The Olympic Games and the football World Cup, two of the biggest events in the world which are each hosted every four years, are big business. And it costs a lot of money to host them, and a lot of the money comes from public funds. In this week’s edition of More or Less, we’ll be finding out – after all the sporting activities are over – how realistic were those economic predictions? Producer: Darin Graham Presenter: Charlotte McDonald Editor: Richard Vadon Picture Credit: Fang Guangming/Southe...more
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. Presenter: Phoebe Keane Picture: A village in the Southern Scottish uplands. Credit: Jan Halfpenny
A recent scientific review claims the weed killer glyphosate raises the risk of developing the cancer non-Hodgkin lymphoma by 41 percent. But deciding what causes cancer can be complicated and there are lots of people and organisations on different sides arguing for against this. So in this edition of More or Less, we look at the disagreements and how the authors of the review came up with the results. With cancer epidemiologist Dr Geoffrey Kabat, Toxicologist Dr Luoping Zhang and statistician S...more
Who is the greatest chess player in history? And what does the answer have to do with a story of a chess cheating school from Texas? In this week’s More or Less, the BBC’s numbers programme, David Edmonds finds out what a statistical analysis of chess moves can teach us about this ancient board game. Presenter: David Edmonds Producer: Darin Graham Image: A Chess Board Credit: Getty Images
Mansa Musa, the 14th century Mali king, has nothing on Jeff Bezos - read one recent news report. Musa set off on a pilgrimage to Saudi Arabia in the 1300s and it’s said he left with a caravan of 60,000 people. Among them were soldiers, entertainers, merchants and slaves. A train of camels followed, each carrying gold. In recent reports, he has been described as the richest person that ever lived. He has been compared to some of the wealthiest people alive today. But how can we know the value of ...more
Does the sudden loss of an hour of sleep raise the risk of having a heart attack?
Are women really less likely than men to be hired for jobs in tech just because of their sex? A study claims that sexism in the recruitment process is holding women back from entering the tech sector. But the study is not all it seems. There are much better statistics that can help explain why fewer women than men work in tech in the USA and lessons to be learned from India, where there is a much smaller gender gap in the tech sector. Presenter: Phoebe Keane Photo: An engineer looking at inf...more
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 percent of insect species are decreasing and that a decline rate of 2.5 percent a year suggests they could disappear in one hundred 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? Presenter: Ruth Alexander Pro...more
Die, sell on a sunny day, place your work a third of the way through the auction….There are some surprising factors that can affect the price of an art work. Here are six top tips on how to get the best price for your art or, for art buyers, how to make a big return on your investment. Presenter: Dave Edmonds Producer: Darin Graham Editor: Richard Vadon Picture Credit: BBC
Tim Harford talks to Matt Parker on how simple maths mistakes can cause big problems.
Tim Harford on climate change, Victorian diseases, maths mistakes and alcohol consumption
Who can better forecast the weather – meteorologists or a rodent? What percentage of the English public are related to King Edward the III, and is malnutrition really on the rise in the UK? Sit back, relax and enjoy some of the good stuff from the More or Less archives.
Tim Harford finds untrue a recent report that there is a 'suicidal generation' of teens.
A listener doubts her popularity on the dating app Tinder. We investigate the numbers.
Tim Harford on Holocaust deniers; food prices in Venezuela, and dating app statistics
Tim Harford asks which times of the year are riskiest for suicide.
Tim Harford on domestic violence, employment numbers, and the chance of a white Easter.
Which planet is closest to Earth?
Tim Harford asks whether 1.7% of people are intersex, and examines false claims about MPs
We look at the numbers behind body temperature – what is normal?
Tim Harford on sugar, train fares, children's outdoors play and Earth's closest neighbour
Helena Merriman with numbers about water shortage, plastic recycling and American jobs.
The numbers that made 2018.
What to look out for on Christmas Eve.
Are mega-dams really sustainable?
Are women more likely to die from a heart attack than men?
Xavier Zapata examines what the data tells us about the deadly impact of war on civilians
Updating the kilogram.
How likely are assassination attempts on heads of state to succeed?
What proportion of a population needs to be vaccinated to stop a disease spreading?
In foreign aid terms what’s the best way of measuring how generous a country is?
The economists tackling climate change and growth.
New figures reveal that same-sex divorce rates are much higher among women than among men. The pattern is the same in Belgium, the Netherlands, Norway, Sweden and the UK. Everywhere where there are statistics on same-sex divorce it is the same sex doing the bulk of the divorcing. Tim Harford discusses why this may be with Marina Ashdade, economist at Canada’s Vancouver School of Economics and author of Dirty Money, a book which applies economic ideas to the study of sex and love. Producer: Ruth ...more
New figures reveal that same-sex divorce rates are much higher among women than among men. The pattern is the same in Belgium, the Netherlands, Norway, Sweden and the UK. Everywhere where there are statistics on same-sex divorce it is the same sex doing the bulk of the divorcing. Tim Harford discusses why this may be with Marina Ashdade, economist at Canada’s Vancouver School of Economics and author of “Dirty Money”, a book which applies economic ideas to the study of sex and love. Producer: R...more
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 f...more
Were Spitfire pilots killed after an average of four weeks in the World War Two battle?
Tim Harford on Spitfire pilots, and whether football triggers violence in the home.
How can we calculate excess mortality after a natural disaster?
Tim Harford on child carers, shareholder income, football vs museums and dangerous sports
What is the difference between 96% similarity or sharing 20% of our DNA?
Tim Harford with statistics on suicide, good schools and sexism in tennis. Plus goats
A listener asks whether his Volvo is the safest car on the road?
Tim Harford questions the usefulness of a popular heart age calculator.
Tim Harford talks to Bobby Duffy about why we are often wrong about a lot of basic facts
Tim Harford fact checks EU trade deals with Africa, and whether one drink is one too many
BONUS PODCAST: For the rest of August, in addition to More or Less you’ll get a brand new podcast, Economics with Subtitles. It’s your everyday guide to economics and why you should care. In this edition, Ayeisha and Steve make sense of interest rates. Why did they lead to coffins full of car getting sent to the US Federal Reserve? What factors affect what you have to pay on your loans? And what do your film choices say about why you decide to borrow? Producers: Simon Maybin & Phoebe Keane P...more
Computer programmes are being developed to combat fake news.
What would have been the most efficient way to get to Mordor?
BONUS PODCAST: For the rest of August, in addition to More or Less you’ll get a brand new podcast, Economics with Subtitles. It’s your everyday guide to economics and why you should care. In this show, Ayeisha and Steve make sense of inflation. They’ll explain how hyperinflation is affecting how Venezuelans have sex, why you can’t afford a ticket to see your favourite band in concert anymore and why a sale on sofas isn’t always a good thing. Producers: Simon Maybin & Phoebe Keane Presenters:...more
Are Wildfires in the United States and Southern Europe burning more land than before?
BONUS PODCAST: For the rest of August, in addition to More or Less you’ll get a brand new podcast, Economics with Subtitles. It’s your everyday guide to economics and why you should care. In this show, Ayeisha and Steve explore government debt. Why did an anonymous mother send her bracelet to the government to be turned into a bullet? How are you lending the government money without even realising? And when should you be worried about how much debt the government is in? Producers: Simon Maybi...more
How do you get a hashtag to trend around the world?
BONUS PODCAST: For the rest of August, in addition to More or Less, you’ll get four bonus editions of Economics with Subtitles. It’s a brand new podcast that will bring you an everyday guide to economics and why you should care. In this edition, Ayeisha and Steve look at how we quantify economic success. Should dodgy drug deals be included? What is Steve’s contribution to GDP? And should we ban people who pinch too many of your crisps? Producers: Simon Maybin & Phoebe Keane Presenters: Ayeis...more
Does a baked potato contain the equivalent of 19 cubes of sugar?
How big are your testicles and what does that mean?
Having one fewer child could be the biggest thing you do to reduce your carbon footprint
How much better are the pros than the rest of us and how effective is slipstreaming?
The astronomer, Carl Sagan, famously said that there were more stars in our Universe than grains of sand on the Earth’s beaches. But was it actually true? More or Less tries to count the nearly uncountable. Content warning: This episode includes gigantically large numbers. (Photo: The barred spiral galaxy M83. Credit: Nasa).
This week we take a look at some of the statistics which have caught our attention at the World Cup. There has been much debate in both the press and social media about the large distances which Russian football players have run in their first two games. We look at how they compare to other teams and what it might signify. Also –is it just bad luck that Germany has crashed out of the competition? Presenter: Charlotte McDonald Producer: Richard Vadon (Picture: Artem Dzyuba of Russia celeb...more
Ein Bier bitte? Loyal listener David made a new year's resolution to learn German. Three years later, that's about as far as he's got. Keen to have something to aim for, he asked More or Less how many words you really need to know in order to speak a language. Reporter Beth Sagar-Fenton finds out with help from Professor Stuart Webb, and puts Tim through his paces to find out how big his own English vocabulary is. (Image: The World surrounded by Flags. Credit: Shutterstock) Presenter: Tim Harfor...more
The World Cup starts this week and the More or Less team is marking the event by looking at the data behind all the World Cups since 1966 (our data shows that this was the best world cup because England won). We’ll answer all football fans most burning questions; which World Cups have seen the most shots, fouls, dribbles and most importantly goals? Do the statistics back up the reputations of famous players like Pele, Cruyff, Maradona and Paul Gascoigne? And which of them actually committed ...more
From penguins to nematodes, is it possible to count how many animals are born around the world every day? That’s the question one 10-year-old listener wants answered, and so reporter Kate Lamble sets off for the zoo to find out. Along the way, she discovers that very, very small animals are much more important than very, very big animals when it comes to the sums. (09.05) Artificial Intelligence or A.I. has been hailed as the answer to an easier life – but will it really make the world a ...more
(0.24) Infant mortality is on the rise in England and Wales – but is this change down to social issues such as obesity and deprivation, as claimed, or the way doctors count very premature babies? (9.45) A self-confessed lazy student wrote in to ask how he can minimise exam revision, while still ensuring a high chance of passing – we do the sums. (15.44) Do a billion birds really die each year by flying into buildings? We explain another zombie statistic which refuses to die. (18.40) I...more
How do you count the number of people sleeping rough? According to the latest official figures around 4700 people were sleeping in the streets in the autumn of 2017. And that got us thinking. These statistics aren’t just downloaded from some big database in the sky. They need – like any statistic – to be collected and calculated. So how is it done?
Is WH Smith really the worst shop on the High Street? Harry Potter fans want to know how many wizards there are – we try to work it out. Is giving birth at home as safe as giving birth in hospital? (Photo: Mother and baby. Credit: Shutterstock)
This week we tackle some of our listeners’ questions from Australia: do one in seven businessmen throw out their pants after wearing them once? This is a claim made by an expert talking about clothes waste – but what does it come from? Do horses kill more people than venomous animals? Australia is known for its dangerous wildlife, but how deadly is it for humans? Plus, a politician says lots of Australians have used cannabis – we take a look at the evidence. Presenter: Tim Harford Producers:...more
(00.28) Reading the BBC weather app – we explain the numbers on the forecast (06:55) University of Oxford Admissions: how diverse is its intake? (11:37) Voter idea trial at the local elections – counting those who were turned away from the polling station. (15:46) How much tea do Brits drink? We investigate a regularly cited estimate (20:06) Are pensioners richer than people of working age?
Former FBI Director James Comey is very, very tall – over two metres tall, or 6’8” - and many media outlets commented on his height during his recent run-in with President Trump. But to what extent does being very tall improve your chances of becoming a professional basketball player? In this week’s programme Tim Harford looks at the likelihood that James Comey – or any very tall person - might make it as a pro in the NBA. He speaks to data scientist Seth Stephens-Davidowitz who has crunc...more
(0.22) Are more children from working families in poverty? (6.50) Progress 8 – explaining the new school league tables for England (12.51) Can a garden product really make your grass 6 times greener? (18.03) ‘Data is’ versus ‘data are’ (20.21) Royal Wedding economics
The story goes that Amsterdam in the 1630’s was gripped by a mania for Tulip flowers. But then there was a crash in the market. People ended up bankrupt and threw themselves into canals. This story is still being trotted out when people talk about financial markets, lately as a comparison to buying and selling bitcoin. But how much of what we know of the Tulip craze is fact, and how much is myth? We speak to Anne Goldgar at Kings College London who explains all.
(00:26) The UK abortion statistics gaining attention in Ireland’s referendum debate (03:49) Superforecasting author Phillip Tetlock talks to Tim Harford (09:51) Modern Slavery figures in the UK (17:43) Should you say math or maths?
The great statistician, Hans Rosling, died in February last year. Throughout his life Hans used data to explain how the world was changing – and often improving – and he would challenge people to examine their own preconceptions and ignorance. Before he became ill, Hans had started working on a book about these questions and what they reveal about the mental biases that tend to lead us astray. Tim Harford speaks to his son Ola and daughter in law Anna who worked on the book with him.
(0:32) Breast screening – the Numbers: 450,000 women have accidentally not been invited for breast cancer screening (07:26) Counting the Windrush Generation: What do we know about those who might be lacking documentation (11:15) Has Nigel Farage been on Question Time too often? We chart his appearances over 18 years (16:32) Painting a picture with an audiogram: Data journalist Mona Chalabi talks about her unusual approach to analysing numbers. Presenter: Tim Harford Producer: Cha...more
The government of Puerto Rico has developed a plan to strip the island’s statistical agency of its independent board as part of a money saving enterprise. But as the Caribbean island recovers from a debt crisis and the devastation of Hurricane Maria which struck last year, many are questioning whether the move could have long reaching implications. Presenters: Tim Harford and Kate Lamble Producer: Kate Lamble (Photo: Damage to Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria: The La Perla neighbourhood...more
Does the UK throw away 8.5 billion straws a year? (0’33’’) Women on FTSE 100 boards (4’35”) We explore whether the proportion of female directors has changed over time, and what it tells us about women in business. Using personal data for the public good (11’28”) Hetan Shah, the Executive Director of the Royal Statistical Society, talks about storing people’s data. How many animals are born every day? (15’39”)
Tim Harford talks to economist Dan Ariely about the psychology of money. They discuss how understanding the way we think about our finances can help us to spend more carefully and save more efficiently. Plus Dan explains how to never have an argument over sharing a restaurant bill again. (Photo: Mannequins in a shop window wearing sale t-shirts. Credit: Sean Gallup/Getty Images)
The World Health Organisation say that 95% of people who live in cities breathe unsafe air. But what do they mean by ‘unsafe’? And how do they calculate the levels or air pollution for every city in the world? Plus Mt Etna in Italy has reportedly moved by 14mm, but who is calculating this? And how do they know the answer with such accuracy? (Photo: People wear masks as smoke billows from a coal fired power plant, Shanxi, China. Credit: Kevin Frayer/Getty Images)
London’s murder rate is on the rise – and for the first time ever it has just overtaken New York’s, according to a number of media outlets. But is it true? And is it appropriate for journalists to compare between the two cities? South Africa’s missing children statistics A viral Facebook post has suggested that one child is kidnapped every thirty seconds in South Africa. We examine the evidence which shows that a child is reported missing every nine hours to the police, and this includes more th...more
Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries is one of Australia’s most popular television series and has been broadcast in 172 territories worldwide. Set in 1920’s Melbourne the series’ protagonist, Miss Phryne Fisher, seems to have a lot of dead bodies on her metaphorical plate. So how does the series compare with the real life murder rate at that time? Join the More Or Less team as we step back in time for some statistical sleuthing.
Last week Vladimir Putin won a second consecutive and fourth overall term as the Russian President. Official polling results from the election show he received over 76 percent of the vote, with a total turnout of 67 percent, but there were also widespread allegations of irregularities including inflated turnout figures. More or Less takes a closer look at the election data from Russia to see if these complaints have merit.
Whenever Donald Trump talks about trade he brings up one statistic again and again, the US trade balance. This is the relationship between the goods and services the US imports from other countries and what it exports – if America buys more from a country than that country buys from America there’s a deficit, and Trump claims America has a trade deficit with almost every country in the world. Is he right? We unpick whether President Trump is quoting the correct numbers on trade, hear how t...more
After Sir Roger Bannister ran a mile in under four minutes, did positive thinking propel dozens to do the same?
Are Hollywood films ignoring women? As this is the 90th year of the Academy Awards - we find out how many ‘Best Picture’ winners pass the Bechdel Test. This is a light-hearted way of challenging whether a film meets a low standard of female representation. They have to fulfil three criteria: are there at least two named female characters in the cast? Do those two women speak to each other? And do they have a conversation about something other than a man? In collaboration with the BBC’s 100 Women...more
What’s the most successful nation? (0’40”) We look at population, GDP per capita and ski areas of the countries with the most medals. How do you judge a country’s ‘best’ performance? (3.45”) What are the chances of dead heat in a race? (6’35”) The two-man bobsleigh event ended in a dead heat with both Canada and Germany achieving a time of three minutes 16.86 seconds. Is this the coldest winter games? (8’41”)
How to question dubious statistics in just a few short steps.
How many people have UN staff raped? – (0’40’’) It was reported in a number of the newspapers this week that UN staff are responsible for 60,000 rapes in a decade. The wealth of Mr Darcy – (5’10”) The male love interest of ‘Pride and Prejudice’ is supposed to be fabulously wealthy. Is he? How many people did Stalin kill? – (10’00”) Why there are so many different figures reported. Avoid splitting the bill – (18’25”) Credit card roulette is Dan Ariely’s preferred way of ending a meal wi...more
Alcohol consumption has fallen sharply according to Russia’s health ministry
Why the biggest ever fall in the Dow wasn't, and how much do women spend on tampons?
A key pledge of the Chinese President Xi Jinping is that China will have eradicated poverty by 2020. It’s an extraordinary claim, but the country does have a good track record in improving the wealth of its citizens; the World Bank says China has contributed more than any other country to global poverty reduction. So how does China measure poverty? And is it possible for them to make sure, over the next few years, that no one falls below their poverty line? Photo: A woman tends to her niece a...more
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...more
The survey question that could affect the accuracy of its results. The United States are due to run their next nationwide census in 2020, but already critics are warning that underfunding and proposed question about citizenship could affect the accuracy of its results. We look at the real life consequences if groups choose not to complete the 2020 census, and ask whether the recent politically charged debate is unusual in its two hundred year history. Presenter: Tim Harford Producer: Kat...more
First sexual experience - checking the facts A short film for the Draw A Line campaign has made the claim that one in three girls first sexual experience is rape. This seems shockingly high, but what is the evidence? Is it just for the UK or a global figure? We go back to the reports that were used to source the claim, and find the research has been misinterpreted. How long can a shark go for without eating? A recent episode of Blue Planet II stated that after a large meal a Sixgill shark m...more
If you ask an economist to explain what is happening in a country’s economy. They rely on economic data points to describe what is happening – they might talk about the unemployment rate, average wages, and the numbers of people in poverty. They pull together the information available for thousands or millions of people to work out trends. But are we getting the whole picture? We speak to Rachel Schneider, co-author of the book, ‘The Financial Diaries’. It’s based on a large study in the U...more
Gender Pay Gap This week the Office for National Statistics has published analysis trying to find out why it is that on average women are paid less than men in specific industries and occupations. We examine their findings, as well as taking a look at the current discussion about equal pay at the BBC. Alcohol reaction times We take a look at a study that suggests that people's reaction speeds are affected over time by regular drinking. It recommends that official guidelines for the amount o...more
A forgotten French mathematician is the focus of our programme. He anticipated both Einstein's theories and the application of maths to the stock market. Born in the 1870s, his work was unusual at the time. With the help of Alison Etheridge, Professor of Mathematics at the University of Oxford, we explain how his ideas were rediscovered decades after his death. (Photo: Pocket watch. Credit: Kanyapak Lim/Shutterstock)
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 ...more
Why it isn’t as simple to work out as you think.
Phones, lawn mowers and how Kim Kardashian helped the public understanding of risk.
Measuring the energy used to keep the cryptocurrency secure.
Could the US President’s Diet Coke habit affect his health? and 'contained' wildfires
Headlines claim that eating chocolate can protect you from developing Alzheimer’s disease. The theory is that bioactives within chocolate called flavanols can help reduce the risk of heart attacks, strokes and even make your brain 30 years younger! But isn’t this all a bit too good to be true? The BBC’s Head of Statistics, Robert Cuffe, investigates whether research findings are misrepresented by funders, PR machines and the media. Presenter: Robert Cuffe Producer: Lizzy McNeill
Are some people just very lucky? The maths suggest that is unlikely.
What the Pride and Prejudice character would have earned in today’s money.
The Italians are calling it the apocalypse. Their team has failed to make it to the World Cup for the first time in 60 years. But it is about more than just national pride - there is a financial cost too. Some have suggested that it will cost FIFA $100m. Is this really true? We speak to sports writer Graham Dunbar who has been counting how much money football's world governing body might lose out on. Also we fact check the claim that 45% of Nigerian women marry before their 18th birthday. Presen...more
Chris Brown’s latest album is stuffed with so many songs it runs at a sprawling two hours and twenty minutes. It’s only the latest in a string of lengthy album releases that includes artists like Drake, The Weeknd and Lil B. More or Less speaks to Hugh McIntyre, a music journalist who has found out that a numerical change in the way the album charts are measured is tempting artists into making longer albums. We also talk to Marc Hogan, a senior writer at Pitchfork, about a number that is chan...more
Finding out if Nigerian politicians really get paid more than the American President.
Counting the favourite words of well-known authors: Stephen King, Hemingway and others
Did the 2016 US election galvanise young people to become more engaged in politics?
The behavioural economist who has inspired governments around the world.
Naming the monster numbers - how the names of digital storage files evolved.
Do the largest ships emit as much pollution as all the cars in the world?
Is Uber safe? The post Brexit dual nationality surge and measuring partner abuse.
How much of a problem is falling sperm count?
Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson is accused of mis-using official statistics.
What’s the best way to measure a hurricane?
Has the number of natural disasters really quadrupled in the last forty years?
Is the UK the only country with more horses than tanks in its army?
Will we need more power stations? Plus, are children in Manchester ready for school?
Experts are saying that Houston just suffered a one in 500 year storm but what does that mean?
The difficulties of finding the true number of people who died in the fire.
Figuring out the best strategy as a wannabe team manager.
Are boys getting more top A Level grades than girls? Plus why are dress sizes so weird?
During a recent press conference President Trump said: “I’ve created over a million jobs since I’m president. The country is booming. The stock market is setting records. We’ve got the highest employment numbers we have ever had I the history of our country.” This is not the first time the American President has taken credit for a booming economy. But is that fair? We take a look at the numbers.
President Trump says transgender individuals cannot serve, but how many do already?
On Tuesday Kenyans go to the polls to elect members of parliament and the next president. A report in Quartz Africa has estimated that the cost of putting on the election by the Government works out at around $25 per head – $480 million in total. It also estimated that it cost Rwanda $1 a head, and Uganda $4 a head to lay on elections. Recently an expert on this programme estimated that the UK General election cost about $4 a head. We explore why there is such a difference in the amounts spent.
Exploring if an influx of teenage boys claiming asylum skewed the population’s sex ratio
Celebrating the only woman to win the biggest prize in mathematics.
Using statistics to prove or disprove the wisdom of tennis is the theme this week. In this digital age we are used to information at our fingertips. This week More or Less finds out how every rally, every shot at this tennis championship is counted and makes its way to our phones, desktops and TV screens. And once you have this information – what can you do with it? Is it useful for players and coaches? Traditionally, players will take a risk on their first chance to serve, and hit the ball as f...more
Are top basketball players underpaid? The American basketballer Stephen Curry has just signed the biggest contract in NBA history. The new deal will pay him $200 million over 5 years but amazingly, according to fellow superstar player Lebron James, he’s probably being underpaid. It may sound ridiculous but economists agree. How can this be true? We look at the economics of superstar sports salaries. The mystery of Ryanair’s seat allocation Ryanair carries more international passengers a...more
It’s the 100 year centenary of an obscure type of prime number – the Woodall Primes. To celebrate, stand-up mathematician Matt Parker is calling on listeners to search for a new one. Ordinary citizens can already help search for Mersenne Prime numbers by lending computer processing power to GIMPS – the Great Internet Mersenne Prime Search. Matt explains to Tim Harford what a Woodall Prime is, and why it deserves more attention. Also - Making penalty shoot-outs fairer - 60% of penalty shoot-ou...more
How statistics can help us understand the tragic fire at London’s Grenfell Tower.
The Voice of 1960s British children’s TV series ‘Trumpton’, Brian Cant, died this week. The More or Less team has visited the town of Trumpton on a number of occasions so we have brought together a handful of our favourites as a tribute.
The results of the general election are in - but what do they mean? Did more young people vote than expected? Have we now got a more diverse parliament? How many extra votes would Jeremy Corbyn have needed to become Prime Minister - these are just some of the claims and questions that have been floating around on social media and in the press. Tim Harford and the team are going to analyse, add context and try and find answers.
Cheick Tiote, the much loved former Newcastle United player collapsed and died while training with Chinese side Beijing Enterprises earlier this month. His death and that of other black footballers have caused some commentators to ask – are African or black players more likely to die while playing than other people? The data of footballers deaths is pretty poor but we try to glean some answers from the scant numbers available. It look like one of the most common causes of death among players...more
This podcast is a compilation of interviews by the More or Less team with Eddie Mair from Radio 4’s PM programme. Each interview features a different claim or hotly discussed topic from the UK general election campaign: from school funding, to numbers of armed police officers.
Trumpets are blasting in this week’s musical episode. But can medical statistics be transformed into a jazzy night out? That was the challenge which epidemiologist Elizabeth Pisani set for composer Tony Haynes. This June, his Grand Union Orchestra will be performing Song of Contagion, an evening of steel pans, saxophones and singers telling the story of diseases including Zika and AIDs. We met Elizabeth and Tony in an East London music studio, to hear Song of Contagion come together for the v...more
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...more
Our entire education system is faulty, claim experts. They worry that schools don’t prepare kids for the world outside. But how could anyone prove what the future will be like? We set off on a round-the-world sleuthing trip to trace a statistic that has been causing headaches for students, teachers and politicians alike. Helping us on our quest are educators Cathy Davidson, Daisy Christodoulou and Andrew Old – plus a little bit of Blade Runner and a lot data-wrangling. Producer: Hannah San...more
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 m...more
Has Uganda been accepting more refugees on a daily basis than some European countries manage in an entire year? That is the claim from the Norwegian Refugee Council – and it is a claim we put to the test. Civil war and famine in South Sudan have forced millions to leave their homes, and this has had a colossal impact on neighbouring Uganda. We speak to Gopolang Makou, a researcher at Africa Check who has some startling figures to share. (Photo: Children wait as WFP, 'World Food Programme' ...more
Exploring the Labour manifesto's tax plans for high earners.
What is happening to nurses pay? Amid reports of nurses using food banks, Jeremy Hunt said he doesn’t recognise claims their wages are worth less now than in 2010. He says nurses are actually paid £31,000 - more than the average person. If he’s right, why do so many nurses say they’re earning much less than that? The Great Scottish Election Conspiracy The reporting of the Scottish council elections has caused a bit of a stir. Did the SNP lose seven seats or gain six. The media including...more
All over the world mothers are given numbers as their baby grows. The numbers are from ‘growth charts’ showing how a baby is developing in comparison to others. Seven month old Baby Arlo has particularly big numbers, so much so that his parents are worried he’s one of the biggest babies in America. But where do these numbers come from? Is it an average? Why do they measure a baby’s head? Reporter Jordan Dunbar sets out to find out how we get these baby numbers and just how big Baby Arlo is. P...more
Why some parts of town are hard to navigate.
It looks like homicides are on the rise - but better check the footnotes
How to use mathematics to find your partner. And, how reliable are pregnancy due dates?
Giant bombs, a war hero and the foreign secretary's stats.
Are middle-aged white Americans dying younger than other groups?
Are people's incomes falling? Plus singing Pi like Kate Bush
How much do you know about the world?
Why airlines bet that not everybody will turn up for a flight.
A single nuclear weapon could destroy America’s entire electrical grid, claims a former head of the CIA. The explosion would send out an electromagnetic pulse – resulting in famine, societal collapse and what one newspaper has called a “Dark Apocalypse”. But are hungry squirrels a greater threat to the electrical grid than North Korean weapons? We speak to senior security adviser Sharon Burke and Yoni Applebaum from The Atlantic. Presenter: Charlotte McDonald Producer: Hannah Sander
The claim that “one in four” of us will suffer from a mental health problem is popular amongst campaigners, politicians and the media. But this leads you to a simple question – where is this figure from and what’s the evidence? This was exactly what neuroscientist Jamie Horder asked, and far from being simple, it led him on quite a journey. So do we really know how many people are likely to develop mental health problems – Elizabeth Cassin and Charlotte McDonald find out. Presenter: Charlot...more
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 it...more
Did China use more concrete in three years than the US in the 20th Century?
Are our attention spans now shorter than a goldfish's?
Top Hollywood actresses have complained that they are paid less than their male co-stars
What happened last night in Sweden?
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 Johns...more
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...more
Does North Carolina really rank alongside North Korea if you measure electoral integrity
How many went to celebrate – and how many to protest – the Trump inauguration?
Blue Monday and Oxfam’s comparison wealth of billionaires and the poor –the stories that come around every year.
Were 90,000 Christians killed because of their faith in 2016?
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: ...more
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 Penca...more
Saving lives with thin air - by taking nitrogen from the air to make fertiliser
Improving data to target help to the poorest people
Tim Harford poses a tough statistical challenge
Are footballers trying to get suspended for Christmas?
Notable deaths, Rule Britannia and creating your own Christmas speech
We look at the numbers behind the scary headlines about birth control.
The economic doom that never was; childhood cancer figures and Ed Balls
The survey by the Indian PM that broke all the polling rules and started a mass protest
What are the odds of being related to a medieval king? and how many cows for a fiver?
Renewable capacity has surpassed that of coal–is this good news? Plus an asteroid update.
High-rolling pensioners? predicting Norovirus, air pollution deaths and lost or found?
A new NASA warning system means we’re getting better at spotting Earth-bound space rocks. But how safe are we?
Is dementia on the rise? Plus immigration, incomplete contacts and chocolate muffins
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 a...more
Who voted in the US elections? Plus are there nine million stray cats in the UK?
Does the world really spend three times as much on ice cream than on humanitarian aid?
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
Is a girl under 15 married every seven seconds? And beware dangerous algorithms
How many people die for every kilo of cocaine? More Or Less investigates.
When maths can get you locked up.
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 McDona...more
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)
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)
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.
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 wi...more
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?
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 Bri...more
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 “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 h...more
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 Bours...more
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 ...more
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 ...more
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 re...more
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 thei...more
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 ...more
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.
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,...more
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 ...more
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...more
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; ...more
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 re...more
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)
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 cust...more
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 ...more
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 ...more
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 b...more
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 b...more
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 w...more
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
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 Cheltenh...more
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
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
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.
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?
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 th...more
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 ...more
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.
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.
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 Gree...more
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 rep...more
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 t...more
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.
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 ...more
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.
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 liste...more
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
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 ...more
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 restauran...more
"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 h...more
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)
Could no prize have been a better way to motivate snooker player Ronnie O’Sullivan?
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.
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 g...more
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)
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...more
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.
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 ...more
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 te...more
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 Engl...more
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-Pa...more
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 wa...more
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.
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 foll...more
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
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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 Héctor Bellerín faster than Usain Bolt? Bellerín can reportedly run 40 metres in 4.41 seconds. Ruth Alexander asks how their times compare.
Are creative people more likely to suffer mental illness, and has Cuba wiped out child hunger? Wesley Stephenson investigates.
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.
Are processed meats as cancer-causing as cigarettes, and has the Rugby world cup been the most brutal? Ruth Alexander investigates.
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.
Tim Harford interviews Nobel Prize winning economist professor Angus Deaton about a lifetime measuring inequality
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.
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
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 t...more
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 mathematic...more
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?
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 ...more
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?
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...more
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
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 ...more
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?
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 decis...more
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?
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...more
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 ...more
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 unde...more
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?
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.
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?
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.
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.
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 e...more
Can your horoscope predict which diseases you’ll develop? And does cricket’s Duckworth-Lewis method need to evolve?
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 t...more
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 almos...more
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.
Tim Harford asks if the World Cup is really responsible for migrant deaths in Qatar.
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...more
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 t...more
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.