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More or Less: Behind the Stats
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More or Less: Behind the Stats

Author: BBC Radio 4

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Tim Harford and the More or Less team try to make sense of the statistics which surround us. From BBC Radio 4
550 Episodes
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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-19?
Covid-19 fatality rate

Covid-19 fatality rate

2020-05-0927:551

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, trampolines or Joe Wicks’ exercises?
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 summer? Plus, crime is down, boasts the home secretary Priti Patel. Should we be impressed?
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?
The Risk

The Risk

2020-03-2827:517

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 the University of Cambridge. Credit: In Pictures Ltd./Corbis via Getty Images)
Coronavirus Special

Coronavirus Special

2020-03-2527:525

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 mystery of coronavirus numbers in Iran. Presenter: Tim Harford
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 London and the University of Oxford. So what has Christl found that has caused such concern? (Image: A lollipop lady helps children cross the road in Glasgow. Credit: EPA/Robert Perry)
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Comments (20)

Nahed abu-asbeh

Thank u for the info. I have a question: is it possible to to wash the medical mast and reuse it?

Apr 15th
Reply (1)

Andy Jones

Why do you keep repeating segments? Annoying starting an episode only to listen to what I have already heard in the previous cast.

Mar 29th
Reply (1)

stephen murray

do the salaries comparisons allow for cash payments? and wouldn't HMRC be a better source of data than ONS for "official" incomes?

Sep 21st
Reply

Owen Thurgate

Well, I have to say the research on this one wasn't really up to the usual More or Less high standards. Speaking as a professional forester I can safely say a novice planter could easily plant 300 seedlings in a day and a motivated experienced person would comfortably reach a 1000. Additionally, seedling trees from a nursery cost a matter of cents/pence per tree a far cry from the costs you quoted. Together these figures make the project entirely feasible, requiring only 700,000 people to plant 500 trees each or 1.4 million to plant 250 trees each, not far of the rate for a novice. The costs for that number of two year old seedlings in the UK probably in the region of £55m, possibly less in Eithiopia.

Aug 27th
Reply

Hans Dampf

"Nucular"? Really?

Jul 7th
Reply

Martin Crook

glad to hear that the scientist is an advocate of the nonlinear Theory model of radiation risk. something the nuclear industry has been lobbying hard to discredit

Jun 22nd
Reply

Michael Jiggens

No need to worry then, let's just get fat and ill.

Mar 2nd
Reply

Michael Jiggens

Ah good, no need to worry then... Let's just carry on as we are, business as usual. It's difficult to convey sarcasm in the comments section, but I tried.

Mar 2nd
Reply

Adam Borwne

tried searching for Economics with Subtitles on castbox but it returned no results. anyone know if it's going to be added?

Aug 29th
Reply

Ilona Pinter

could you look at the stats on undocumented migrants in the UK? as far as I know there are only estimates at the moment (eg LSE study, compas research) but no official statistics. it's unclear what stats the government relies on this. they don't accept the estimates but don't seem to offer any alternatives.

Jun 22nd
Reply

R Knox

excellent podcast, really brings stats to life!

Apr 26th
Reply

Gabriele Gnozza

lettori. .zampata. .stai. ?

Jan 12th
Reply (5)

Gabriele Gnozza

Non uso matrimonio le. ..docce. cielo. .l'allarme. ?maniche x che Ciao. Rino nell'opinione

Jan 12th
Reply
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