel Laureate and subject of the film a beautiful mind was killed in car accident earlier this month. We look at why he was so important to game theory. Productivity? We're told we have a productivity problem in the UK. What is it, how is it measured and why is it so low in the UK compared to other economies. We get an economist to explain the answers to a listener. What is a generation? A loyal listener has asked how you measure a generation. We ask a sociologist and a demographer. Animal Slaughter How many animals are killed each day for food? One claim suggested it was half a billion worldwide, which sounds like a lot to us. Are we really pigging out to such an extent? Are we all so hungry we could all eat a horse? Or is this just a load of bull?

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WS MoreOrLess: Death Penalty

Author: BBC Radio 4
Sat, May 23, 2015


Death Row exoneration statistics. Recently it’s been claimed that for every nine people executed in the US, one person has been exonerated. Is this true – and do the statistics vary state to state?

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Female Drink Drivers

Author: BBC Radio 4
Fri, May 22, 2015


The Police Federation says female drivers aren’t heeding the drink drive warnings. Tim Harford attempts to find out the numbers behind this. Plus: the Rotterdam Effect; Death Row exonerations; pub closures; and owl counting.

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WS MoreOrLess: Big Numbers

Author: BBC Radio 4
Sat, May 16, 2015


How computers are fooled by big numbers. Chris Baraniuk, technology journalist, talks about the simple software bug that has led to explosions, missing space probes, and more. Plus, an update on the two mothers-to-be whose due dates we analysed earlier on in the year.

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Strokes, Teachers, Confused Computers 15 May15

Author: BBC Radio 4
Fri, May 15, 2015


Are stroke numbers on the rise? This was according to recent headlines. We spoke to Tony Rudd, National Clinical Director for Stroke NHS England. Plus: teachers leaving their jobs; computers being confused by big numbers; and how the UK Election would have been changed by alternate polling methods.

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WS MoreOrLess: Princess Charlotte

Author: BBC Radio 4
Fri, May 08, 2015


The birth of Princess Charlotte could contribute ?1 billion to the British economy, according to some newspapers. True? Plus, the statistics of sex. This programme was first broadcast on the BBC World Service.

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Election and Adultery Special

Author: BBC Radio 4
Fri, May 08, 2015


Tim Harford and a panel of experts discuss pre-election polls and election fact checking. Plus, is Beeston in Nottinghamshire really the most adulterous town in the country?

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UK election podcast 4

Author: BBC Radio 4
Wed, May 06, 2015


Why don’t all the opinion polls give the same results? Plus, would Labour’s plan to introduce a rent cap work, and how boring has this election been? The podcast features a collection of interviews from Radio 4's PM programme.

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WS MoreOrLess: Nuns on the rise

Author: BBC Radio 4
Sat, May 02, 2015


It was recently reported that the number of women training to become Catholic nuns in Great Britain has reached a 25-year high. What's the long-term trend – are more women becoming nuns? Tim Harford looks at figures from the UK and across the world. Plus, Matt Parker the stand-up mathematician is invited back to the programme to respond to a listener's query about his theory on the best way to find a life partner.

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Polls, nuns and life partners

Author: BBC Radio 4
Fri, May 01, 2015


On the eve of the UK's general election, Tim Harford takes a look at what polling data can tell us about predicting elections. Is the number of Catholic nuns on the up? What's the long-term trend – are more women becoming nuns in the UK? Tim Harford looks at the figures. Plus, Matt Parker the stand-up mathematician is invited back to the programme to respond to a listener's query about his theory on the best way to find a life partner.

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WS MoreOrLess: Xenophobia in South Africa

Author: BBC Radio 4
Fri, Apr 24, 2015


Are migrants ‘stealing’ jobs; does South Africa have more asylum seekers than any other country in the world? These are some of the claims we explore this week in the midst of some of the worst xenophobic attacks in recent years in South Africa. Plus – could you go to jail for reporting false statistics? You might in Tanzania where they are in the process of bringing in a law to tackle publishing bad figures. We ask whether journalists and researchers should be worried. This edition of More or Less was first broadcast on the BBC World Service.

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UK Election Podcast 3

Author: BBC Radio 4
Fri, Apr 24, 2015


Are we witnessing a jobs ‘miracle’? Also under scrutiny - Scotland’s deficit; a mansion tax; and what would a Miliband-SNP pact cost us? The podcast features a collection of interviews from Radio 4's PM programme.

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WS MoreOrLess: Liver Transplant.

Author: BBC Radio 4
Fri, Apr 17, 2015


A young listener who needs a liver transplant has received an offer from his brother to act as a living donor. What are the statistics on survival? Plus, is it true that a child goes missing every 90 seconds in the USA? This programme was first broadcast on the BBC World Service.

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UK election podcast 2

Author: BBC Radio 4
Fri, Apr 17, 2015


Fact-checking the politicians during the election campaign on NHS funding; rail fares and the railways; public spending; debt and the deficit; the Right-to-Buy; and education. The podcast features a collection of interviews from Radio 4's PM programme.

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UK election podcast 1

Author: BBC Radio 4
Mon, Apr 13, 2015


Can you trust the figures given to you by the political parties during the UK's General Election campaign period? We examine and unpick the statistics so you can decide how useful they are. The podcast features a collection of interviews from Radio 4's PM programme. We look at zero hours contracts, non-dom tax status and the broader economy.

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WS MoreOrLess: The Ignorance Test

Author: BBC Radio 4
Fri, Apr 10, 2015


Professor Hans Rosling - perhaps best-described as a kind of international development myth buster - delivers his Ignorance Test. Hans asked presenter Ruth Alexander three questions from the test. Can you do any better? This programme was first broadcast on the BBC World Service.

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WS MoreOrLess: Maths and Chess

Author: BBC Radio 4
Sat, Apr 04, 2015


Is it really true that ability in mathematics and chess are somehow linked? Tim Harford pits his wits against a math-professor-turned-professional-chess-player, John Nunn. This programme was first broadcast on the BBC World Service.

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WS MoreOrLess: How safe is flying?

Author: BBC Radio 4
Sat, Mar 28, 2015


The Germanwings A320 tragedy, in which 150 people died, is the latest in a series of fatal crashes over the past year. Are more planes crashing, or does it just seem that way? Plus: is the number of penalties Chelsea Football Club have been awarded in the Premier League this season "abnormally low" as they have claimed? This programme was first broadcast on the BBC World Service.

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Does Breastfeeding Increase IQ?

Author: BBC Radio 4
Sat, Mar 21, 2015


A major 30-year study claims to show breastfed babies become more intelligent, higher earning adults. It's not the first time we've heard that breastfeeding raises IQ levels; but is this evidence any more convincing? Ruth Alexander and Hannah Moore explore the details with Dr Stuart Ritchie from The University of Edinburgh. This programme was first broadcast on the BBC World Service.

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WS MoreOrLess: Measuring World Health

Author: BBC Radio 4
Sat, Mar 14, 2015


Babies born in Rwanda are likely to live healthier lives than those in the most deprived 10% of England, according to recent reports. But does the data back this up? And how is "good health" measured across the world? Hannah Moore and Wesley Stephenson explore the numbers with Professor David Gordon from Bristol University’s International Poverty Research Centre. This programme was first broadcast on the BBC World Service.

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WS MoreOrLess: The future of food

Author: BBC Radio 4
Sat, Mar 07, 2015


"In the next 40 years, humans will need to produce more food that they did in the previous 10,000," claimed a recent edition of The Economist. Ruth Alexander and Hannah Moore look at whether this is true. With the world's population expected to reach 9 billion by 2050, how confident can we be that everyone will have enough to eat? This programme was first broadcast on the BBC World Service.

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WS MoreOrLess: Black prisoners in the US

Author: BBC Radio 4
Sat, Feb 28, 2015


Oscar-winner John Legend said that there are more black men "under correctional control" in the United States today than were in slavery in 1850. Is he right? Plus, how many Lego bricks, stacked one on top of the other, would it take to destroy the bottom brick? This programme was first broadcast on the BBC World Service.

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WS MoreOrLess: Sleeping: the 8-hour myth

Author: BBC Radio 4
Sat, Feb 21, 2015


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? Ruth Alexander reports. This programme was first broadcast on the BBC World Service.

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The mathematical secrets to relationships

Author: BBC Radio 4
Sat, Feb 14, 2015


How maths can help you find love, and hold on to it. Plus, we hear a collection of our listeners’ favourite statistics. This programme was first broadcast on the BBC World Service.

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WS MoreOrLess: Is strenuous jogging bad for you?

Author: BBC Radio 4
Sat, Feb 07, 2015


Tim Harford asks whether claims that keen runners might be damaging their health are really true? And is infidelity among cruise ship passengers rife? This programme was first broadcast on the BBC World Service.

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Is strenuous jogging bad for you?

Author: BBC Radio 4
Fri, Feb 06, 2015


Tim Harford on claims that keen runners might be damaging their health. Plus, tuition fees; affairs among cruise passengers; UK election safe seats; loyal listeners' favourite statistics.

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WS MoreOrLess: The maths of dating

Author: BBC Radio 4
Sat, Jan 31, 2015


How to use mathematics to find your life partner. Plus: what are the chances that two friends, given the same due date for their babies' birth, actually do give birth on the same day? This programme was first broadcast on the BBC World Service.

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Cameron’s 1000 jobs

Author: BBC Radio 4
Fri, Jan 30, 2015


Fact-checking the Conservatives' employment claims; the price of milk; unhappy teachers; how to use maths to find your life partner; baby due dates; teen pregnancies.

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WS MoreOrLess: Global Wealth

Author: BBC Radio 4
Sat, Jan 24, 2015


Who is in the world's wealthiest elite, and where do they live? Which are the world's best and worst board-games? Oliver Roeder, a senior writer for FiveThirtyEight, says a statistical analysis can tell us. This programme was first broadcast on the BBC World Service.

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Is anti-Semitism widespread in the UK?

Author: BBC Radio 4
Fri, Jan 23, 2015


Are the majority of hate crimes in the UK directed against Jewish people? Plus: who are the wealthiest 1% and politicians' healthcare connections examined.

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WS MoreOrLess: Are 95% of Terrorism Victims Muslim?

Author: BBC Radio 4
Sat, Jan 17, 2015


In the wake of the Paris killings, an imam in Paris told the BBC that most terrorism victims around the world are Muslim. Is that true? Plus: The death toll of the Boko Haram attack in Baga, Nigeria. This programme was first broadcast on the BBC World Service.

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How big are the Conservatives' planned cuts?

Author: BBC Radio 4
Thu, Jan 16, 2014


The Conservatives' plans to achieve a budget surplus by 2019-20 have led to near universal acknowledgment that big reductions in spending would be required. However, David Cameron said this week that government spending would only need to be reduced by 1% per year. So, would Conservative cuts be big or small? Plus: are 95% of terrorism victims Muslim; Nigeria's Baga death toll; the world's best and worst board games; species decline.

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WS MoreOrLess: Bad Luck and Cancer

Author: BBC Radio 4
Sat, Jan 10, 2015


Most cancers are caused by "bad luck" according to reports of a new study. But, actually, the study doesn't say that. Tim Harford finds out what the research really tells us. This programme was first broadcast on the BBC World Service.

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A&E waiting times

Author: BBC Radio 4
Fri, Jan 09, 2015


The NHS in England has missed its four-hour A&E waiting time target with performance dropping to its lowest level for a decade, it's reported. Tim Harford takes a closer look at the numbers. Plus: do 85 people really own half the world's wealth; bad luck and cancer; beware the statistics which are true but unfair; and the dubious fashion for international rankings.

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WS MoreOrLess: Numbers of the Year part 3.

Author: BBC Radio 4
Sat, Jan 03, 2015


What is the most important number in the world? Robert Peston tells us and Helen Joyce and Dr Hannah Fry choose their most memorable numbers from 2014. This programme was first broadcast on the BBC World Service.

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Numbers of the Year 2014.

Author: BBC Radio 4
Fri, Jan 02, 2015


Tim Harford and guests look back at some of the weird and wonderful numbers of 2014. Featuring contributions from Simon Singh, Sir David Spiegelhalter, Helen Joyce, Nick Robinson, Helen Arney, Pippa Malmgren, Paul Lewis and Carlos Vilalta.

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WS MoreOrLess: Numbers of the Year part 2.

Author: BBC Radio 4
Sat, Dec 27, 2014


How optimistic are people about the future? The BBC's Evan Davis tells More or Less as the programme looks back at the most interesting and important numbers of 2014. This programme was first broadcast on the BBC World Service.

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WS MoreOrLess: Numbers of the Year part 1.

Author: BBC Radio 4
Sat, Dec 20, 2014


What is so special about 39,222 Mexican teachers? In the first of three episodes looking back at 2014, Mexico specialist Professor Carlos Vilalta tells Tim Harford. This programme was first broadcast on the BBC World Service.

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WS MoreOrLess: Soviet World War Deaths

Author: BBC Radio 4
Fri, Dec 12, 2014


Did almost 80% of the males born in the Soviet Union in 1923 not survive World War Two, as has been claimed online? Plus: the problem with China’s economic figures. This programme was first broadcast on the BBC World Service.

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WS MoreOrLess: Zimbabwe's Economy

Author: BBC Radio 4
Fri, Dec 05, 2014


Zimbabwe’s budget provided a fascinating insight into the country’s economy last week. Ben Carter looks at what the numbers mean for the future prosperity of Zimbabwe and the challenges the nation faces. The programme hears from David Blair, Chief Foreign Correspondent at The Daily Telegraph, Julian Rademeyer, director of fact checking website Africa Check and Russell Lamberti, author of When Money Destroys Nations.This programme was first broadcast on the BBC World Service.

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Teenage Pregnancy

Author: BBC Radio 4
Fri, Nov 28, 2014


"About one-third of American girls become pregnant as teenagers” a recent article claimed. More or Less asks if this is true and looks at the long-term pregnancy trends in developed countries. Plus: Does 55% of communication really come from body language and gestures, 38% from facial expression and only 7% from words? This programme was first broadcast on the BBC World Service.

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WS MoreOrLess: Caps off to Rooney

Author: BBC Radio 4
Fri, Nov 21, 2014


England captain Wayne Rooney made his 100th appearance last weekend but former England star Chris Waddle claims that it’s easier to win caps now than it was in previous generations. Wesley Stephenson asks whether Waddle is right and how many caps would greats like Bobby Moore, Maradona and Pele have won if they’d played in today’s era. Plus the programme hears from Professor Carlos Vilalta from the University of California San Diego and Steven Dudley from Insight Crime about claims that “98% of homicides in Mexico are unsolved.” An amazing statistic but is it true? This programme was first broadcast on the BBC World Service.

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WS MoreOrLess: Pregnancy and Homicide

Author: BBC Radio 4
Fri, Nov 14, 2014


The movie Gone Girl claims homicide is a leading cause of death for pregnant women. Ruth Alexander asks Dr Katherine Gold from the University of Michigan if this is true. And can we trust country rankings seen in the growing number of performance indices? We speak to the Economist’s international editor Helen Joyce. This programme was first broadcast on the BBC World Service.

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Tracking and Tackling Ebola

Author: BBC Radio 4
Fri, Nov 07, 2014


Hans Rosling, global health expert and data visionary, has just arrived in Liberia. He is working as an independent professor at the Health ministry there, as part of the team tracking and tackling Ebola. We talk to him about the latest numbers surrounding the virus. This programme was first broadcast on the BBC World Service.

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WS MoreOrLess: Kidney Donation

Author: BBC Radio 4
Fri, Oct 31, 2014


The chance of a successful kidney match between two unrelated people has increased significantly in the past 10 years - why? Ruth Alexander speaks to Professor Anthony Warrens, president of the British Transplantation Society. And we find out for our loyal listener how many individuals he will need to create a new race of people. This programme was first broadcast on the BBC World Service.

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Screening for Ebola

Author: BBC Radio 4
Fri, Oct 24, 2014


Are airport screenings for Ebola really an effective way of stopping transmission of the disease? And as the United Nations asks for another $1bn (?625m) in aid we take a look at which governments and charities are rallying to the cause and which are not. This programme was first broadcast on the BBC World Service.

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WS MoreOrLess: Big Data

Author: BBC Radio 4
Fri, Oct 17, 2014


Big data has been enjoying a lot of hype, with promises it will help deliver everything from increased corporate profits to better healthcare. While the potential is certainly there, Tim Harford asks if the hype is blinding us to some basic statistical lessons learned over the past two-hundred years? This programme was first broadcast on the BBC World Service.

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Species in Decline?

Author: BBC Radio 4
Fri, Oct 10, 2014


The coverage of the Living Planet Index and its claim that species populations have dropped 50% in the last 40 years aroused much suspicion among More Or Less listeners. The team looks at what the figure means and how it was calculated. This programme was first broadcast on the BBC World Service.

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WS MoreOrLess: Will Berlin see a sub-two-hour marathon?

Author: BBC Radio 4
Fri, Oct 03, 2014


Why is Berlin the place to break the marathon world record and how long will it be before we witness someone run it in less than two hours?

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WS MoreOrLess: How do we calculate the distance to the sun?

Author: BBC Radio 4
Fri, Sep 26, 2014


Two young listeners emailed the programme to ask how we calculate the distance to the sun. We decided to invite them and their parents to More or Less towers where Andrew Pontzen, an astrophysicist at University College London was on hand to explain the answer. A BBC nature documentary stated that there are 14,000 ants to every person on earth, and that were we to weigh all of these ants they would weigh the same as all the people. Can this be true? Tim Harford and Hannah Moore investigate with the help of Francis Ratnieks, professor of apiculture at the University of Sussex.

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The Barnett Formula

Author: BBC Radio 4
Fri, Sep 26, 2014


This week Tim explains the Barnett Formula with a bit of help from Money Box's Paul Lewis. He looks at Ed Balls sleight of hand in his speech to the Labour Party Conference. Is Ed Miliband's promise on NHS funding really worse than the funding increases delivered by Margaret Thatcher? And how do we know how far away is the sun really is?

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WS MoreOrLess: The UK vs Mississippi

Author: BBC Radio 4
Fri, Sep 19, 2014


Is Britain poorer than every US state, except for Mississippi? Journalist Fraser Nelson calculates that’s the case. Tim Harford speaks to economist Chris Dillow about why he’s right. Late last year BBC Trending referred to Eritrea as ‘tiny’. Listeners complained and the complaint was upheld. More or Less talks to Trending producer Mukul Devichand and asks whether any country can rightly be called ‘tiny’.

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Kidney donation: the chance of finding a match

Author: BBC Radio 4
Fri, Sep 19, 2014


The chance of a successful kidney match between two unrelated people has increased significantly in the past ten years - why? Tim Harford speaks to Professor Anthony Warrens, president of the British Transplantation Society. Donations to the Manchester Dogs' Home have exceeded ?1m in the wake of a fire, which killed more than 50 dogs. The large sum raised caused Today presenter Justin Webb to comment that it often seems easier to raise money for animals than humans who are in need. Is it true that we give more generously to animals? Ben Carter reports. An edition of BBC Four's Wonder of Animals states that there are 14,000 ants to every person on earth, and that were we to weigh all of these ants they would weigh the same as all the people. Can this be true? And a complaint has been held up against a BBC programme for calling Eritrea 'tiny'. Can any country rightly be described this way?

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Shakespeare vs Rappers

Author: BBC Radio 4
Fri, Sep 12, 2014


It's a 'fact' beloved of English teachers around the world: that Shakespeare, the greatest playwright in English, also had the greatest vocabulary. But research published earlier this year suggests English teachers might have to look elsewhere to establish the superiority of the Bard - apparently his vocabulary lags behind the best and most famous rappers of the last decades. Is this comparison fair, and if so, does it diminish the Bard's lustre? This programme was first broadcast on the BBC World Service.

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Scottish referendum polls

Author: BBC Radio 4
Fri, Sep 12, 2014


Tim Harford talks to pollsters about how they are trying to gauge the political mood in Scotland, and he analyses Nigel Farage's claim that more than half of Scotland is on benefits. Plus: celebrating Countdown, the longest-running TV quiz show; quantifying malnutrition in the UK; and does the ‘Curse of Strictly Come Dancing’ really exist?

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WS MoreOrLess: To ice or not to ice?

Author: BBC Radio 4
Fri, Sep 05, 2014


The ALS ice bucket challenge has become a viral phenomenon. People around the world have been dousing themselves in ice-cold water and in the process have raised over $100m for charity. But a true nerd doesn't run with the herd, and Tim Harford is only going to do the challenge if the facts stack up. He investigates whether a viral challenge like this is good for charitable giving overall, and whether there are reasons to be more choosy about the charities we give to. This programme was first broadcast on the BBC World Service.

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To ice or not to ice?

Author: BBC Radio 4
Fri, Sep 05, 2014


The ALS ice bucket challenge viral phenomenon has raised over $100m. Is this good for charitable giving overall, and should we be more choosy about the charities we give to? Plus: is there a 'rising tide' of anti-Semitism in Europe; does Shakespeare have the largest vocabulary, or is the Bard bested by hip hop’s finest; and is the current generation of young people likely to live shorter lives than their parents?

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WS MoreOrLess: Do We Use Only 10% of Our Brains?

Author: BBC Radio 4
Fri, Aug 29, 2014


Is it true that humans use just 10% of their brains? It?ˆ™s the premise of the new film Lucy, in which the brain capacity of Scarlett Johansson?ˆ™s character increases to dangerous levels. Tim Harford uses considerably more than 10% of his brain to separate the neuro-science facts from the fiction with Professor Sophie Scott. What drives the price of footballers? Tim Harford tries to understand the huge transfer fees with Raffaele Poli from the CIES Football Observatory and football agent Seb Ewen. Presenter: Tim Harford Producer: Ruth Alexander This programme was first broadcast on the BBC World Service.

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How Deadly Is Ebola?

Author: BBC Radio 4
Fri, Aug 29, 2014


Media reports are suggesting that as many as 12,000 people may have Ebola in West Africa, but experts tell More or Less that's not the case. It's also said that Ebola kills up to 90% of victims, but while that's true of one outbreak, the death rate in other Ebola outbreaks has varied widely. Tim Harford and Ruth Alexander

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WS MoreOrLess: Deaths in Gaza

Author: BBC Radio 4
Fri, Aug 22, 2014


As the Gaza conflict continues, the fact that there are estimated to be nearly three times as many men as women among the Palestinian civilian casualties has been an issue in the spotlight. Tim Harford and Ruth Alexander look at why men are often over-represented in civilian death tolls, and how the statistics in this conflict are being gathered. This programme was first broadcast on the BBC World Service.

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Troubled families?

Author: BBC Radio 4
Fri, Aug 22, 2014


"Revealed: half a million problem families" reported The Sunday Times. The government's expanding its Troubled Families programme - two years after More or Less found it statistically wanting. Tim Harford discusses the new numbers with BBC Newsnight's Chris Cook. Plus: CEO remuneration; deaths in Gaza; divorce risks and further adventures in the audio presentation of data.

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WS MoreOrLess: Anti-Semitism

Author: BBC Radio 4
Fri, Aug 15, 2014


Is anti-semitism on the rise? Ruth Alexander and James Fletcher look at the numbers, as media reports in the wake of the Gaza conflict suggest anti-semitism is a growing problem. Does the evidence support the claims? This programme was first broadcast on the BBC World Service.

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Student Loans

Author: BBC Radio 4
Fri, Aug 15, 2014


The cost of the government's new student loan system is rising according to a recent report. Tim Harford investigates whether the rising costs should have been foreseen, and whether the new system will end up costing more than the old one. Plus: mobile phone goldmines in our pockets; paedophilia in the priesthood and from machine learning to deep learning.

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WS MoreOrLess: Ebola

Author: BBC Radio 4
Sun, Aug 10, 2014


What do we know about how deadly the Ebola virus is, and how likely is it that there might be an outbreak of the virus in the United States or Europe?

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WS MoreOrLess: Fear of Flying

Author: BBC Radio 4
Fri, Aug 01, 2014


After three tragic airline incidents in eight days, is flying becoming more dangerous? Wesley Stephenson looks at the statistics behind air travel to find out? And which is the most successful nation in Commonwealth Games history? Australia, Canada, England – not even close. This programme was first broadcast on the BBC World Service.

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WS MoreOrLess: The prevalence of paedophilia?

Author: BBC Radio 4
Fri, Jul 25, 2014


The Pope was reported to have said that 2% of Catholic clergy were paedophiles. Is this a big number? Wesley Stephenson looks at the research on the prevalence of paedophilia and how the Catholic clergy compare to the world's population as a whole. This programme was first broadcast on the BBC World Service.

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WS MoreOrLess: The Tour de France

Author: BBC Radio 4
Fri, Jul 18, 2014


The Tour de France has reached the mountains, but what does it take to be a good climber and why are the cyclists thin and bony, while sprinters are bigger with bulging muscles? And what is the best body type to win the yellow jersey? Also are 24,000 people really killed by lightning each year? This programme was first broadcast on the BBC World Service.

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WS MoreOrLess: Golden Ticket

Author: BBC Radio 4
Fri, Jul 11, 2014


In Roald Dahl’s novel "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory", Charlie Bucket wins a golden ticket to visit Willy Wonka’s factory. But one of our younger More or Less listeners in England wanted to find out what the chances would be of winning one of those Golden Tickets. So we sent maths book author Rob Eastaway to her school in Derby to explain the answer to her class-mates - a must-listen for anyone who struggles to get their head around probability. Also on the programme we look at whether the age of players makes a difference in World Cup football. This programme was first broadcast on the BBC World Service.

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Will we die before our parents?

Author: BBC Radio 4
Fri, Jul 04, 2014


Obesity may mean children have a shorter lifespan than their parents, it has been claimed, but is this true? Ruth Alexander looks at the data and explores the 'Obesity Paradox' – the idea that overweight people are less likely to die than those of normal weight. She also questions whether the promise of bonuses in The World Cup has improved performances. This programme was first broadcast on the BBC World Service.

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WS MoreOrLess: Is this the greatest world cup ever?

Author: BBC Radio 4
Fri, Jun 27, 2014


As we reach the end of the group stage are we really witnessing the greatest world cup ever? Ruth Alexander casts a sceptical eye over the statistics. She also takes a look at the possession stats to see if we’re seeing the death of tiki-taka with the help of Michael Cox from ZonalMarking.net. This programme was first broadcast on the BBC World Service.

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WS MoreOrLess: Money for nothing?

Author: BBC Radio 4
Fri, Jun 20, 2014


When it comes to aid, what works best – giving people food, shelter, medicine, or just handing over cash and letting them spend it how they like? One group of researchers went to a Kenyan village to try to answer this question and to do so they also employed a new tool - randomised controlled testing. RCTs have long been the gold standard for measuring whether medical drugs work, but could they revolutionise how we measure the impact of aid?

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WS MoreOrLess: Heads Or Tails?

Author: BBC Radio 4
Fri, Jun 13, 2014


Freakonomics guru Steven Levitt joins us to talk about an unusual experiment – getting people to agree to make major life decisions based on the toss of a coin. Is this really good social science? And what do the results tell us about decision making and happiness? And with 365 days in the year, it feels like a huge coincidence when we meet someone with the same birthday. But you only need 23 people to have a better than even chance that two will share a birthday. This counter-intuitive result is known as the birthday paradox, and the best place to look for proof is the World Cup, where 32 squads of 23 players provide an ideal data-set. Alex Bellos crunches the numbers for us. This programme was first broadcast on the BBC World Service.

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Faith and Charity?

Author: BBC Radio 4
Fri, Jun 13, 2014


"Religion Makes People More Generous"- according to The Daily Telegraph's interpretation of a new BBC poll on charitable giving. Tim Harford investigates whether there is a link between practising a religion and whether we give. Plus: Big data - the hype says it will help deliver everything from increased corporate profits to better healthcare but are we being blinded to basic statistical lessons learned over the past two hundred years? And it feels like a huge coincidence, but you only need 23 people to have a better than even chance of meeting someone with the same birthday. This is the birthday paradox, and the best place to look for proof is the World Cup, where 32 squads of 23 players provide an ideal data-set. Alex Bellos crunches the numbers for us.

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WS MoreOrLess: 'Spurious Correlations'

Author: BBC Radio 4
Fri, Jun 06, 2014


Is the divorce rate in the US state of Maine linked to margarine consumption? It's one of many pairs of statistics featured on the 'Spurious Correlations' website started recently by Tyler Vigen. We talk to him about some of the funniest correlations he's found and the serious point he's trying to make. Plus: World Cup Office Sweepstake strategy. This programme was first broadcast on the BBC World Service.

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What's Scottish Independence Worth?

Author: BBC Radio 4
Fri, Jun 06, 2014


Scottish independence - yes or no? Which will line your pocket more? The Scottish government says a Yes vote will leave Scots ?1,000 each better off; the UK treasury says a No vote means a ?1,400 bonus for Scots. More or Less looks at exactly what these claims mean, the key assumptions underlying them, and asks whether either number is likely to be accurate. Plus: the "zombie" statistic that each year 100,000 Christians are martyred around the world; getting people to agree to make major life decisions based on the toss of a coin and World Cup Office Sweepstake strategy.

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WS MoreOrLess: The Piketty Affair

Author: BBC Radio 4
Fri, May 30, 2014


Did 'rock-star' French economist Thomas Piketty get his numbers wrong? His theories about rising inequality and the increasing importance of capital have been the talk of the economic and political worlds this year. And part of their power has been the massive amount of data Piketty has brought together to back them. But the Financial Times claims to have found significant problems with Piketty's data on wealth. Tim Harford examines the FT's claims and Thomas Piketty's response. This programme was first broadcast on the BBC World Service.

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The Piketty Affair

Author: BBC Radio 4
Fri, May 30, 2014


Did 'rock-star' French economist Thomas Piketty get his numbers wrong? His theories about rising inequality and the increasing importance of capital have been the talk of the economic and political worlds this year. And part of their appeal has been the massive amount of data Piketty has brought together to back them. But the Financial Times claims to have found significant problems with Piketty's data on wealth, and says this undermines his claims about rising inequality. Tim Harford examines the FT's claims and Thomas Piketty's response. Plus: is as much land given over to golf courses as housing in England; is racism on the rise in Britain; and should we be concerned that several young men who have died recently were players of the video game Call of Duty?

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WS MoreOrLess: Risk Savvy

Author: BBC Radio 4
Fri, May 23, 2014


A famous probability puzzle is discussed involving goats and game shows with German psychologist Gerd Gigerenzer. Is he right to suggest in his new book 'Risk Savvy' that we really don't understand risk and uncertainty? And More or Less listeners weigh in on a problem from last week’s programme - how old will you be before you're guaranteed to celebrate a major, round-number birthday (like 40 or 50) on a weekend?

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Romanian Crime

Author: BBC Radio 4
Fri, May 23, 2014


Are the statistics put forward by UKIP accurate, and are Romanians responsible for more crime than other nationalities? Plus: Gerd Gigerenzer on the famous probability puzzle involving goats and game shows; do 24,000 people die every year from lightning strikes globally; how old will you be before you're guaranteed a round-number birthday on a weekend; and is the divorce rate in the US state of Maine linked to margarine consumption?

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WS MoreOrLess: Did global poverty halve overnight?

Author: BBC Radio 4
Fri, May 16, 2014


Did the number of people around the world living in extreme poverty fall by half a few weeks ago? That's one interpretation of newly released figures for purchasing power parity around the world. The figures compiled by the International Comparison Programme of the World Bank show that in a lot of poorer countries, things are cheaper than we had thought. One development think tank has suggested that if people in these countries can afford to buy more, fewer of them will fall under the World Bank's definition of extreme poverty. We take a look at the argument to see if it stacks up, and whether the World Bank should be lowering its estimates for global poverty in light of the new figures. This programme was first broadcast on the BBC World Service.

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Tax Dodgers and Benefits Cheats

Author: BBC Radio 4
Fri, May 16, 2014


Does the government have lots of people chasing the relatively small amounts lost to benefits cheats, while massive amounts of tax evasion are barely investigated? Plus: did global poverty fall by half a few weeks ago; Eurovision data crunching; Willy Wonka's coveted 'Golden Tickets' and is London the 6th biggest French city?

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WS MoreOrLess: Brazil’s Maths Superstar

Author: BBC Radio 4
Fri, May 09, 2014


The Man Who Counted, a book of 'Arabic' mathematical tales written by Middle Eastern scholar Malba Tahan was published in Brazil in the 1930s. It became a huge success. Malba Tahan's birthday, May 6th, is now celebrated as Brazil's National Day of Mathematics. But the author wasn't who everybody thought he was. Alex Bellos tells his story. This programme was first broadcast on the BBC World Service.

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Food Bank Britain

Author: BBC Radio 4
Fri, May 09, 2014


Food banks are being used by a million people in Britain according to recent newspaper reports. But what do we really know about how many people are using food banks, and does this tell us anything about whether food poverty is increasing? Plus: we remember Gary Becker; Alex Bellos tells the story of Brazil's most famous mathematician; and did a fruit and vegetable seller run the first four minute mile in 1770?

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Sir Roger Bannister's ‘impossible’ feat

Author: BBC Radio 4
Fri, May 02, 2014


Sir Roger Bannister became the first man to run a mile in under four minutes 60 ago. It's one of the most famous records of the 20th Century, one that the passage of time has shrouded in legend. Was the four-minute mile really considered an 'impossible' physical barrier? Are motivational speakers like Anthony Robbins right to claim that the year after it was broken, the power of positive thinking helped dozens of runners to break the four-minute barrier. More or Less speaks with Sir Roger Bannister to separate myth from reality and find out exactly what propelled him to his famous feat. This programme was first broadcast on the BBC World Service.

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British Law - Made in Brussels?

Author: BBC Radio 4
Fri, May 02, 2014


How much British law is made in Brussels - 75% as UKIP say, or 7% as Nick Clegg says? And how might the ideas of an 18th century minister help find the missing flight MH370?

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Killed for being female?

Author: BBC Radio 4
Fri, Apr 25, 2014


Are 100 million women missing from the world? A listener asks More or Less to explore this powerful statement - "More girls were killed in the last 50 years, precisely because they were girls, than men killed in all the wars in the 20th century." The quote is from a book called 'Half the Sky' by Nicholas D. Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn. It has been used in articles, by UN agencies and on TV to highlight the fatal consequences of discrimination of women based on their sex. But is it true? More or Less looks at the evidence. How can we know if a woman is killed precisely because she is a woman? And how do we know how many men have been killed in war?

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Magic Numbers

Author: BBC Radio 4
Fri, Apr 18, 2014


Do you have a favourite number - one you love, one you think stands out from all the others? Author Alex Bellos joins us to talk about his quest to find the world's favourite number and discuss whether numbers really can be magical, mystical and memorable, or whether it's all mumbo jumbo. Why are odd numbers so appealing? Which number strikes fear into some people's hearts? And why do lists of questions like these always come in threes? This programme was first broadcast on the BBC World Service.

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Nigeria - rich or poor?

Author: BBC Radio 4
Fri, Apr 11, 2014


Nigeria's bureau of statistics has overhauled the way it calculates the country's GDP figures. With GDP now estimated at around $510 billion, it has surpassed South Africa as the continent's largest economy. But just because it has earned this accolade ?ˆ“ does that make it one of the richest? Plus was the President of the World Bank, Jim Yong Kim, right to say recently that Nigeria is one of just five countries that together are home to two-thirds of the world?ˆ™s extreme poor? We sift through the statistics to find out if economic development is benefitting everyone in Nigeria. This programme was first broadcast on the BBC World Service.

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Freedom in Numbers

Author: BBC Radio 4
Fri, Apr 04, 2014


How many people in the world live in freedom? The BBC's Freedom 2014 season got Tim Harford and the More or Less team wondering about this. It's actually pretty hard to put a number on freedom, so Tim begins by looking at something more quantifiable: how many people live in a democracy? And are people in democracies happier? Tim Harford looks at the numbers with Simon Baptist from the Economist Intelligence Unit. Plus, he examines the price of a cup of coffee, and whether Ruth Alexander can be persuaded to pay for his. This programme was first broadcast live on the BBC World Service on 01 April 2014 from the Media Caf? at BBC New Broadcasting House in London.

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Is London France’s sixth largest city?

Author: BBC Radio 4
Sat, Mar 29, 2014


Are there really be 300,000 French people in London and would they really want to leave France for the UK anyway? The Mayor of London, British journalists and commentators have trotted out this "fact" a number of times over the last few years to illustrate just how popular the UK’s capital is with its neighbours across the Channel. It appears that Nicolas Sarkozy may have said it as far back as 2008. Wesley Stephenson and Charlotte McDonald brush off their best French to find out the truth. This programme was first broadcast on the BBC World Service.

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Missing planes

Author: BBC Radio 4
Sat, Mar 22, 2014


Could Bayesian statistics find Flight MH370 from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing? This niche form of statistical modelling has been used to find everything from submarines to missing people. More or Less explores how it was used to locate the wreckage of Air France flight 447 from Brazil to France which disappeared in 2009. This programme was first broadcast on the BBC World Service.

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Mailbox edition

Author: BBC Radio 4
Sat, Mar 15, 2014


Your questions answered - Do the Maasai in Africa number one million? Is it true that a quarter of Americans do not know the Earth goes round the sun? Are half of Tasmanians innumerate and illiterate? Plus, Do the 85 richest people in the world hold the same amount of wealth as the poorest half? This programme was first broadcast on the BBC World Service.

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WS MoreOrLess: Modern Slavery

Author: BBC Radio 4
Sat, Mar 08, 2014


Are there 21 million slaves in the world today? Director of 12 Years a Slave, Steve McQueen, made this claim at both the Oscars and the BAFTAs while accepting awards. More or Less looks into the definition of a slave, where they can be found, and explores how they can be counted. This programme was first broadcast on the BBC World Service.

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The 10,000 hours rule

Author: BBC Radio 4
Sat, Feb 01, 2014


Becoming a pro on practice alone – is that possible? Or do you need innate talent? After reading books promoting the idea, a photographer with no natural talent explains how he is practising for 10,000, hours to become a professional golfer. We hear David Epstein, author of 'The Sports Gene', and Malcolm Gladwell, author of 'Outliers' explain their views on whether you need innate ability. This programme was first broadcast on the BBC World Service.

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WS MoreOrLess: Neknomination Outbreak

Author: BBC Radio 4
Sat, Feb 22, 2014


The rise and fall of an online epidemic: How studying the spread of infectious diseases suggests the global drinking craze Neknomination will fizzle out. Drinkers post videos of their exploits and nominate others to do the same – but eventually the fad will run out of steam says epidemiologist Adam Kucharski from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. Plus, while politicians debate how much to tax the rich in France and the UK– we look at which countries levy the highest and the lowest rates of income tax for both the wealthy and average worker. This programme was first broadcast on the BBC World Service.

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Love by numbers

Author: BBC Radio 4
Sat, Feb 15, 2014


Can economics help you find love? Tim Harford and the team look at the maths behind modern match-making. Economist Michele Belot from the University of Edinburgh explains why women are pickier than men at speed dating events. Plus - how analysing numbers from online dating agencies can help improve the chances of finding a partner: a personal story by Amy Webb, CEO of digital strategists Webbmedia Group. This programme was first broadcast on the BBC World Service.

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Rising drug overdose deaths

Author: BBC Radio 4
Sat, Feb 08, 2014


In the US, more people are dying from drug overdoses than from road traffic accidents and firearms. As headlines are filled with the news that actor Philip Seymour Hoffman died from an overdose recently, the team takes a look at the number of deaths from drug overdoses of both illegal and prescription drugs in the US and the rest of the world. This programme was first broadcast on the BBC World Service.

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WS MoreOrLess: Immigration

Author: BBC Radio 4
Sat, Feb 01, 2014


How much do migrants cost or benefit a nation? Plus, planning a wedding - when you have friends and family all around the world and a finite number of places at the venue, how do you work out how many invitations to send? Tim Harford speaks to a couple who thought statistics might have the answer. This programme was first broadcast on the BBC World Service.

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The 50p tax rate

Author: BBC Radio 4
Fri, Jan 31, 2014


Chancellor George Osborne says a 50p tax rate does not bring in much revenue; Shadow Chancellor Ed Balls says it does. Tim Harford takes a look at why it is so hard to pin down how much tax is owed by the wealthy. Plus, have wages risen? How much does it cost to raise a child? Who do you invite to your wedding?

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WS MoreOrLess: Alcohol risk

Author: BBC Radio 4
Sat, Jan 25, 2014


Do two large glasses of wine triple your risk of mouth cancer, as claimed on a health leaflet spotted by a sceptical listener? Tim Harford examines the difficulties of extracting smoking from the equation. Surprising as this may seem, one of the world's best tennis players of all time, Roger Federer, is also the worst ranked player on one scale. The scoring system makes it possible to lose a match despite winning more points, and Federer has lost the highest percentage of these types of games. Tim speaks to sports number-cruncher Ryan Rodenberg about why this might be the case. This programme was first broadcast on the BBC World Service.

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Immigration

Author: BBC Radio 4
Fri, Jan 24, 2014


What does a detailed look at immigration statistics tell us about the benefits, or otherwise, of welcoming overseas citizens? Plus, is it true that by the age of 60, more than twice as many women as men are single, and that older men are often living with younger men? Do two large glasses of wine triple your risk of mouth cancer? And which of the world's best tennis players of all time is also the worst-ranked player in one sense. Tim Harford presents.

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WS MoreOrLess: An apple-a-day

Author: BBC Radio 4
Sat, Jan 18, 2014


An apple-a-day will actually keep the doctors away, according to a study in the Christmas edition of the British Medical Journal. It generated headlines around the world. But were the media right to take the story so seriously? Tim interviews one of the study’s authors and critic Paul Marantz. And, mathemagical mind-reading: Jolyon Jenkins reveals the maths behind a classic long-distance mind-reading card trick. Presenter: Tim Harford. Producer: Ruth Alexander. This programme was first broadcast on the BBC World Service.

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Obesity crisis?

Author: BBC Radio 4
Fri, Jan 17, 2014


Tim Harford discovers that health statistics contradict a report which says obesity is worsening. Plus, he fact-checks: armed police shooting statistics; reports that the UK's had the worst winter storms in 20 years; media reports about controversial Channel 4 programme, Benefits Street; a study that says an apple-a-day really keeps the doctor away.

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WS MoreOrLess: Counting the Dead in Iraq

Author: BBC Radio 4
Sat, Jan 11, 2014


In Iraq, estimates of the death count since the war started 2003 range from 100,000 to about one million. Tim Harford explores why such a range exists and what methods are used to count those killed during war. Meanwhile he discovers that Iraq's population has been growing strongly over the same period. Plus, mathematician and comedian Matt Parker presents his guide to the imperial measurement system. This programme was first broadcast on the BBC World Service.

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The week that kills

Author: BBC Radio 4
Fri, Jan 10, 2014


Most deaths occur in this week of the year - Tim Harford asks why. He also asks: are there really two million millionaire pensioners in the UK, and how many people have died in Iraq since 2003? Plus, mathematician and comedian, Matt Parker, apologises for his previous apology.

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WS MoreOrLess: The numbers of 2013 - part 2

Author: BBC Radio 4
Sat, Jan 04, 2014


A guide to 2013 in numbers - the most informative, interesting and idiosyncratic statistics of the year discussed by More or Less interviewees. Contributors: Dr Pippa Malmgren, President and founder of Principalis Asset Management; Merryn Somerset-Webb, Editor in Chief of MoneyWeek; Helen Arney, Comedian and Presenter. Producer: Ben Carter. This programme was first broadcast on the BBC World Service.

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Pension Charges

Author: BBC Radio 4
Fri, Jan 03, 2014


When the government announced that fees charged by pension providers could be capped, some listeners were sceptical that the benefits could be as great as was being claimed. Tim Harford and Money Box presenter Paul Lewis explain why the numbers do add up. It's claimed that an average of 100,000 Christians die as martyrs every year; Ruth Alexander and Tim Harford fact-check the widely-quoted statistic. Plus, Number Hub mathematician Matt Parker presents his guide to imperial measures; is Britain's railway really Europe's 'most improved'? And when six cyclists died in just two weeks in London, was that a cluster in a random distribution, or a sign that something is systematically wrong with road safety in the capital?

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WS MoreOrLess: The numbers of 2013 - part 1

Author: BBC Radio 4
Sat, Dec 28, 2013


A guide to 2013 in numbers - the most informative, interesting and idiosyncratic statistics of the year discussed by More or Less interviewees. Contributors: David Spiegelhalter, Professor for the Public Understanding of Risk at Cambridge University; Linda Yueh, BBC Chief Business Correspondent; Simon Singh, author of The Simpsons and Their Mathematical Secrets. Producer: Ben Carter. This programme was first broadcast on the BBC World Service.

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Numbers of the year

Author: BBC Radio 4
Fri, Dec 27, 2013


A guide to 2013 in numbers - the most informative, interesting and idiosyncratic statistics of the year discussed by More or Less interviewees. Contributors: David Spiegelhalter, Winton professor for the public understanding of risk at Cambridge University; Linda Yueh, BBC chief business correspondent; Simon Singh, author of The Simpsons and Their Mathematical Secrets; Dr Pippa Malmgren, president and founder of Principalis Asset Management; Paul Lewis; presenter of BBC Radio 4's Money Box programme; Dr Hannah Fry, Centre of the Advanced Spatial Analysis at University College London; Merryn Somerset-Webb, editor-in-chief of MoneyWeek; Helen Arney, comedian. Producer: Ben Carter.

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WS MoreOrLess: Wine shortage?

Author: BBC Radio 4
Sat, Dec 21, 2013


It has been reported that global wine supplies are running low. But shops still seem to be well-stocked. So, what is going on? Tim Harford fact-checks the claim. Plus, are the four festive football fixtures as crucial to Premier League teams as many claim? This programme was first broadcast on the BBC World Service.

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Britain's 80,000 homeless children

Author: BBC Radio 4
Fri, Dec 20, 2013


About 80,000 children will wake up homeless on Christmas Day, according to the charity Shelter. What exactly does that mean? Tim Harford explores the statistic. Plus, he fact-checks the news reports of a global wine shortage; and a magician, who exploits the maths of card shuffling, attempts to read his mind. Also, are the four festive football fixtures as crucial to Premier League teams as many claim? And, in tribute to the former BBC economics editor, Stephanie Flanders, listen to what was perhaps her finest broadcasting moment.

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WS MoreOrLess: Genocide in South Africa?

Author: BBC Radio 4
Sat, Dec 14, 2013


It is claimed white South Africans are being systematically killed because of the colour of their skin, but do the crime statistics back this up? No, explains Julian Rademeyer from Africa Check and Johan Burger from the Institute of Security Studies in Pretoria. Presenter: Ruth Alexander. This programme was first broadcast on the BBC World Service.

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WS MoreOrLess: Testing the PISA test

Author: BBC Radio 4
Sat, Dec 07, 2013


The publication of the latest international education league table has created waves around the world. From Shanghai at the top of the table to Peru at the bottom, the PISA rankings create a lot of discussion about the best way to teach children. In some countries the OECD-led ratings are taken so seriously that education policy has been changed to try to improve national performance. But is the league table really as definitive as many people believe? Ruth Alexander looks behind the numbers. Presenter/producer: Ruth Alexander This programme was first broadcast on the BBC World Service.

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Football Ranking Mysteries Explained

Author: BBC Radio 4
Sat, Nov 30, 2013


Ahead of the 2014 World Cup draw next Friday, we look at world football rankings. How are Switzerland seeded when the Netherlands, Italy and England are not? The answer lies in the playing of friendly games, which can be incredibly unfriendly to your ranking if you play the wrong team at the wrong time. This programme was first broadcast on the BBC World Service.

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WS MoreOrLess: Could statistics cure cancer?

Author: BBC Radio 4
Sat, Nov 23, 2013


Ruth Alexander speaks to a statistician at the forefront of cancer research, Professor Terry Speed. He has just been awarded the Prime Minister’s Prize for Science in Australia. This programme was first broadcast on the BBC World Service.

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WS MoreOrLess: Sachin Tendulkar - best batsman of all time?

Author: BBC Radio 4
Sat, Nov 16, 2013


Sachin Ramesh Tendulkar has amassed 15,847 test runs, which is 2,500 more runs than any other batsman. But other ways have been devised to calculate cricketing greatness and the Little Master, as he has become known, does not feature as prominently in a lot of them. More or Less crunches the numbers. This programme was first broadcast on the BBC World Service.

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WS MoreOrLess: Does politics make us get our sums wrong?

Author: BBC Radio 4
Sat, Nov 09, 2013


To what degree do our personal opinions cloud our judgement? Yale University researchers have attempted to detect and measure how our political beliefs affect our ability to make rational decisions. The study suggests that our ability to do maths plummets when we are looking at data which clashes with our worldview. Ruth Alexander and Ben Carter consider Professor Dan Kahan's findings. This programme was first broadcast on the BBC World Service.

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100,000 Christian martyrs?

Author: BBC Radio 4
Sat, Nov 02, 2013


It is claimed an average of 100,000 Christians have died because of their faith every year for the past decade: and that this is an 'unreported catastrophe'. The Vatican has called it a credible number. But is it? Ruth Alexander and Wesley Stephenson report.

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WS MoreOrLess: Fertility - when is too late?

Author: BBC Radio 4
Sat, Oct 26, 2013


Women in their late thirties shouldn’t be as anxious about their prospects of having a baby as is commonly assumed, psychologist Jean Twenge argues. Tim Harford finds fertility experts agree. This programme was first broadcast on the BBC World Service.

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WS MoreOrLess: Nobel Prize puzzle

Author: BBC Radio 4
Sat, Oct 19, 2013


Tim Harford tells the story of how two economists who disagree with each other have been jointly awarded the Nobel Prize. Eugene Fama has shown that stock markets are efficient, while Robert Shiller has shown that they're not. Tim interviews both professors about their findings, and this apparent contradiction.

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The Hawthorne Effect

Author: BBC Radio 4
Sat, Oct 12, 2013


Tim Harford tells the story of the Hawthorne Experiments, one of the most famous social studies of the Twentieth Century. The finding – that workers are more productive if they are given attention - became known as the Hawthorne Effect. And he hears how the original data are now casting doubt on the legendary results. This programme was first broadcast on the BBC World Service.

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WS MoreOrLess: Mosquitoes and elephants

Author: BBC Radio 4
Sat, Oct 05, 2013


Has the mosquito killed half the people who have ever lived? Tim Harford assesses the claim. Are 96 elephants a day being killed in Africa? Plus, a return to the subject of left-handers – could it be true that they're more likely to be criminal masterminds? This programme was first broadcast on the BBC World Service.

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Underage drinking

Author: BBC Radio 4
Fri, Oct 04, 2013


Are hundreds of young children visiting A&E because of alcohol? Plus, an update on the Trumptonshire economy. And has the mosquito killed half the people who have ever lived? Tim Harford presents.

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WS MoreOrLess: Population explosion?

Author: BBC Radio 4
Sat, Sep 28, 2013


"We just shut our eyes to the fact that the world's population is increasing out of control." Is broadcaster and naturalist Sir David Attenborough right about global population projections? And Tim Harford wonders whether it's true that Scotland is home to 20% of the world's redheads. This programme was first broadcast on the BBC World Service.

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NHS hospital deaths

Author: BBC Radio 4
Fri, Sep 27, 2013


Tim Harford examines the claim that NHS hospital patients are 45% more likely to die than US ones. Is Sir David Attenborough right that the world's population is increasingly out of control? And are 20% of the world's redheads in Scotland? Plus, the story of the Hawthorne Experiment, one of the most famous studies in industrial history.

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Formula 1 racing risk

Author: BBC Radio 4
Sat, Sep 21, 2013


'I accept every time I get in my car, there's a 20% chance I could die'. It's a line from the Formula 1 hit film, Rush. Spoken by racing driver Niki Lauda's character. Formula 1 was certainly a dangerous sport during the 1970s, but was it really that dangerous? Tim Harford and Hannah Barnes look at the data. Plus, is it true that it takes 1,000 years for a plastic bag to degrade? It's a popular claim, but More or Less finds the environmental facts about plastic bags are much less certain than that statistic suggests. This edition was first broadcast on the BBC World Service.

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Do free school meals work?

Author: BBC Radio 4
Fri, Sep 20, 2013


All pupils at infant schools in England are to get free school lunches from next September, but does the evidence prove free dinners improve results? 'I accept every time I get in my car, there's a 20% chance I could die' - it's a line from the Formula 1 hit film, Rush, but was it really true for 1970s racing drivers? The government wants shops to start charging for plastic bags and the Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg says a plastic bag takes 1,000 years to degrade, but More or Less finds the environmental facts about plastic bags are much less certain than that statistic suggests. And do the health benefits of cycling outweigh the risk of injury? Professor David Spiegelhalter goes through the numbers.

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Sexual violence statistics in Asia

Author: BBC Radio 4
Sat, Sep 14, 2013


Almost a quarter of men in some Asian countries admit rape, it has been reported. The headlines have been sparked by a UN report, which looks at violence against women in parts of Asia. Are the numbers of rapists really this high? Tim Harford and Ruth Alexander look into the detail of the study. And, “Africa has a drinking problem” - so says Time Magazine. More or Less discovers a more mixed picture. This programme was first broadcast on the BBC World Service.

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Fertility: when is too late?

Author: BBC Radio 4
Fri, Sep 13, 2013


Psychologist Jean Twenge argues that women in their late thirties shouldn’t be as anxious about their prospects of having a baby as is commonly assumed. Tim Harford finds fertility experts agree. The economy’s turning a corner, the Chancellor says - Tim Harford takes a closer look at the numbers. Plus, sexual violence statistics in Asia; Britain’s ‘small island’ status rebutted; and does Africa really have a ‘drinking problem’? This is the edition of the programme first broadcast on BBC Radio 4.

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The death toll in Syria

Author: BBC Radio 4
Sat, Sep 07, 2013


As global leaders remain divided on whether to carry out a military strike against Syria in response to the apparent use of chemical weapons against its people, Tim Harford looks at the different claims made about how many people have been killed. And, apparently, it's a fact that if there's one thing that's worse for you than drinking, scoffing bacon sandwiches and smoking 80 unfiltered cigarettes a day, it's being left-handed. Left-handers die on average several years earlier than right-handers. Or do they? Tim gets to the bottom of a sinister statistic. This edition was first broadcast on the BBC World Service.

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The Death Toll in Syria

Author: BBC Radio 4
Fri, Sep 06, 2013


Tim Harford looks at the different claims made about how many people have been killed in the apparent chemical attack in Syria. The cost of care has forced a million families to sell their homes in the past five years, it’s been reported – but is it true? What can statistics tell us about the safety of Super Puma helicopters? Tim finds out whether left-handers really die nine years earlier than right-handers. And, he assesses the facts behind the claim that 300,000 attempts have been made to access pornographic websites at Parliament in a year.

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Counting climate migrants

Author: BBC Radio 4
Sat, Aug 31, 2013


Is it true that environmental problems will create 200 million migrants? Some politicians and environmentalists warn that this is the case. But migration experts say that the numbers are exaggerated. Tim Harford and Hannah Barnes investigate. This programme was first broadcast on the BBC World Service.

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What price the life of a badger?

Author: BBC Radio 4
Fri, Aug 30, 2013


Has the government taken into account the worth of a badger's life in any cost-benefit analysis of the badger cull? It aims to kill 70% of badgers in the two cull zones, but Tim Harford discovers that such precision might be tricky. Plus, have blundering doctors and nurses really killed 13,000 patients in England? Shadow immigration minister Chris Bryant has warned that climate change is going to create 200 million more migrants but, More or Less discovers, migration experts disagree. And, always down with the cool kids, Tim discovers more about this buzz phrase, "big data". Might it be telling the world our darkest secrets?

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Is coffee bad for you?

Author: BBC Radio 4
Sat, Aug 24, 2013


People who drink more than 4 cups of coffee increase their chances of dying by 50%, it was reported recently. Given everyone’s chance of dying is already 100%, this seems a puzzle. What does the research really say, and how reliable are the findings? Plus, Ruth Alexander interviews economist and Expecting Better author Emily Oster, who used her statistical training to assess the evidence for herself on what effect coffee, alcohol and certain foods have on pregnant women. This programme was first broadcast on the BBC World Service.

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The magic of maths

Author: BBC Radio 4
Sat, Aug 17, 2013


Tim Harford speaks to Persi Diaconis, top professor of maths and statistics and legendary magician. The Stanford University professor and co-author of the book "Magical Mathematics" has an enthralling story to tell of how he discovered magic as a boy, and then, as a consequence, a love of maths. And to illustrate how closely maths and magic are linked, Crossing Continents editor and the BBC's in-house magician, Hugh Levinson, performs a mathemagical card trick - see the performance below. This programme was broadcast on the BBC World Service. The interview was recorded in 2011.

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Where could we fit the entire world’s population?

Author: BBC Radio 4
Sat, Aug 10, 2013


If all the world’s population crowded together, where could we all fit? London? Texas? More or Less figures it out, and separates fact from fiction. And, as the soccer season returns, is it possible to measure the effectiveness of a team’s manager? We hear from David Sally, author of The Numbers Game. This programme was first broadcast on the BBC World Service.

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What is the most visited country in the world?

Author: BBC Radio 4
Sat, Aug 03, 2013


This week we find out what the most visited country in the world is and ask why aren’t they capitalising financially as well as their rivals. Plus we also investigate the complex - and often controversial - web of international extradition treaties. The programme hears from extradition lawyer Anand Doobay, from Peters and Peters, and Ted Bromund, a senior research fellow in Anglo-American relations in Washington DC. This programme was first broadcast on the BBC World Service.

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Chris Froome's Tour de France victory

Author: BBC Radio 4
Sat, Jul 27, 2013


The winner of this year's Tour de France, British rider Chris Froome, faced numerous questions about doping during the course of his victory. More or Less assesses his performance stats, and asks whether maths can measure whether cycling really has cleaned up its act and whether Froome is simply a victim of the ghosts of cycling's past. Dr Ross Tucker from The Science of Sport website gives us his views and we hear from physiologist Fred Grappe - the only man to see Froome's tour data. This programme was first broadcast on the BBC World Service.

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Egypt: Biggest protest in history?

Author: BBC Radio 4
Sat, Jul 13, 2013


It’s claimed that Egyptians have taken part in the biggest uprising the world has ever seen. The nationwide demonstrations, which were followed by the removal of the president by the army, were certainly a massive show of people power. But were the crowds really as large as reported? Ruth Alexander assesses the evidence, and finds out why it is so difficult to count a crowd. This programme was first broadcast on the BBC World Service.

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Sex and the world wide web

Author: BBC Radio 4
Sat, Jul 06, 2013


The world of porn is often exaggerated but does it really make up 37% of the web? And after some high profile cases we ask whether the American football league has a crime problem? This edition was first broadcast on the BBC World Service.

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How long will you live?

Author: BBC Radio 4
Sat, Jun 29, 2013


Life expectancy at birth around the world has increased by six years in the past two decades. But can this striking trend continue? Ruth Alexander looks at the data. This edition was first broadcast on the BBC World Service.

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Will 40% of the world's workforce really be in Africa by 2050?

Author: BBC Radio 4
Sat, Jun 22, 2013


Ruth Alexander examines US Secretary of State, John Kerry’s claim that 40% of the world’s workforce will be in Africa by 2050 and talks to the chief of the United Nations’ population division about its projections for 2050 and 2100. The programme also examines the final scene in The Fast and the Furious 6, the global box office sensation. How long must that runway have been at the end of the film? This programme was first broadcast on the BBC World Service.

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Is a child dying of hunger every 15 seconds?

Author: BBC Radio 4
Sat, Jun 15, 2013


Ruth Alexander examines the claim that every 15 seconds a child dies of hunger. It’s a popular statistic used by celebrities and charity campaigners in support of the Enough Food for Everyone IF campaign. It conjures up the image of millions of young children starving to death. But is this really the case? This programme was first broadcast on the BBC World Service.

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Sex on the Brain?

Author: BBC Radio 4
Mon, Jun 10, 2013


Parents take note – what can numbers reveal about bringing up children? Plus, Tim Harford explore if men really do think about sex every seven seconds. This urban myth will not go away and yet pinning down any evidence proves a challenge for the More or Less team.

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A&E, and the chances of having twins

Author: BBC Radio 4
Fri, Jun 07, 2013


A&E waiting times have been making the headlines - Tim Harford takes a look at some of the numbers and puts them into context. Today presenter Evan Davis explains his frustration with finding official statistics online. We explore if men really do think about sex every seven seconds. Plus, what are the chances of having twins?

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The maths of spies and terrorists

Author: BBC Radio 4
Sat, Jun 01, 2013


In the wake of the Boston Marathon bombing and the killing of a British soldier on the streets of Woolwich in London, it emerged that the suspects were known to the security services. But how feasible is it for the authorities to keep track of everyone on their watch list? Tim Harford crunches the numbers, with the help of the former head of the UK intelligence service MI5, Dame Stella Rimington.

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The maths of spies and terrorists

Author: BBC Radio 4
Fri, May 31, 2013


After the killing of a British soldier on the streets of Woolwich in London, it emerged that the suspects were known to the security services. But how feasible is it for the authorities to keep track of everyone on their watch list? Tim Harford crunches the numbers, with the help of the former head of MI5, Dame Stella Rimington. Plus: a listener requests a cost-benefit analysis of kidney donations; and Johnny Ball gives the Apprentices a maths lesson.

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Ryanair punctuality; mistakes in academic papers

Author: BBC Radio 4
Sun, May 26, 2013


Tim Harford examines Ryanair’s claim that more than 90% of its flights land on time; and discovers that millions of scientific papers may be incorrect. Producer: Ruth Alexander

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The economics of Scottish independence

Author: BBC Radio 4
Fri, May 24, 2013


Tim Harford inspects the claims the UK Treasury and the Scottish government make about the economics of an independent Scotland; tests Ryanair’s claim that more than 90% of its flights land on time; re-runs the Eurovision song contest, excluding the votes of the former Soviet countries to test whether political alliances are affecting the final results; discovers that millions of scientific papers may be incorrect; and learns more about dog years – and cat years.

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Angelina Jolie’s 87% cancer risk

Author: BBC Radio 4
Sat, May 18, 2013


As Angelina Jolie announces that an 87% cancer risk has prompted her to have a double mastectomy, Tim Harford assesses the probabilities associated with the disease. Plus, has the UK been hit by a Romanian crime wave?

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Angelina Jolie’s 87% cancer risk

Author: BBC Radio 4
Fri, May 17, 2013


As Angelina Jolie announces that an 87% cancer risk has prompted her to have a double mastectomy, Tim Harford assesses the probabilities associated with the disease. Plus, has the UK been hit by a Romanian crime wave? Also in the programme: Education Secretary Michael Gove’s use of PR surveys; and why the UK’s poor growth has not had led to the high levels of unemployment that economists would expect.

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How old is your dog?

Author: BBC Radio 4
Sat, May 11, 2013


It's often said that one dog year equals seven human years. But is it true? Tim Harford and Ben Carter unveil the More or Less Dogulator. Plus, 15 distant relatives of England’s King Richard III are petitioning the High Court about where the king should be buried. Some reporting has implied that the famous 15 are almost the only descendants of Richard III who exist. But mathematician Rob Eastaway figures out how many other relatives of Richard III might actually be out there.

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How much does the EU cost the UK? Plus, dog years

Author: BBC Radio 4
Fri, May 10, 2013


Tim Harford makes sense of the numbers being used in the political battle about the UK and its membership of the EU. And, he looks at whether it’s true that more war veterans kill themselves than die in combat ; why you could well be a descendant of Richard III; and what Margaret Thatcher’s funeral really cost. Plus, is it true that one dog year equals seven human years? Tim unveils the More or Less Dogulator.

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The Maths of Mozart and Birds

Author: BBC Radio 4
Sat, May 04, 2013


Birds + windows =? The BBC Quiz show The Unbelievable Truth reckons that more than 2 million birds die crashing into window panes every day in the US. Tim Harford finds this, well, unbelievable. Marcus du Sautoy explores the maths in Mozart's The Magic Flute; a student who uncovered a mistake in a famous economic paper, which has been used to make the case for austerity cuts, explains how he did it.

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Birds, Mozart, austerity, Thatcher

Author: BBC Radio 4
Fri, May 03, 2013


Birds + windows =? The BBC Quiz show The Unbelievable Truth reckons that more than 2 million birds die crashing into window panes every day in the US. Tim Harford finds this, well, unbelievable. Marcus du Sautoy explores the maths in Mozart's The Magic Flute; a student who uncovered a mistake in a famous economic paper, which has been used to make the case for austerity cuts, explains how he did it; and separating fact from fiction about Margaret Thatcher with a look at the numbers of her time in office.

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Are Man Utd a one-man team?

Author: BBC Radio 4
Sun, Apr 28, 2013


More or Less creates the Alternative Premier League, with lead scorer goals chalked off to work out whether it’s true that Van Persie’s really single-handedly won Manchester United’s the League? And would Tottenham be challenging for a Champions League spot without Gareth Bale’s goals? And how much bite has Luis Suarez’s contribution given Liverpool’s season? There are surprises, and one player really stands out as player of the season. Can you guess who it is? And, as an Italian Court overturns the acquittal of Amanda Knox and Raffaele Sollecito, accused of killing student Meredith Kercher, mathematician and author of Math on Trial, Coralie Colmez, argues that one judge in the case failed to understand some of the probabilities attached to the forensic evidence – and, in doing so, has missed an opportunity to get to the truth of the matter.

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Austerity: a spreadsheet error?

Author: BBC Radio 4
Sun, Apr 21, 2013


Tim Harford tells the story of the student who uncovered a mistake in a famous economic paper that has been used to make the case for austerity cuts. In 2010, two Harvard economists published an academic study, which showed that when government debt rises above 90% of annual economic output, growth falls significantly. As politicians tried to find answers to the global economic crisis, “Growth in a Time of Debt” by Carmen Reinhart and Kenneth Rogoff was cited by some of the key figures making the case for tough debt-cutting measures in the US and Europe. But, in the course of a class project, student Thomas Herndon and his professors say they have found problems with the Reinhart-Rogoff findings. What does this mean for austerity economics?

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Thatcher in numbers

Author: BBC Radio 4
Sat, Apr 13, 2013


Baroness Margaret Thatcher, who has died aged 87, was Britain’s first female prime minister and one of the most influential political figures of the 20th Century. She was a pioneer of free market economics, helping to spread the ideas around the world. But the Iron lady was a divisive figure with passionate supporters and critics. Both hold to strong beliefs about what she did. But what does the data tell us about the many claims made about Mrs Thatcher?

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Communicating Risk

Author: BBC Radio 4
Sat, Apr 06, 2013


It’s the fourth anniversary of the earthquake which devastated the city of L’Aquila in Italy and which led to the conviction of six scientists and an official who failed to predict the disaster. Scientists and statisticians worldwide were alarmed at the six-year sentences for manslaughter the seven accused received. It was feared the prospect of being put on trial would put off scientists from even trying to communicate risk – a very difficult business. But the risk assessors’ pendulum seems to have swung the other way. Data and alarms about tremors are being issued regularly, triggering school closures and building evacuations. But how useful is this information? Ruth Alexander speaks to Ian Main, professor of seismology and rock physics at Edinburgh University in the UK, who puts the risks into context.

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That's not much gold

Author: BBC Radio 4
Sat, Mar 30, 2013


What if a super-villain took control of the world's gold a melted it in to a cube? How big would it be? Wesley Stephenson finds out.

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Can big data save lives?

Author: BBC Radio 4
Sat, Mar 23, 2013


With an avalanche of 2.5 quintillion bytes of data generated daily, could this be used to change our lives and does it have a darker side?

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Are there more black men in college or prison in the US?

Author: BBC Radio 4
Sat, Mar 16, 2013


Only last week Ivory Toldson heard the speaker say there are more black men in prison in America than in college. ‘Here we go again’ he thought. Only the week before he had written his second article on why this statistic is not true. This week Ruth Alexander looks at where this ‘fact’ came from and why it is still being used. Also, why the opinion polls got the Kenyan elections wrong.

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HIV in numbers

Author: BBC Radio 4
Sat, Mar 09, 2013


With the news that a baby has been ‘cured’ of HIV what do the numbers tell us about the epidemic. Ruth Alexander looks at the changes in the way that the disease has been measured. Also the Dow Jones hit an all-time high this week so is it party time for investors?

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