Tim Harford and the More or Less team try to make sense of the statistics which surround us. From BBC Radio 4
The Delta Variant was first identified in India, fuelling a huge wave of cases and deaths. It is now spreading around the world, becoming the most dominant variant in many countries. This week we take a look at the numbers - where’s it spreading, how is this different to previous waves and what can be done to stop it? Tim Harford speaks to Professor Azra Ghani, Chair in Infectious Disease Epidemiology at Imperial College, London and John Burn-Murdoch, the chief data reporter at The Financial Ti...more
On the day the Government plans to drop the remaining Covid restirictions, Tim Harford and the More or Less team try to work out how long cases will continue to rise and whether we can be sure the link with deaths and hospitalisations has been broken. Is this “freedom day" or an unnecessary gamble with people’s lives?
In recent months, Twitter has rarely been out of the headlines in Nigeria. After it deleted a tweet by the country’s president, the Nigerian government responded by banning it altogether. In the media coverage of the story it has been commonly claimed that Nigeria has 40 million Twitter users – but could this really be true? We spoke to Allwell Okpi of the fact-checking organisation AfricaCheck. Also, which places have the best full vaccination rates in the world? Turns out, its some of the sma...more
To some on the internet, the cheap anti-parasitic drug Ivermectin is a potential wonder drug that could dramatically change the global fight against Covid-19. It has passionate proponents, from a small group of scientists to the more conspiratorially-minded. But with a scattered evidence base of varying quality, what - if anything - do we know for sure about Ivermectin? And is uncovering the truth a more complex process than some appreciate? With Gideon Meyerowitz-Katz from the University of Wo...more
The UK’s Covid cases are still rising and Scotland is being hit particularly hard - so are we speeding up our vaccination programme in response? Will many of the UK’s coastal towns, not to mention central London, be underwater in the next few years? Do the country’s poorest households really pay more than half their income in tax? What are the top five places with the best vaccination rates in the world? The answers may surprise you. We speak to Tom Chivers, a science journalist who has writ...more
This year sees the delayed 400th anniversary celebrations of the Mayflower voyage, an event seen as a crucial moment in the history of the United States. But how many people alive today can trace back their lineage to those first 102 passengers? Tim speaks to Rob Eastaway and Dr Misha Ewen about maths and the Mayflower.
The Delta variant is behind the big increase in the number of new Covid 19 cases in the UK since April. We take a look at what impact vaccines have had on infections, hospitalisations and deaths. Chris Packham told viewers on the BBC’s Springwatch that blue tits eat 35 billion caterpillars a year. We get him onto the programme to explain. How much does Type 2 diabetes cost the NHS a year? While exploring a dubious claim we find out why its hard to work that out. Is it true that on in two peop...more
To find out where a virus comes from, researchers compare it to other viruses to try to trace its origin. This leads to claims like SARS-CoV-2 is 91 or even 96% similar to other known viruses. But what does that really mean? Tim Harford talks to the virus ecologist Marilyn J Roossinck.
The official number of deaths attributed to Covid 19 around the world in the whole of 2020 is 1.88 million. The global toll this year surpassed this figure on 11th of June. We look at how things are worse worldwide, despite vaccines and lock downs. Does the UK have the worst bathing sites in Europe? That’s certainly a claim made by a number of newspapers. We show why this is not the case. Health Secretary Matt Hancock has been in the news again with comments regarding care homes during the p...more
Steven Johnson, author of Extra Life, tells the fascinating history of life expectancy, and the extraordinary achievements of the last century, in which it has practically doubled. It’s a story that has data at its heart, from the ground-breaking invention of the category itself in 17th century London to the pioneering social health surveys of W.E.B. Du Bois in 1890s Philadelphia. Tim Harford spoke to Steven about the numbers beneath possibly the most important number of all.
Covid cases are rising again in the UK – should we be worried about a third wave? Tim Harford speaks to David Spiegelhalter, Winton Professor of Risk at the University of Cambridge. How safe are smart motorways? Many listeners have concerns that they seem more dangerous than conventional motorways. We take a look at the numbers. What proportion of adults in England have been vaccinated? Listeners have spotted a potential discrepancy in the public data online. Are 80% of women wearing the wron...more
Health Minister Matt Hancock recently told the House of Commons that: “The number of vaccinations happening in Bolton right now is phenomenal - tens of thousands every single day.” We explain why this is not the case. The recent SNP election success has turned attention to the question of independence. We compare Scotland’s finances to the comparably sized Yorkshire and Humber region. How do you work out 28 + 47 in your head? We speak to mathematician Katie Steckles. A listener asked us to fi...more
Popular Netflix documentary Seaspiracy has sparked a lot of debate recently, including some controversy over some of the claims the documentary makes and the numbers behind them. One of the most striking is that: “if current fishing trends continue we will see virtually empty oceans by the year 2048.” Although overfishing is a global problem, we take a look and find that this scenario is unlikely.
Wales has given one vaccination dose against Covid 19 to a larger proportion of their population than any other country except a couple of super tiny ones. They’ve given one vaccine dose to over 80% of their adult population. We explore some reasons why they seem to be doing so well. The UK continues to do poorly at Eurovision – we take a look back over the years to examine why the UK used to do well, and why it doesn’t any more. Waiting lists for NHS treatment across the UK have grown – but w...more
The Recovery Trial, a nation-wide clinical study in the UK, helped identify treatments for Covid 19 in the early months of the pandemic. Tim Harford speaks to Professor Martin Landray of Oxford University whose team established the randomised trial.
Tim Harford interviews Milo Beckman - a young mathematician, still in his twenties, who has written a book called ‘Math without Numbers’. Milo explains why he wanted to strip out digits to make it easier to describe the beauty of mathematics.
Mexico City’s official Covid 19 death toll did not seem to reflect the full extent of the crisis that hit the country in the spring of 2020 - this is according to Laurianne Despeghel and Mario Romero. These two ordinary citizens used publicly available data to show that excess deaths during the crisis - that’s the total number of extra deaths compared to previous years - was four times higher than the confirmed Covid 19 deaths.
Bayes’ Rule has been used in AI, genetic studies, translating foreign languages and even cracking the Enigma Code in the Second World War. We find out about Thomas Bayes - the 18th century English statistician and clergyman whose work was largely forgotten until the 20th century.
In 2020 there were 1.8 million reported Covid deaths. So far this year, we’ve had 1.2 million. We’re currently seeing around 12,000 deaths a day across the world. But while some areas are seeing falls in numbers, others such as India are seeing a surge. This week Tim Harford tries to answer the question: Will there be more global deaths this year from Covid 19 compared to last year?
If we brought together all the Covid 19 vaccine needed for the whole world, how much space would it fill up? An Olympic size swimming pool? We do some back of the envelope sums. Plus - we look at the increased risk of clots from pregnancy. Last week we looked at the increased risk of getting a clot from taking the combined contraceptive pill and compared it to risk of possible rare clots identified following the Astra Zeneca jab. How does pregnancy compare?
The Astra Zeneca Covid 19 jab remains in the headlines because some regulators have concluded that it may raise the risk of a very rare type of blood clot, albeit to a risk that is still very low. In the past few weeks a number of countries have said they will limit its use to older age groups. But people are drawing comparisons to the contraceptive pill which is well-known to increase the risk of clots and asking why this level of risk is tolerated. Is this comparison fair? Tim Harford speak...more
The impressive speed records of a well-known gamer called Dream for the video game Minecraft have come under scrutiny. Many say that Dream has completed speed runs in such a fast time that it doesn’t seem possible. Are these suspicions correct? We speak to stand-up mathematician Matt Parker who has looked at the probabilities on the elements of chance in the game to see if these records seem plausible.
On this week’s programme we talk to Clare Griffiths from the UK’s coronavirus dashboard and Alexis Madrigal from the Atlantic Magazine’s Covid Tracking Project in the US.
Many countries recently decided to suspend the use of the AstraZeneca coronavirus vaccine over fears it was increasing the risk of blood clots. The European Medicines Agency and the WHO called on countries to continue using the vaccine but regulators in individual countries opted to be cautious, waiting for investigations to take place. But why? Tim Harford explores the risks of blood clots and weighing up whether it was necessary to suspend using the vaccine.
A widely reported study claims that 90% of Covid 19 deaths across the world happened in countries with high obesity rates. While an individual’s risk of death is increased by having a high Body Mass Index, the broader effect on a country’s death rate is not what it seems.
Tim Harford explores the chances of becoming a saint, inspired by a throw away comment by the detective on the TV drama ‘Death in Paradise.’ Plus, a listener has a question about the recent Europa League Draw for the final knockout round. He spotted that none of the teams face a rival from their own country. What were the chances of that happening?
Cases of Covid 19 began to soar in the US in the autumn. By early January there were around 300,000 new cases a day. But since then the numbers have fallen steeply. What caused this dramatic drop? From herd immunity to the weather, Tim Harford explores some of the theories with Derek Thompson of The Atlantic magazine and Professor Jennifer Dowd, deputy director of the Lever Hume Centre for Demographic Science at the University of Oxford.
Are different countries counting deaths from Covid 19 in the same way? Tim Harford finds out if we can trust international comparisons with the data available. We discover Peru currently has the most excess deaths per capita over the course of the pandemic, while Belgium has the highest Covid death count per capita. Tim speaks to Hannah Ritchie from Our World in Data and John Burn Murdoch, senior data visualisation journalist at the Financial Times.
The UK was the first European country to surpass 100,000 deaths from Covid 19. The UK has one of the worst death rates. But can we trust the numbers? Many of our listeners have asked us to investigate. Long Covid is widely acknowledged as being a growing problem, but what are the numbers involved? Just how many people have longterm symptoms after their initial infection? There have been reports that we are drinking more in Lock Down. We examine the evidence. Dr Natalie MacDermott was one o...more
If we brought all the virus particles of the Sars-CoV-2 virus from every human currently infected, how much would there be? This was a question posed by one of our listeners. We lined up two experts to try to work this out. YouTube maths nerd Matt Parker and Kit Yates, senior lecturer in mathematical biology at the University of Bath, UK give us their best estimates. One believes the particles would fit into a small can of coke, the other a spoonful.
Are exports to the EU from the UK down 68% since Brexit? This apocalyptic statistic is being widely reported, but does it really tell us what’s happening at Dover and Folkstone? Ministers are tweeting reassuring numbers about flammable cladding on high rise buildings. We’re not so sure. Is it really true that one in five people are disabled? Plus, if you assembled all the coronavirus particles in the world into a pile - how big would it be?
Tim explores a shocking claim that life expectancy in some parts of Glasgow is less than it is in Rwanda. But is that fair on Glasgow and for that matter is it fair on Rwanda? And a listener asks whether loss of smell is a strong enough symptom of Covid that it might be used to help diagnose the virus, replacing rapid testing. Presenter: Tim Harford Producer: Chloe Hadjimatheou (Left: Rwanda refugee - photo Reza. Right: Glasgow homeless man - photo Christopher Furlong / both Getty images)
Prominent Labour politicians have claimed teachers are more likely to catch Covid-19, is that true? England’s Test and Trace programme has been widely criticised, has it raised its game in recent months? A ferocious row has broken out between scientists about how effective fast turnaround Lateral Flow tests are, and how they should be used. We examine the data. Plus, we examine a claim from Extinction Rebellion that British butterflies have declined by 50% since 1976.
A ferocious row has broken out among scientists about new coronavirus tests. Lateral flow tests provide results within minutes and some scientists believe they are offer accurate enough results at a speed that could allow us to resume business as usual. Others think they are so poor at detecting the virus that they could pose a huge danger. In this week’s More or Less, Tim Harford looks at the evidence and what we know about these new tests.
Since the start of the pandemic there have been many warnings that people might die not just from the coronavirus itself, but also if they didn’t seek medical help out of fear that hospitals might be dangerous. Is there any evidence that this has happened? David Spiegelhalter is on the case. The UK is in lockdown, but tens of thousands of people a day are still testing positive for Coronavirus. Where are they catching it? Grim data on drug deaths in Scotland has been called into question on soc...more
Since the start of the pandemic there have been many warnings that people might die not just from the coronavirus itself, but also if they didn’t seek medical help out of fear that hospitals might be dangerous. Is there any evidence that this has happened? David Spiegelhalter is on the case. The UK is in lockdown, but tens of thousands of people a day are still testing positive for Coronavirus. Where are they catching it? Grim data on drug deaths in Scotland has been called into question on soc...more
GDP figures for the period covering lockdown appear to show that the UK suffered a catastrophic decline, worse than almost any other country. But as Tim Harford finds out, things aren’t quite as bad for the UK as they might seem - though they might be worse for everywhere else. Also, alarming claims have been circulating in the UK about the number of suicides during lockdown. We look at the facts. There is support for the issues discussed in the programme at help.befrienders.org Presenter: Tim...more
The vaccine rollout continues: how long will it take before we see the benefits, and what benefits will we see? Figures suggest the UK’s economy performed worse than almost anywhere else in the world during the pandemic. But are the numbers misleading us? Alarming claims have been circulating about the number of suicides during lockdown. We look at the facts. Plus, will UK fishing quotas increase two thirds in the wake of Brexit? We trawl through the data.
A lot has changed since More or Less was last on air. We give you a statistical picture of the second wave: how bad is it, and is there hope? The new vaccine regime is to delay the booster shot of the Pfizer vaccine for up to 3 months. But is the first dose 52% or 90% effective? A new virus variant is meant to be 70% more transmissible, what does that mean? Plus, one of our youngest loyal listeners has a question about her classmates names.
What can ants tells us about whether something deserves to be popular? This is a question tackled in David Sumpter’s book – ‘The Ten Equations that Rule the World: And How You Can Use Them Too.’ He tells Tim Harford about some of the algorithms that you see in nature, and those harnessed by tech companies such as YouTube.
From the economic impact of Covid 19 to the number of people who have access to soap and water, we showcase figures that tell us something about 2020. Tim Harford asks a group of numbers-minded people to take a look back on the year and think of one statistic that really stands out for them. We speak to Razia Khan, the head of research and chief economist for Africa and the Middle East at Standard Chartered; Sana Safi, presenter for BBC Pashto TV at the BBC's Afghanistan Service; and Jennifer Ro...more
Tim Harford asks a group of numbers-minded people to take a look back on the year and think of one statistic that really stands out for them. From the spread of Covid-19 to the number of songs added to Spotify this year, we showcase figures that tell us something about 2020. We speak to Oliver Johnson, professor of information theory at the University of Bristol in the UK; Anne-Marie Imafidon, creator and CEO of social enterprise Stemettes; and economist Joel Waldfogel, of the University of Minn...more
Tim Harford asks economist Joel Waldfogel how Covid 19 could affect spending at Christmas this year. They discuss the usual bump in sales and gift giving. The author of ‘Scroogenomics’ usually argues that presents are rarely as valued by the recipient compared to something they might buy for themselves. But what should people do this year?
Tim Harford looks at false statistical claims online about missing and trafficked children in the US. These numbers have resurfaced online in part due to conspiracy theorists following QAnon. In the past few months they have inspired protests under the banner - ‘Save Our Children’. We wade through some of the false numbers with the help of Michael Hobbes, a reporter for Huff Post and the co-host of the podcast called You're Wrong About.
The UK has become the first country in the world to approve the use of a vaccine for Covid 19. But some people are worried that the decision was taken too quickly - can we really know it’s safe yet? Tim Harford tackles these safety concerns. Plus, what is the best way to distribute the vaccine? How do you maximise the benefit of the first round of vaccines? Stuart McDonald, a fellow of the Institute and Faculty of Actuaries in the UK works out what groups would benefit most.
This year has shown us the importance of good robust data - as Covid-19 spread around the world it was vital to track where it was, how many people it was infecting and where it might go next. On More or Less we’ve spent months reporting on data inaccuracies and vacuums, but what makes for good or indeed bad data? I’ve been speaking to Amy Maxmen, Senior reporter at the scientific journal ‘Nature’ about which countries are getting data collection right and which aren’t.
If you go to a gathering of 25 or more people, what are the chances one of you has coronavirus? Imagine that you’re planning to hold some sort of gathering or dinner at your home. Take your pick of big festivities - it’s Thanksgiving in the US, we’ve just had Diwali and Christmas is on the horizon. In some places such a gathering is simply illegal anyway. But if it IS legal, is it wise? Professor Joshua Weitz and his team at Georgia Tech in the US have created a tool which allows people in the...more
A vaccine which has shown in a clinical trial to be 90% effective against Covid 19 has been widely welcomed. But what does it mean and how was it worked out? Although experts and politicians urge caution, how excited can we be about the results of this trial of the vaccine developed by Pfizer and BioNTech? Tim Harford explores what we know about this new vaccine candidate with Jennifer Rogers, vice president of the Royal Statistical Society in the UK, and she also works for Phastar, a consultanc...more
Tim Harford explores what we know about mortality rates in the current pandemic. We discuss the differences between the risks to different age groups, and why that has an effect on a country’s Covid 19 fatality rate. We speak to Dr Hannah Ritchie from the University of Oxford and Dr Daniel Howdon of the University of Leeds in the UK.
A headline in a British tabloid newspaper claimed that ‘Staggering 86% who tested Covid positive in lockdown had NONE of the official symptoms’ but what does this mean and is it true?
Tim Harford hears about the sheer volume of false claims made during the campaign. President Trump is well known for making wild statements, but has his behaviour changed? And what about Joe Biden? So much attention is concentrated on Trump’s claims, how does the Democratic candidate fare? Glenn Kessler at the Washington Post and Katherine J Wu at the New York Times tell us about fact-checking during the run up to the election.
Paul Milgrom and his former tutor Robert Wilson worked together for years developing ways to run complicated auctions for large resources. This month the two Stanford University professors were awarded the Nobel memorial prize in economics for their work. The auction formats they designed facilitated the sale of goods and services that are difficult to sell in a conventional way, such as radio frequencies.
Tim Harford speaks to Jacob Goldstein about the unholy marriage of mathematicians, gamblers, and actuaries at the dawn of modern finance.
After nearly 16,000 cases disappeared off coronaviruses spreadsheets, we ask what went wrong. How common are lasting symptoms from Covid-19? If you survey people about the death toll from Covid, they’ll make mistakes. What do those mistakes teach us? Pedants versus poets on the subject of exponential growth. And we dive deep into the unholy marriage of mathematicians, gamblers, and actuaries at the dawn of modern finance.
Case counts in perspective, a suspect stat from the US, and life lessons from insects.
A scary government graph this week showed what would happen if coronavirus cases doubled every seven days. But is that what’s happening? There’s much confusion about how many Covid test results are false positives - we explain all. Plus, do coffee and pregnancy mix? And the Queen, Mao, and Gandhi go head to head: who is on the most stamps and coins?
Tim Harford speaks to Israeli researcher, Tomer Hertz, about how the mathematical magic of pool testing could help countries to ramp up their Covid-19 testing capacity.
Amid reports of problems with coronavirus testing across the UK, we interrogate the numbers on laboratory capacity. Does the government’s Operation Moonshot plan for mass testing make statistical sense? Has the UK been taking more refugees from outside the European Union than any EU country? We explore the connection between socio-economic status and Covid deaths. And we do the maths on a mascara brand’s bold claim about emboldening your eyelashes.
A jump in the number of UK Covid-19 cases reported by the government has led to fears coronavirus is now spreading quickly again. What do the numbers tell us about how worried we should be? Plus a guide to balancing life’s risks in the time of coronavirus, the government’s targets on test and trace, and a suspicious statistic about the speed of jelly-fish.
As children return to school in England and Wales, we hear about what we know and what we don’t when it comes to Covid-19 risks in school settings. What do the numbers tell us about how well test and trace is working? Will reopening universities really kill 50,000 people? Are the UK’s figures on economic growth as bad as they look? And is maths real? When someone goes viral asking maths questions on social media, More or Less finds answers.
Donald Trump says allowing the emergency use of blood plasma therapy for coronavirus patients will save “countless lives” and is “proven to reduce mortality by 35%”. We look at the evidence. Amid talk of coronavirus being back on the rise in the UK, what does the data show? Could screening for breast cancer from the age of 40 save lives? And can it really be true than one in five women in 18th century London made a living selling sex?
We unpick the A-level algoshambles, discover why 1.3 million Covid tests disappeared from the government's statistics last week, and for reasons that may become clear, we examine the chance of being hit by a bus. Plus, what does poker teach us about the role of randomness in our lives?
Autocratic leader Alexander Lukashenko claims to have won a landslide in the country’s presidential elections. But how can we know what really happened? Tim Harford delves into the numbers behind the widely-questioned election result, with Dr Brian Klaas and political analyst Artyom Shraibman.
Covid-19 cases are rising in the UK - is it a sign of a second wave of the virus? We’re picking apart the data and asking how concerned we should be both now and as autumn approaches. Scotland is undercounting Covid deaths, England is overcounting them: we’ll ask why and whether the problems will be fixed. Celebrity chef Jamie Oliver claims over a quarter of all the fruit and veg kids eat is in the form of pizza, can this be true? Plus, as some people are blaming obesity for the severity of th...more
One More or Less listener has heard that if all the ice in Antarctica melted, global sea levels would rise by 70 metres. But it would take 361 billion tonnes of ice to raise the world's sea levels by just 1 millimetre. So how much ice is in Antarctica? And in the coming years, what impact might temperature changes have on whether it remains frozen? (Gentoo penguins on top of an iceberg at King George Island, Antarctica January 2020. Credit: Alessandro Dahan/ Getty Images)
Do we have enough data to know what’s happening on the continent? We talk to Dr Justin Maeda from the Africa Centre for Disease Control and Ghanaian public health researcher Nana Kofi Quakyi about tracking Africa’s outbreak. Producer: Jo Casserly Picture: Volunteers wait to feed local people during the weekly feeding scheme at the Heritage Baptist Church in Melville on the 118 day of lockdown due to the Covid-19 Coronavirus, Johannesburg, South Africa, 2020. Credit: EPA/KIM LUDBROOK
Tim Harford speaks to Steven Johnson about William Farr and the birth of epidemiology in the 1800s.
Tim Harford talks to statistician Ola Rosling about his research into misconceptions about Covid-19. And an update on the epidemic in the US.
Unlike its Nordic neighbours, Sweden never imposed a lockdown to stem the spread of coronavirus. Tim Harford speaks to statistician Ola Rosling to find out what the results have been. Presenter: Tim Harford Producer: Jo Casserly Picture: A woman wearing a face mask stands at a Stockholm bus stop where a sign reminds passengers to maintain a minimum social distance. Sweden 25 June 2020. Credit: EPA/ Stina Stjernkvist
Are cases really rising in the US or are they just testing more? Tim digs into the data.
The UK has suffered one of the worst outbreaks of coronavirus anywhere in the world. We’ve been tracking and analysing the numbers for the last 14 weeks, and in the last programme of this More or Less series, we look back through the events of March 2020 to ask why things went so wrong - was it bad decision-making, bad advice, or bad luck?
The steroid Dexamethasone has been hailed a “major breakthrough” in the treatment of Covid-19. But what does the data say? Plus, why haven’t mass protests led to a second wave?
As lockdown eases, why hasn't there been a spike in infections? We get a first look at the evidence for the much-trumpeted Covid-19 treatment, Dexamethasone. Stephanie Flanders tells us what’s happening to the UK economy. Keir Starmer says child poverty is up; Boris Johnson says it’s down, who's right? Plus which children are getting a solid home-school experience, and who is missing out?
Some countries are requiring new arrivals to self-isolate, a policy designed to stop infection spreading from areas of high prevalence to low prevalence. Tim Harford and Ruth Alexander find out which countries have the highest rate of Covid-19 infection. Plus, is it really true that the coronavirus mostly kills people who would die soon anyway?
The UK has introduced new rules requiring all people arriving in the country to self-isolate for 14 days. But given the severity of the UK’s outbreak can there be many places more infectious? Is it true that Covid-19 mostly kills people who would die soon anyway? The first figures are out showing how England’s Test and Trace programme is performing, but they contain a mystery we’re keen to resolve. And we play with some mathematical puzzles, courtesy of statistician Jen Rogers.
At the start of March the government's Chief Scientific Adviser Sir Patrick Vallance said that the UK’s coronavirus outbreak was four weeks behind the epidemic in Italy. This ability to watch other countries deal with the disease ahead of us potentially influenced the decisions we made about which actions to take and when, including lockdown. So was he right?
What difference does a metre make? The World Health Organisation recommends that people keep at least 1 metre apart from each other to stop the spread of Covid-19, but different countries have adopted different standards. The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends staying six feet apart - that’s just short of 2 metres; in the UK, the rule is 2 metres. But all this has a big impact on the way businesses and societies get back to work. Tim Harford investigates the economi...more
As lockdowns begin to lift the government is relying on testing and contact tracing programmes to prevent a second wave of Covid-19 infections. But how accurate are the swab tests used to diagnose the disease? The UK Statistics Authority has criticised the government for the way it reports testing figures, saying it’s not surprising that these numbers “are so widely criticised and often mistrusted.” We take a look at how the government achieved its target of developing a daily testing capacit...more
More than 35,000 people in the UK have now officially died from Covid-19, but what does the data show about whether this wave of the epidemic is waning? We ask who respects lockdown, who breaks it, and why? Our listeners are astounded by how many people allegedly flew into the UK in the first three months of the year - we’re on the story. We look at the performance of the Scottish health system on testing. And some pub-quiz joy involving a pencil.
A listener asks if there can really only be 60 harvests left in Earth's soil. Are we heading for an agricultural Armageddon? Plus we meet the parrots who are the first animals, outside humans and great apes, to be shown to understand probability. (image: Kea parrots in New Zealand)
Risk expert David Spiegelhalter discusses whether re-opening some schools could be dangerous for children or their teachers. We ask what’s behind Germany’s success in containing the number of deaths from Covid-19. Many governments across the world are borrowing huge sums to prop up their economies during this difficult time, but with everyone in the same boat who are they borrowing from? Plus we revisit the UK’s testing figures yet again and meet some statistically savvy parrots.
As lockdowns start to lift, many countries are relying on social distancing to continue to slow the spread of coronavirus. The UK says we should stay 2 metres apart, the World Health Organisation recommends 1 metre, Canada six feet. So where do these different measurements come from? Plus, governments around the world are trying to prop up their economies by borrowing money. But with everyone in the same situation, where are they borrrowing from?
R is one of the most important numbers of the pandemic. But what is it? And how is it estimated? We return to the topic of testing and ask again whether the governments numbers add up. As the government encourages those who can’t work at home to return to their workplaces - we’re relying on social distancing to continue to slow the spread of the virus. But where does the rule that people should stay 2 metres apart come from? And is Vitamin D an under-appreciated weapon in the fight against Covid...more
The question of just how dangerous Covid-19 really is, is absolutely crucial. If a large number of those who are infected go on to die, there could be dreadful consequences if we relaxed the lockdowns that have been imposed across much of the world. If the number is smaller, for many countries the worst might already be behind us. But the frustrating thing is: we’re still not sure. So how can we work this crucial number out?
The Health Minister Matt Hancock promised the UK would carry out 100,000 coronavirus tests a day by the end of April. He claims he succeeded. Did he? The question of just how dangerous the new coronavirus really is, is absolutely crucial. If it’s high, there could be dreadful consequences if we relaxed the lockdowns. So why is the fatality rate so difficult to calculate? Is it true that being obese makes Covid-19 ten times more dangerous? And whatis injuring more kids in lockdown, trampoli...more
With much of the world’s population staying indoors, there are fewer cars on the roads, planes in the skies and workplaces and factories open. Will this have an impact on climate change? Plus as the streets become quieter, is it just us, or have the birds begun to sing much more loudly?
We continue our mission to use numbers to make sense of the world - pandemic or no pandemic. Are doctors from ethnic minority backgrounds disproportionately affected by Covid-19? Was the lockdown the decisive change which caused daily deaths in the UK to start to decrease? With much of the world’s population staying indoors, we ask what impact this might have on climate change and after weeks of staring out of the window at gorgeous April sunshine, does cruel fate now doom us to a rain-drenched ...more
Many articles in the media compare countries with one another - who’s faring better or worse in the fight against coronavirus? But is this helpful - or, in fact, fair? Tim Harford and Ruth Alexander discuss the limitations that we come across when we try to compare the numbers of Covid-19 cases and deaths in different countries; population size, density, rates of testing and how connected the country is all play a role.
John Horton Conway died in April this year at the age of 82 from Covid-19 related complications. An influential figure in mathematics, Conway’s ideas inspired generations of students around the world. We remember the man and his work with mathematician Matt Parker and Conway’s biographer Siobhan Roberts.
We compare Covid-19 rates around the world. Headlines say NHS staff are dying in large numbers, how bad is it? And is it just us, or have the birds started singing really loudly?
Scientific models disagree wildly as to what the course of the coronavirus pandemic might be. With epidemiologists at odds, Tim Harford asks if professional predictors, the superforecasters, can offer a different perspective. (Image: Coronovirus graphic/Getty images)
Do face masks stop you getting coronavirus? You might instinctively think that covering your mouth and nose with cloth must offer protection from Covid-19. And some health authorities around the world say people should make their own masks. But expert opinion is divided. Tim Harford and Ruth Alexander unpick the arguments.
Is the coronavirus related death count misleading because of delays in reporting? Do face masks help prevent the spread of the virus? Was a London park experiencing Glastonbury levels of overcrowding this week? And after reports of condom shortages, we ask whether there’s any evidence that we’re nine months away from a lockdown-induced baby boom. Plus in a break from Covid-19 reporting we ask a Nobel-prize winner how many Earth-like planets there are in existence.
Tim Harford and Ruth Alexander examine the statistics around the world to see if more men are dying as a result of Covid-19, and why different sexes would have different risks. Plus is it true that in the US 40% of hospitalisations were of patients aged between 20 and 50?
This week, we examine criticisms of Imperial College’s epidemiologists. We ask how A-Level and GCSE grades will be allocated, given that the exams have vanished in a puff of social distancing. Adam Kucharski, author of The Rules of Contagion, tells us about the history of epidemiology. We look at the supermarkets: how are their supply chains holding up and how much stockpiling is really going on. And is coronavirus having a different impact on men than on women?
Professor Sir David Spiegelhalter, Chair of the Winton Centre for Risk and Evidence Communication, puts the risks of Covid-19 into perspective. He found that the proportion of people who get infected by coronavirus, who then go on to die increases with age, and the trend matches almost exactly how our background mortality risk also goes up. Catching the disease could be like packing a year’s worth of risk into a couple of weeks. (Mathematician and Risk guru, Professor Sir David Spiegelhalter at...more
We’ve dedicated this special episode to the numbers surrounding the Coronavirus pandemic. Statistical national treasure Professor Sir David Spiegelhalter put the risks of Covid-19 into perspective. We ask whether young people are safe from serious illness, or if statistics from hospitalisations in the US show a high proportion of patients are under 50. We try to understand what the ever-tightening restrictions on businesses and movement mean for the UK’s economy, and we take a look at the myster...more
Last week, while schools and businesses across Europe closed in an attempt to halt the spread of Coronavirus the UK stood alone in a more relaxed approach to the pandemic; letting people choose whether they wanted to go to work, or socially distance themselves. This week, things have changed. Schools are closing for the foreseeable future and exams have been cancelled. The British government says their change of heart was based on the work scientists like Christl Donnelly from Imperial College L...more
Does Iran have a lot more covid-19 cases that its figures suggest?
Every winter its the same, someone will tell you to put a hat on to save your body from losing all of its heat. But how much heat do you actually lose from your head? We take you on a journey from arctic conditions to a hot tub in Canada to explain why there might actually be more than one answer... Presenter: Tim Harford Producer: Leoni Robertson and Lizzy McNeill
Does watching 30 minutes of Netflix have the same carbon footprint as driving four miles?
Dipping into the archive for stories on the art of prediction and wood burner pollution
Artificial Intelligence – or AI for short – is often depicted in films in the shape of helpful droids, all-knowing computers or even malevolent ‘death bots’. In real life, we’re making leaps and bounds in this technology’s capabilities with satnavs, and voice assistants like Alexa and Siri making frequent appearances in our daily lives. So, should we look forward to a future of AI best friends or fear the technology becoming too intelligent. Tim Harford talks to Janelle Shane, author of the book...more
A lot has changed since our last episode covering the numbers behind the coronavirus - for a start it now has a name, Covid-19. This week news has broken that deaths are 20 per cent higher than thought, and the number of cases has increased by a third. Tim Harford talks to Dr Nathalie MacDermott, a clinical lecturer at King’s College London about what we know – and what we still don’t.
Covid-19 stats, spreading jam far and wide, cooking with AI, and James Wong on vegetables
We all know that you should never smile at a crocodile, but rumour has it that alligators are great perambulators – at least that’s what a booklet about Florida’s wildlife claimed. Tim Harford speaks to John Hutchinson, Professor of evolutionary bio-mechanics to see whether he could outrun one of these reportedly rapid retiles. Also – our editor thinks he could outrun a hippo, is he right? (…probably not).
Costing counter-terrorism, interrogating tomatoes, the UK's reading age, politics and GDP
The WHO have declared a ‘Global Health Emergency’ as health officials are urgently trying to contain the spread of a new coronavirus in China and beyond; but not all the information you read is correct. We fact-check a particularly hyperbolic claim about its spread that’s been doing the rounds on social media.
Fact checking claims about coronavirus and whether more guns equal fewer homicides.
Anxiety around sleep is widespread. Many of us feel we don’t get enough. An army of experts has sprung up to help, and this week we test some of the claims from one of the most prominent among them: Professor Matthew Walker. He plays ball and answers some of the criticisms of his bestselling book Why We Sleep.
The list of ways campaigners say we need to change our behaviour in response to climate change seems to grow every week. Now, streaming video is in the frame. We test the claim that watching 30 minutes of Netflix has the same carbon footprint as driving four miles. We hear scepticism about a report that sepsis is responsible for one in five deaths worldwide. Author Bill Bryson stops by with a question about guns – and gets quizzed about a number in his new book. And, how much sleep do we really ...more
The fugitive former Nissan boss, Carlos Ghosn, has raised questions about justice in Japan. The government in Tokyo has defended its system, where 99% of prosecutions lead to conviction. Prof Colin Jones, from Doshisha Law School in Kyoto, explains what's behind this seemingly shocking statistic. And a listener asks if it’s true Canada’s is roughly the same. Toronto lawyer Kim Schofield sets them straight.
Is it possible to calculate the cost of Brexit? Gemma Tetlow from the Institute for Government helps us weigh the arguments. How much does luck play into Liverpool FC's amazing season? And, crucially, how fast is an alligator?
Have a billion animals died in Australia’s fires? And which ones are likely to survive?
Tim Harford on animal deaths in Australia's fires, how many Labour voters went Conservative and are UK carbon emissions really down 40%. Plus: have we really entered a new decade?
How many women in China give birth in hospitals, and whether it was true that 50% of births there are delivered by caesarean section. Oh, and we also mention guts and bacteria… Sharks kill 12 humans a year but humans kill 11,417 sharks an hour. That’s the statistic used in a Facebook meme that’s doing the rounds. Is it true?
We talk about the age of some of the frontrunners in the Democrat nomination race and President Donald Trump and the health risks they face. Also, More or Less listeners were surprised by a claim they read on the BBC website recently: “Pets are estimated to be consuming up to 20 percent of all meat globally.” So we – of course – investigated and will explain all.
We explore the maths secrets of The Simpsons on their 30th anniversary.
As bushfires rage in Australia, the plight of the koala made front-page news around the world. There were warnings that fires wiped out 80% of the marsupial's habitat and that koalas are facing extinction. We check the claims with the help of National Geographic's Natasha Daly and Dr Christine Hosking of the University of Queensland. (A Koala receives treatment at the Koala Hospital in Port Macquarie after its rescue from a bushfire. Credit: Safeed Khan/Getty Images)
Labour's spending plans, Conservatives claims on homelessness, the SNP's education record
The UK General Election is fast approaching, top of the agenda are the political parties green ambitions and one particular initiative is garnering a lot of attention, tree planting. The Labour Party has the most ambitious target – a whopping 2 billion trees planted by 2040. How much land would this take, how does it stack up against other party pledges and what difference will it make? Presenter: Tim Harford Producer: Lizzy McNeill
50,000 nurses? 40 new hospitals? Big corporate tax rises? Childcare promises? Election pledges might sound good, but do they stand up to scrutiny? In the run up to the General Election on 12th December, Tim Harford takes his scalpel of truth to the inflamed appendix of misinformation. Presenter: Tim Harford Producer: Neal Razzell
Have these saucy fruits become less healthy over time?
A listener wrote in asking which is the busiest shipping lane in the world. Ruth Alexander tries to find out with sea traffic analyst and former captain, Amrit Singh and Jean Tournadre, a researcher that uses satellite date to ships. Producer: Darin Graham Editor: Richard Vadon Image: Freighter ships in Thessaloniki, Greece Credit: Getty Images
Evo Morales, Bolivia’s longest-serving leader and first indigenous president, stepped down last week amid weeks of protests sparked by a dispute over a recent presidential election in the country. His opponents say the election was rigged but the embattled former president said it was a cunning coup. We take a closer look at the election results and ask if statistics can tell whether it was fair or fraudulent. Dr Calla Hummel of the University of Miami and Professor Romulo Chumacero of the Univ...more
Two statistics about reducing your risk of an early death made headlines around the world recently. The first seems to be a great reason to add a four-legged friend to your life. It suggests that owning a dog is tied to lowering your chance of dying early by nearly a quarter. The second statistic claims that even a minimal amount of running is linked to reducing your risk of premature death by up to 30%. Ruth Alexander finds out what’s behind these numbers and we hear from epidemiologist, Gide...more
In the United States, some police jurisdictions didn’t send off DNA evidence from people who were raped for testing in a crime lab and for uploading into a national criminal database. Instead, the sets of evidence, known as rape kits, were sat on shelves and in warehouses. It’s estimated that hundreds of thousands need processing. In this edition, Ruth Alexander explores how some jurisdictions are testing the kits now and using the data to catch criminals. Producer: Darin Graham Presenter: R...more
Social worker and economist Edith Abbott and her contribution to crime statistics.
Discussing Esther Duflo, Abhijit Banerjee and Michael Kremer’s economics Nobel Prize.
We explore the numbers behind the new minimum wage announcements, whether drinking is going up or down in Scotland, the truth about squeezing people onto the Isle of Wight and how long one identical twin lives after the other twin dies. You’ll want to hear our special extra episode.
Are the shocking statistics true? and how do you count people who don't wish to be found?
Dissecting the government’s hospitals announcement and President Trump’s Ukraine claims.
Were a third of those that fought for Britain in WW1 black or Asian?
Has Austerity caused 120 thousand deaths in the UK and does God hate men?
Using statistics to compare world records in athletics and swimming.
Health risks for Presidential hopefuls, falling inflation, shark deaths and salary claims
Are eight people a day murdered in Cape Town and is that number unusually high?
Are black women five times more likely to die in childbirth? Plus making pop music.
Has it increased significantly since President Bolsonaro took office in January?
Challenging the idea of six billion deaths due to climate change; plus what pets eat.
Are they really 85 percent worse than last year?
Are forest fires in Brazil the worst in recent times? What is the state pension worth?
Were millions of trees planted in just one day in Ethiopia?
Was your A Level grade correct? Plus were 350m trees planted in one day in Ethiopia?
Re-inserting a caveat and discussing a really cool numbers trick.
Do immigrants commit more crime than native-born Americans in the United States?
With misinformation so easy to spread, how can it be stopped or challenged?
Taking a statistical look at what expectant mothers should avoid.
How medical testing on just men causes problems.
We look at politicians’ claims that sanctions are to blame for Zimbabwe’s difficulties.
On this week’s More or Less, Ruth Alexander looks at the numbers involved with the two world cups that are going on at the moment. Are more men than women watching the Women’s World Cup and how accurate is the Cricket World Cup rule of thumb that suggests if you double the score after 30 overs you get a good estimate of the final innings total? Producer: Richard Vadon Image: Cricket World Cup Trophy 2019 Credit: Getty Images/ Gareth Copley-IDI
We questioned the death count of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster in last week’s More or Less podcast. In the end, Professor Jim Smith of Portsmouth University came up with an estimate of 15,000 deaths. But we wondered how deadly nuclear power is overall when compared to other energy sources? Dr Hannah Ritchie of the University of Oxford joins Charlotte McDonald to explore. Image:Chernobyl nuclear plant, October 1st 1986 Credit: Getty Images
The recent TV miniseries ‘Chernobyl’ has stirred up debate online about the accuracy of its portrayal of the explosion at a nuclear power plant in the former Soviet state of Ukraine. We fact-check the programme and try and explain why it so hard to say how many people will die because of the Chernobyl disaster. Image: Chernobyl nuclear power plant a few weeks after the disaster. Credit: Getty Images
How one woman used statistics to help cope with cancer.
The hidden influences that a make a big difference to the way the world works.
Measuring happiness, university access in Scotland, plus will one in two get cancer?
Does Mount Etna produce more carbon emissions than humans? We check the numbers.
What does it mean to say that the UK is the fifth largest economy in the world?
How collecting data about the dead led the famous nurse to promote better sanitation.
The stats behind making a successful song, plus misunderstanding Victorian court records.
Data visualisation is all the rage, but where does that leave the old-fashioned values of audio? Some data visualisation experts are starting to explore the benefits of turning pictures into sound. Financial Times journalist Alan Smith plays his musical interpretation of a chart depicting the yield-curve of American bonds. Image: Human heart attack, illustration Credit: Science Photo Library
Are deaths from heart disease on the rise? This week the British Heart Foundation had us all stopping mid-biscuit with the news that the number of under 75s dying from cardiovascular disease is going up for the first time in half a century. It sounds like bad news – but is it? Does Huawei contribute £1.7billion to the UK economy? People were sceptical that the Chinese telecom company could contribute such a large amount to the UK economy. We take a deeper look at the number and discuss whethe...more
We revisit some classic topics from past years. We hear which statistics about sex you should trust, and which are less robust. Do men think about sex every seven seconds? Plus, did the arrival of royal baby Princess Charlotte really contribute to the British economy?
Sex Recession This week it was reported that British people are having less sex than they used to. Similar statistics are cropping up elsewhere in the world too. But one US stat seemed particularly stark: the number of young men having no sex at all in the past year has tripled in a decade. But is it true? No coal power for a week There were many reports in the newspapers this week saying the UK has set a new record for the number of consecutive days generating energy without burning any coal....more
*Spoiler-free for Avengers: Endgame* At the end of Avengers: Infinity War film the villain, Thanos, snapped his fingers in the magical infinity gauntlet and disintegrated half of all life across the universe. The Avengers want to reverse the snap but would it better for mankind to live in a world with a population of less than 4 billion? Tim Harford investigates the economics of Thanos with anthropologist Professor Sharon DeWitte and fictionomics blogger Zachary Feinstein PHD. Image: The Aveng...more
Nurse suicide rates There were some worrying figures in the news this week about the number of nurses in England and Wales who died by suicide over the last seven years. We try to work out what the numbers are really telling us. Are 27 million birds killed a year by cats? Newspapers reported this week that 27 million birds are killed by cats each year. We find out how this number - which might not really be "news" - was calculated. How rare are house shares? A listener got in touch to say ...more
Bernie Sanders, a Senator in the United States and one of the front-runners in the campaign to be the Democratic presidential candidate, said on Twitter that it costs $12,000 to have a baby in his country. He compared that figure to Finland, where he said it costs $60. In this edition of More or Less, Tim Harford looks at whether Sanders has got his figures right. With Carol Sakala of US organisation Childbirth Connection and Mika Gissler of the National Institute for Health and Welfare, Finland...more
Was it a surprise that Easter Monday was so hot? A heatwave struck the UK over Easter – and in fact Easter Monday was declared the hottest on record in the UK. But listeners asked - is it that surprising that it was the warmest when the date fell so late in April? We crunch the numbers supplied by the Met Office. Insectageddon Insects live all around us and if a recent scientific review is anything to go by, then they are on the path to extinction. The analysis found that more than 40% of ins...more
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.