Show cover of More or Less: Behind the Stats

More or Less: Behind the Stats

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


A boy meets girl meets stats story
Veronica Carlin is a data scientist who loves romantic comedies. But she had a hunch about those movies, that there aren’t many women like her, women in STEM - science, technology, engineering and maths – taking the lead roles. So she set out on a maths quest to find out what’s what. Presenter: Kate Lamble Series Producer: Tom Colls Editor: Richard Vadon Sound Engineer: Graham Puddifoot (Picture: A young couple with a heart-shaped balloon on the street Credit: Cultura RM Exclusive/Spark Photographic / Getty)
08:58 25/11/2023
Are women in the UK the biggest binge drinkers in the world?
We check out suspect stats on boozing Brits and fishy figures on fishing fleets in the South China Sea.With the help of Professor John Holmes from the University of Sheffield's School of Medicine and Population Health and Simon Funge-Smith, a senior fishery officer at the FAO.Presenter and producer: Charlotte McDonald Series Producer: Tom Colls Editor: Richard Vadon Sound Engineer: Graham Puddifoot
08:58 18/11/2023
Can maths prove the existence of aliens?
Are we alone in the universe – and if not, how many other civilisations might there be? Remarkable images and data sent back to Earth by the James Webb telescope have given a new impetus to a well-worn debate. We ask how far mathematics – and in particular a famous equation called the Drake Equation – can be used to answer one of the most fundamental questions we face. Paul Connolly investigates with the help of Catherine Heymans, Astronomer Royal for Scotland and Professor at the University of Edinburgh and Bill Diamond, President and CEO of the SETI Institute in California.Presenter: Paul Connolly Producers: Paul Connolly and Jon Bithrey Editor: Richard Vadon Production Co-ordinator: Katie Morrison Sound Engineer: David Crackles(Image: : A cluster of young stars, surrounded by clouds of interstellar gas and dust, in a nebula, located in the constellation Carina. Credit: Reuters)
10:00 11/11/2023
Do Indian women own 11% of the world’s gold?
The cultural importance of gold in India as a symbol of wealth, prosperity and safety is well known – but how much do Indians actually own? Reporter Perisha Kudhail looks at a widely circulated claim about Indian women owning 11% of the world’s gold, with the help of Delhi based journalist Mridu Bhandari and Joshua Saul, CEO of the Pure Gold Company. Presenter: Ben Carter Reporter and Producer: Perisha Kudhail Series Producer: Jon Bithrey Editor: Richard Vadon Sound Engineer: James Beard(Image: A saleswoman shows gold bangles to a customer at a jewellery showroom in Kolkata. Credit: Reuters/Rupak De Chowdhuri/File Photo)
08:57 04/11/2023
The Overlooked Mathematicians of History
Conventional histories of mathematics are dominated by well-known names like Pythagoras, Leibniz or Newton. But to concentrate solely on figures from Europe gives us only a patchwork understanding of the rich and varied history of mathematical achievement around the world. Tim Harford speaks to Dr Kate Kitagawa, co-author of ‘The Secret Lives of Numbers’ to explore the long history of mathematical advances and innovation across civilisations and centuries, from the female mathematician at court in imperial China to the pioneers in the mathematical powerhouses of the Middle East in the first millennium AD. Presenter: Tim Harford Producer: Jon Bithrey Editor: Richard Vadon Sound Engineer: James Beard (Picture: Statue of Al Khwarizmi, a ninth century mathematician Credit: Mel Longhurst/VW Pics/Universal Images Group via Getty Images)
09:23 28/10/2023
What do windscreen splats tell us about insect decline?
Do you notice fewer insect splats on windscreens than you used to? There’s a study in the UK trying to measure this ‘windscreen phenomenon’, as it’s become known. We hear more about the study and whether we can draw conclusions about insect numbers in general, from reporter Perisha Kudhail, Dr Lawrence Ball from the Kent Wildlife Trust and Professor Lynn Dicks from the University of Cambridge. Presenter: Ben Carter Reporter/Producer: Perisha Kudhail Series Producer: Jon Bithrey Editor: Richard Vadon Sound Engineer: Graham Puddifoot (Photo: Dead insects on a windshield Credit: shanecotee / Getty)
08:58 21/10/2023
Greedy jobs and the gender pay gap
Harvard professor Claudia Goldin has become only the third woman to win the Nobel Economics Prize for her groundbreaking research on women’s employment and pay. Tim Harford discusses her work showing how gender differences in pay and work have changed over the last 200 years and why the gender pay gap persists to this day. Presenter: Charlotte McDonald Producer: Jon Bithrey Editor: Richard Vadon Sound Engineer: David Crackles (Picture: Claudia Goldin at Havard University Credit: Reuters / Reba Saldanha)
12:52 14/10/2023
Are half the words in English from French?
Are almost half the words in the English language of French origin? It’s a claim one of our loyal listeners found surprising. Tim Harford talks to Dr Beth Malory, lecturer in English Linguistics at University College London, who explains why so many words derived from French have ended up in English. Presenter: Tim Harford Producer: Daniel Gordon Series Producer: Jon Bithrey Editor: Richard Vadon Sound Engineer: Graham Puddifoot (Picture: A French dictionary showing the entry 'Dictionnaire' Credit: NSA Digital Archive / iStock / Getty Images Plus)
09:45 07/10/2023
Vaccine claims, Alzheimer's treatment and Tim's Parkrun times
John Campbell, a YouTuber whose posts get millions of views, has made claims about excess deaths and the Covid vaccine. We show why he's incorrect. Also will a much-vaunted new treatment for Alzheimer's really change lives and how much longer can Tim expect his Parkrun times to improve? We look at the trends – and the rest of the team’s times.
28:25 04/10/2023
Is the UK really ahead in cutting carbon emissions?
The UK Prime Minister has announced several changes to key policies designed to help Britain reach net zero by 2050. In a major speech justifying what many see as a watering down of commitments, Rishi Sunak championed Britain’s achievements to date in cutting emissions. But where does the UK actually stand compared to other countries? Tim Harford talks to Hannah Ritchie from Our World in Data and author of “Not the End of the World”.Presenter: Tim Harford Producers: Nathan Gower, Jon Bithrey Editor: Richard Vadon Sound Engineer: James Beard (Photo: Smoke rising out of chimneys at Ratcliffe on Soar power station Credit: David Jones / PA)
08:58 30/09/2023
NHS consultant pay, Net Zero claims and Scotland's ferry woes
NHS consultants in England are striking over a pay offer of 6%. We look at whether they are paid an average of £120,000 a year and examine how much their pay compared to inflation has fallen. Also we fact check some of the claims Rishi Sunak made in his net zero speech, ask whether Britain is really that bad at building infrastructure compared to other countries and investigate the real levels of cancellations at Scotland and the UK's largest ferry company, Calmac.
30:25 27/09/2023
Which city has the longest canals?
After a listener emailed More or Less to ask whether world famous Venice or the slightly less famous English city of Birmingham has more canals, Daniel Gordon decided to investigate and widen the question to the whole world – with some interesting answers. Guests: Giovanni Giusto, Venice City Councillor David Edwards-May, Inland Waterways International Dr Hamed Samir, University of Basra Bai Lee, Editor of China Grand Canal Presenter/Producer: Daniel Gordon Series Producer: Jon Bithrey Editor: Richard Vadon Sound Engineer: David Crackles (Picture: Gondola in Venice Credit: Jane Worthy/BBC)
09:35 23/09/2023
Social housing, NHS workforce and Liz Truss debt claims
Long: Housing minister Rachel Maclean claimed the government has built a record number of social rent homes. Tim and the team investigate. Following Lucy Letby’s conviction, we look at how sentences for murder have changed over the past few decades. Plus after Liz Truss’s speech this week defending her short stint as Prime Minister, Tim reminds us how her mini-budget raised borrowing costs and might have pushed up the national debt even more. And will 1 in 11 workers in England really work for the NHS by the middle of the next decade?Presenter: Tim Harford Series producer: Jon Bithrey Producers: Daniel Gordon, Natasha Fernandes, Nathan Gower, Charlotte McDonald, Editor: Richard Vadon Production Co-ordinator: Maria Ogundele Sound Engineer: Rod Farquhar
27:47 20/09/2023
How to approach the world through numbers
How can we navigate our lives in a more efficient and satisfactory way? It’s a question Professor David Sumpter is looking to answer in his new book, Four Ways of Thinking. He talks to Tim Harford about four different approaches to our day to day challenges. Presenter: Tim Harford Producer: Jon Bithrey Sound Engineer: Andy Fell Editor: Richard Vadon (Picture: Conceptual illustration of mathematics Credit: Science Photo Library / Getty)
09:28 16/09/2023
Skin cancer, London rents and your great great great granddaughter
A BBC report quoted a study that said 1 in 4 men and 1 in 5 women in the UK will get skin cancer in their lifetime. Tim Harford and the team look into the detail. Also London’s Mayor Sadiq Khan said London’s average rent will hit £2,700 a month next year, with the average take home salary £2,131. How accurate are the figures and what do they tell us about the affordability of the capital’s rental properties? We fact check Donald Trump’s recent claim that 35,000 Americans died building the Panama Canal. And as noughties band Busted re-release Year 3000 with the Jonas Brothers, just how many greats should be in front of “granddaughter” in that famous lyric?
28:52 13/09/2023
Did 35,000 Americans die building the Panama Canal?
The construction of the Panama Canal linking the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans through Central America is considered one of the greatest engineering feats of all time. It also caused enormous human suffering and loss of life. Donald Trump claimed in a recent interview that 35,000 Americans died in the canal’s construction. But is that true? Tim Harford finds out, with the help of Matthew Parker, author of Hell’s Gorge: The Battle to Build the Panama Canal. Presenter: Tim Harford Producer: Jon Bithrey Editor: Richard Vadon Sound Engineer: Graham Puddifoot (Boat Crossing on the Panama Canal in Panama Credit: Keystone-France/Gamma-Keystone via Getty Images)
14:11 11/09/2023
Covid deaths, North Sea gas and Chloe Kelly's World Cup penalty
Covid related deaths are rising in England and Wales - but what do the figures really tell us? Also the UK's GDP during the pandemic has been revised upwards. Tim Harford and team ask why and discuss what it tells us about the UK's economic performance compared to other countries. Is North Sea gas really four times cleaner than gas from abroad? It's a claim recently made by the government. And we ask whether Chloe Kelly's penalty shot at the World Cup was really faster than the Premier League's fastest goal last season.Presenter: Tim Harford Series Producer: Jon Bithrey Reporters: Nathan Gower, Natasha Fernandes Editor: Richard Vadon Production Coordinator: Maria Ogundele
28:43 06/09/2023
What percentage of our brain do we actually use?
On this week’s episode of More or Less we interrogate a widely circulated myth relating to how much of our brain power we can access and engage. Ever heard someone say, “You know we can only use 10% of our brains, right?”. Well, they’re wrong. It’s the stuff of make believe and far-fetched movie plots. Science and evidence based research tells us so - and has, it turns out, been telling us so for decades…politely, if impatiently. So, then, if not 10%…what percentage of our brain do we actually use? From dark matter neurons to super-highway synapse and ghost cells that serve as inert echoes of our evolutionary past - with the help of two leading experts in the field, we crack open the figurative cranium of this debate and rummage around for the definitive truth. Presenter: Paul Connolly Producers: Jon Bithrey, Natasha Fernandes Editor: Richard Vadon Sound Engineer: Rod Farquhar (Artificial intelligence brain network/Getty)
08:59 02/09/2023
HS2 and electric cars, UK vs China emissions & massive maths errors
Can you really buy an electric car for everybody in the UK for the cost of HS2? That claim was recently made on Radio 4's Broadcasting House programme. Also we look at a viral claim that 1 in 73 people who received the Covid vaccine in England was dead by May 2022. Plus we look at the size of the UK's carbon emissions when compared with China and talk about how a recent More or Less maths error pales in comparison to one in the Guardian.Presenter: Tim Harford Series Producer: Jon Bithrey Reporters: Nathan Gower, Natasha Fernandes Production Co-ordinator: Janet Staples Editor: Richard Vadon
28:38 30/08/2023
How safe is the release of Fukushima nuclear plant water?
Water used to cool nuclear reactors at the stricken Fukushima nuclear power plant in Japan is being released into the Pacific Ocean by Japanese authorities. The move has sparked protests and concerns about safety in the region and met with retaliation from near neighbour China. But how safe is the water that’s been released? Presenter Charlotte McDonald and reporter Calum Grewar investigate, with the help of Professor Jim Smith of the University of Portsmouth and Professor Gerry Thomas, formerly of Imperial College London and the Chernobyl Tissue Bank.Presenter: Charlotte McDonald Reporter: Calum Grewar Producer: Jon Bithrey Editor: Richard Vadon Sound Engineer: James Beard Production Co-ordinator: Brenda Brown
09:53 26/08/2023
How many butterflies are there in the world?
Butterflies are a much-loved feature of summer in many parts of the world. But how many of them are there on Earth? That’s the question a young listener to More or Less wanted an answer to – and she couldn’t find the answer no matter how hard she searched the internet.Presenter Daniel Gordon enlists Professor Jane Hill, a butterfly expert at York University, England, who’s also President of the Royal Entomological Society, to try and help solve the mystery.He also consults Holly Mynott, International Officer of Butterfly Conservation, who describes the techniques used to run The Big Butterfly Count in the UK – the biggest event of its kind in the world.Producer/Presenter: Daniel Gordon Series Producer: Jon Bithrey Editor: Richard Vadon Production Co-ordinator: Brenda Brown Sound Engineer: Graham Puddifoot
08:58 19/08/2023
Why is it so hard to predict the outcome of competitions like the Premier League?
Football competitions are kicking off all around Europe in the coming days and weeks, including the world’s most watched division: The English Premier League. We might make our predictions on who we think is going to win a sporting competition but what factors are we considering? In this programme we look at some of the most popular variables that are taken into account when making sporting predictions and why even these have drawbacks. From upcoming football leagues to the Olympic Games, Head Analyst from Nielsen Gracenote, Simon Gleave tells us what are some of the most difficult sports to predict and why.Presenter: Paul Connolly Producer: Natasha Fernandes Editor: Richard Vadon Production Co-ordinators: Debbie Richford and Janet Staples Sound Engineer: Graham PuddifootImage: Premier League Trophy, Credit: Carl Recine/Reuters
09:48 12/08/2023
Are the media exaggerating how hot it is in the Mediterranean?
Reports on heatwaves across the globe have dominated our newsfeeds over the last few weeks, with temperatures said to have soared over the 40C mark in many parts of Europe. But across social media, not everyone is buying it. A trickle of scepticism swelled to a tidal surge, with people questioning whether temperatures are being hyped up by the wider media to drive fear and scare-monger. In this programme, we unpick allegations made about how these temperatures are recorded - and if they are accurate. We hear from Samantha Burgess at the Copernicus Climate Change Service; Alessandro Delitala from the Sardinia Environmental Protection Agency; and Sean Buchan from Climate Action Against Disinformation. Presenter: Paul Connolly Producer: Natasha Fernandes Editor: Richard Vadon Production Co-ordinator: Brenda Brown Sound Engineer: Rod Farquhar
08:59 05/08/2023
Data, extreme weather and climate change
Recent global headlines have been dominated by record temperatures across Europe, North America and parts of Asia. As extreme weather events have happened for decades, how are links to climate change made? In this programme we look at how scientists use data to draw climate conclusions and hear how that data isn’t always available, with a focus on severe flooding earlier this year in part of Central Africa. With Joyce Kimutai, principal meteorologist and climate scientist at the Kenya Meteorological Department and researcher at the Grantham Institute for Climate Change, Imperial College.Presenter: Kate Lamble Producer: Nathan Gower, Jon Bithrey Editor: Simon Watts Production Co-ordinator: Brenda Brown Sound Engineer: Graham Puddifoot
08:58 29/07/2023
Ukraine war: A new way of calculating Russian deaths
Official information on the numbers of dead and injured in the Ukraine war has been in short supply. Little has come from either the Ukrainian or Russian sides, with estimates from western governments and intelligence agencies filling the information void. But some Russian journalists have been documenting war deaths and have come up with a new way of estimating fatalities using probate records. With contributions from David Frenkel, reporter at Mediazona and the BBC’s Russian Service correspondent Olga Ivshina.
09:42 22/07/2023
Are more adult nappies sold in Japan than baby ones?
Japan has one of the highest rates of life expectancy and one of the lowest birth rates. But does that mean that a widely circulated claim – that more nappies aimed at adults are sold in Japan than those made for babies – is true? With guests Sarah Parsons, Senior Teaching Fellow at SOAS in London and Dr Mireya Solis, Knight Chair in Japan Studies at the Brookings Institution.Presenter: Charlotte McDonald Reporter: Isobel Gough Producers: Isobel Gough, Jon Bithrey Sound Engineer: James Beard Production Co-ordinator: Brenda Brown
09:29 15/07/2023
Does it take 10,000 litres of water to make a pair of jeans?
Various claims have been made about how much water is used in the production of a pair of jeans, that cornerstone of casual clothing. With growing worries over the environmental impact of denim production, More or Less decided to investigate - with the help of journalist and researcher Elizabeth L. Cline who has written extensively on sustainability and the fashion industry. This programme was first broadcast in July 2022. Presenter: Tim Harford Producers: Lizzy McNeill, Jon Bithrey Programme Coordinator: Brenda Brown Sound engineer: Neil Churchill Editor: Richard Vadon (A worker sews blue jeans in a textile company in Xintang, China, dubbed the 'denim jeans capital of the world'. Photo: Lucas Schifres/Getty images)
09:41 08/07/2023
Immigration: A More or Less Special Programme
More than 1.2 million people came into the country to stay for more than 12 months in 2022. As only 560,000 left the country, this means net migration is at an all-time high. Both the Prime Minister and Home Secretary have said the number of people coming needs to come down. But who counts as an immigrant? How are the figures worked out? Charlotte McDonald will be finding out what the numbers tell us about who is coming to the UK and why. Plus - what about the people who left in 2022?
28:56 05/07/2023
Will there be just 6 grandchildren for every 100 South Koreans?
An article on the UK’s Telegraph newspaper website claimed that there would be just 6 grandchildren for every 100 South Koreans today. We ask whether that figure is correct and look at why South Korea’s birth rate has fallen to one of the lowest in the world, with the help of author and mathematician Rob Eastaway and journalist and author Hawon Jung.Presenter: Tim Harford Producers: Bethan Ashmead Latham, Jon Bithrey Editor: Richard Vadon Production Co-ordinator: Brenda Brown Sound Engineer: James Beard
09:35 01/07/2023
Halving inflation, Scottish tidal power and have 1 in 3 women had an abortion?
One of Rishi Sunak's five priorities for 2023 is to halve inflation. Given prices are still rising, we discuss whether it's going be possible. Also does Scotland have more tidal power capacity than the rest of the world combined, as has been claimed? We look at competing claims about how prepared the NHS was before the pandemic, ask whether scrapping VAT on products like tampons and e-books has actually benefitted consumers and look at the claim that one in three women in the UK has had an abortion.
31:22 28/06/2023

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