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More or Less: Behind the Stats

More or Less: Behind the Stats

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

WSMoreOrLess: Can we trust food surveys? 2016/03/11, 23:00
WSMoreOrLess: Can we trust food surveys?

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

WSMoreOrLess: Fact checking The Big Short 2016/03/04, 23:00
WSMoreOrLess: Fact checking The Big Short

"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.<br><br><br><br>The debate over whether the UK should leave the European Union is heating up ahead of the referendum this summer. Many politicians have said that the UK is the fifth largest economy in the world – is that a fair assessment? We look at the GDP figures.<br><br><br><br>(Image: Brad Pitt attends the premiere of "The Big Short" in New York 2015. Credit: Dimitrios Kambouris/Getty Images)

WSMoreOrLess: Antibiotics and the problem of the broken market 2016/02/26, 23:00
WSMoreOrLess: Antibiotics and the problem of the broken market

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.<br><br>(Image: Computer artwork of bacteria - credit: Science Photo Library)

WSMoreOrLess: When £10,000 isn’t a good incentive 2016/02/19, 23:00
WSMoreOrLess: When £10,000 isn’t a good incentive

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

WSMoreOrLess: Fishy numbers? 2016/02/15, 14:00
WSMoreOrLess: Fishy numbers?

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.

Selfies, sugar daddies and dodgy surveys 2016/02/12, 20:33
Selfies, sugar daddies and dodgy surveys

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. <br><br><br><br>The second piece of questionable research comes from reports that a quarter of a million UK students are getting money from 'sugar daddies' they met online. The story came from a sugar daddy website. They claim around 225,000 students have registered with them and have met (mostly) men for what they call "mutually beneficial arrangements". We explain our doubts over the figures. <br><br><br><br>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. <br><br><br><br>Away from advertising, studies have shown that children born in the summer do not perform as well as children born earlier in the academic year. For this reason schools are being encouraged to be sympathetic to parents that want their summer-born children to start a year later. But what should parents do? Is this a good option? We speak to Claire Crawford, Assistant Professor of Economics at the University. <br><br><br><br>Gemma Tetlow from the Institute for Fiscal Studies explains how some areas of public spending having fallen to similar levels seen in 1948. She explains how spending has changed over time, and what might happen in the future. <br><br><br><br>And friend of the programme, Kevin McConway, explains some of the statistical words that non-statisticians do not understand.

WSMoreOrLess: Do e-cigarettes really harm your chances of quitting smoking? 2016/02/08, 14:00
WSMoreOrLess: Do e-cigarettes really harm your chances of quitting smoking?

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.<br><br><br><br>(Image: Man smoking e-cigarette. Credit: Dan Kitwood/Getty Images)

E-cigarettes: Can They Help People Quit? 2016/02/05, 19:33
E-cigarettes: Can They Help People Quit?

Do e-cigarettes make quitting smoking more difficult? <br><br>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. <br><br><br><br>A campaign of dodgy statistics <br><br><br><br>Are American presidential hopefuls getting away with statistical murder? We speak to Angie Drobnic, Editor of the US fact-checking website Politifact, about the numbers politicians are using - which are not just misleading, but wrong. <br><br><br><br>Will missing a week of school affect your GCSE results? <br><br><br><br>Recently education minister Nick Gibb said that missing a week of school could affect a pupil's GCSE grades by a quarter. We examine the evidence and explore one of the first rules of More or Less – 'correlation is not causation'. We interview Stephen Gorard, Professor of Education at Durham University. <br><br><br><br>What are the chances that a father and two of his children share the same birthday? <br><br><br><br>A loyal listener got in touch to find out how rare an occurrence this is. Professor David Spiegelhalter from the University of Cambridge explains the probabilities involved.<br><br><br><br>Presenter: Tim Harford <br><br>Producer: Charlotte McDonald

Swedish refugees 2016/02/01, 14:00
Swedish refugees

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.

How harmful is alcohol? 2016/01/29, 19:00
How harmful is alcohol?

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 <br><br><br><br>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. <br><br><br><br>Dan Bouk tells the story of a statistician who crept around graveyards in South Carolina at the turn of the century recording how long people lived - all to help out an insurance firm. <br><br>It's from his book 'How our days became numbered' – looking at how data from insurance company has shaped knowledge about our lives. <br><br><br><br>Have refugees caused a gender imbalance in Sweden or is there something funny going on? It has been reported that there are 123 boys for every 100 girls aged between 16 and 17 in Sweden. In China, the ratio is 117 boys to 100 girls. We explore if the numbers add up and why this might be. <br><br><br><br>Presenter: Tim Harford <br><br>Producer: Charlotte McDonald