More or Less: Behind the Stats

Oct 17 2020 15 mins 146.2k

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

Hottest Easter, Insects, Scottish villages
Apr 26 2019 27 mins  
Was it a surprise that Easter Monday was so hot? A heatwave struck the UK over Easter – and in fact Easter Monday was declared the hottest on record in the UK. But listeners asked - is it that surprising that it was the warmest when the date fell so late in April? We crunch the numbers supplied by the Met Office. Insectageddon Insects live all around us and if a recent scientific review is anything to go by, then they are on the path to extinction. The analysis found that more than 40% of insect species are decreasing and that a decline rate of 2.5% a year suggests they could disappear in 100 years. And as some headlines in February warned of the catastrophic collapse of nature, some More or Less listeners questioned the findings. Is insect life really in trouble? Collecting income tax from the 1% Recently Lord Sugar said in a Tweet “The fact is if you taxed everyone earning over £150k at a rate of 70% it would not raise enough to pay for 5% of the NHS.” Is that true? Helen Miller, Deputy Director and head of tax at the Institute for Fiscal Studies looks at how much such a policy might raise from the 1% of tax payers who earn over £150,000. Where is Scotland’s highest village? A battle is brewing in the Southern Scottish uplands between two rival villages. How can statistics help determine which village should take the crown? Wanlockhead and Leadhills both lay claim to the title of Scotland’s highest village but there can only be one winner. More or Less attempts to settle the age old dispute once and for all. Image: A man and woman sitting on deckchairs on the beach Credit: Getty Images

Loneliness; School Funding; Same-Sex Divorce.
Oct 05 2018 20 mins  
This week BBC Radio 4’s All in the Mind programme announced the results of The Loneliness Experiment. It was a large survey conducted by the programme in collaboration with the Wellcome Collection. The largest survey into the issue of loneliness to date, said All in the Mind, while the accompanying BBC press release reported that “The survey results indicate that 16-24 year olds experience loneliness more often and more intensely than any other age group. 40% of respondents aged 16-24 reported feeling lonely often or very often, while only 29% of people aged 65-74 and 27% of people aged over 75 said the same.” In the editors' notes, the press release cautions that “This was a self-selecting sample, so people experiencing loneliness might have been more attracted to take part, inflating reported levels of loneliness.” But much of the reporting by other BBC outlets and the wider media was not so restrained. Tim Harford speaks to Deirdre Toher from the University of the West of England about why the survey's results need careful interpretation. Listeners have been asking us to explain the schools funding row. When headteachers marched in protest at school spending last week, the Minister for School Standards, Nick Gibb, went on BBC Radio 4's Today programme to say "We are spending record amounts on our school funding. We are the third highest spender on education in the OECD”. BBC Education correspondent Sean Coughlan explains how he discovered that the OECD figure includes university tuition fees paid by students. Is it true that "Polish Pilots Shot down 60% of German Aircraft on Battle of Britain Day"? Lizzie McNeill fact-checks this claim found on the side of a van. New figures reveal that same-sex divorce rates are higher among women than among men. Tim Harford discusses why this may be with Marina Ashdade, economist at the Vancouver School of Economics and author of “Dirty Money”, a book about the economics of sex and love. Plus, what makes a listener loyal? A nine-year debate rages on. Presenter: Tim Harford Producer: Ruth Alexander Image: A single fan sits in the stands before a college football game Credit: Photo by Kevin Abele/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Transgender Numbers, Parkrun and Snooker
Feb 02 2018 31 mins  
How many transgender people are there in the UK? The UK produces official statistics about all sorts of things – from economic indicators to demographic data. But it turns out there are no official figures for the number of transgender people in the UK. We explore what we do know, and what is harder to measure. Do 4% of the population drink nearly a third of the alcohol? According to recent headlines, just 4% of the population drink nearly a third of the alcohol sold in England. But can so few people really account for so much of the countries bar tab? We find out where the statistic came from. Bank of England’s Mark Carney says no to RPI At a hearing of the House of Lords’ economic affairs committee, the Governor of the Bank of England, Mark Carney, said it would be useful to have a single measure of inflation for consumers – and that CPI was a much better measure than RPI, which he said had “no merit”. We find out why with the FT’s Chris Giles. A statistical take on parkrun Every weekend over 1.5 million people run 5,000m on Saturday mornings for parkrun which is a free event that takes place all over the UK and indeed across the globe. Each runner is given a bar code, which is scanned at the end of the run and fed into a database showing them what place they came in their race– we take a look at which courses are the fastest, slowest, hardest and easiest. Testing for a cough correlation between snooker and smoking A listener emailed us this week to ask whether you can connect the number of coughs during snooker matches to the decline in smoking. We got counting to see if the theory was a trick shot - with help from John Virgo. Photo: Jimmy White Credit: Photo by Jamie McDonald/Getty Images

Missed appointments, graduate pay, plus cocaine on bank notes
Jan 12 2018 28 mins  
Did missed appointments cost the NHS £1 billion last year? New figures published recently suggest that the financial cost to the NHS for missed appointments was £1 billion last year. But our listeners are curious. How has this figure been worked out? And don’t missed appointments actually ease the pressure on an overcrowded system? Graduate pay – is it always higher than non-graduates’ pay? It is often claimed that if you go to university and get a degree, you will earn more than those who do not. But is that always true? We take a look to see if there are occasions when having a degree makes little difference or whether the benefit of a degree has changed over time. How much cocaine is on a bank note? Tim Harford speaks to Richard Sleeman who works for a firm, Mass Spec Analytical, that specialises in working out how much cocaine can be found on bank notes across the country. Do some parts of the country have more cocaine on their notes than others? Is it true that 99% of bank notes in London have cocaine on them? Is it true that one in five can’t name an author of literature? Last year the Royal Society of Literature made this claim – but what was it based on? It turns out a polling company found that 20 percent questioned failed to name a single author. Should we be surprised? We took a look at the data. Diet Coke Habit The New York Times claims that Donald Trump drinks ‘a dozen’ Diet Cokes a day. With each can of 330ml containing 42mg of caffeine - what impact, if any, could this have on the President’s health?

Election Special: Tax, borders and climate
Jun 02 2017 29 mins  
On this final programme of the series we try to give some context to some of the issues that are being discussed during the current election campaign. Who pays tax? What proportion of adults are paying income tax? How much are they paying? Where does the highest burden lay? We take a look. Also, we look at the different political parties’ tax policies. This includes corporation tax, but what about National Insurance? How do you cut migration? The Conservative manifesto again includes the aim to lower net migration to tens of thousands. How has this aim fared in the last six years? And what could the Conservatives do in future years to achieve their goal? We also take a look at what impact that might have on the economy. Taking the nations’ temperature Summer has arrived – but we cast our minds to the chilly months ahead and think about the Winter Fuel Payment. The Conservatives are proposing to change this to a means-tested system – everywhere except Scotland. Is this because Scotland is colder than the rest of the UK? BBC Weather Man Phil Avery has the answer. Free School Meals It’s been a popular topic in party manifestos - free school meals. Jamie Oliver thinks school dinners are essential for fighting obesity – but is there really a case to be made for the health benefits of a school lunch? Emily Tanner from the National Centre for Social Research puts the case for and against Universal Free School Meals – while munching a pie and a packed lunch.

Spies, care homes, and ending sneak peeks
May 26 2017 23 mins  
Can security services follow everyone known to them? The attack on Manchester Arena took place exactly four years since the killing of Drummer Lee Rigby in Woolwich. Back in 2013 we broadcast an interview with the former Head of MI5, Dame Stella Rimmington, about the difficulties of monitoring people who have been flagged up to the services. We are re-visiting that interview. Chances of ending up in a care home There are around 11.6 million people over the age of 65 in the UK, but how many need social care services? A listener got in chances to say that he was 72 - what are the chances that he will need social care services in his lifetime? We look at the numbers of people in both residential care and receiving formal care services in the home currently. Penalty shoot outs update A few weeks ago we explained UEFA's new procedure for carrying out penalty shoot outs. We bring news of how that system is playing out, and how a loyal listener has spotted a famous pattern in Blur's song, 'Girls and Boys'. Stop sneak peak access For years statisticians have been calling for an end to the practice of allowing ministers and officials to see official numbers before everyone else. Why does it matter? We tell the strange tale exploring whether economic data is leaked to City traders before its official publication. Could pre-release access to Government statistics be behind strange movements on financial markets? With help from Mike Bird of the Wall Street Journal, and Alex Kurov of the University of West Virginia, we take a look at the evidence. Also - a tribute to Sir Roger Moore.

5 • 12 Ratings

DMS Sep 22 2020
A short easy to understand podcast about how numbers are used and misused in the media.

Gfamily Sep 05 2020
One of the most important programs on the BBC's schedules at the moment. Stepping back from the frantic 'news' timeline to take a closer look at the numbers and their validity

Androoney Sep 02 2020
Great accurate Info on various topics. One of my favourites. Be aware that you will always question any statistics after this. It also makes it very difficult to avoid correcting others when they make false statements. I can live with that though.

sensorship Aug 24 2020

MadOgne Jul 07 2020
Informative and easy to understand

eli_vingot Jul 07 2020
Examining and checking the numbers in the news.

N E I L Jul 03 2020
Fantastic podcast, genuinely refreshing take on stats... from people that understand them and don't appear to have any agenda apart from helping us. Great.

Feel Good Inc May 13 2020
Great look at the numbers behind the headlines. They manage to make what could be a dull subject cool and interesting. Should be more programs like this. Keep up the great work.

Loys May 02 2020
Fun, smart and informative, one of the best podcasts out there!

Kim Dalkin Apr 23 2020
Been listening to it for years, tells you the real numbers behind outrageous claims.

mulebeatsdrums Apr 15 2020
All the content is great, from the deadly serious to the outright frivolous. I wish they'd put a little more effort into ensuring content from the Radio 4 broadcast didn't overlap with the shorter World Service broadcast (or at least omit repeats from the RSS feed). But as for the show itself, always engaging and informative. And there are some terrible puns, so big thumbs up!

Tomer S. Mar 30 2020
Some episodes are better, some less. But usually very good. Checking statistics and numbers from the news in a lightly and entertaining way. Always with interesting findings.