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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
602 Episodes
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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 of the first guests invited on to More or Less to talk about the new coronavirus early last year. We revisit what she said then and what we know now. Plus, she tells of her own struggles with Long Covid.
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?
Glasgow vs Rwanda

Glasgow vs Rwanda

2021-02-0628:361

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.
The Rapid Test Row

The Rapid Test Row

2021-01-3028:24

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 social media. We ferret out the truth. Plus, what can venomous snakes tell us about the government's plan to increase the number of people self-isolating?
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 social media. We ferret out the truth. Plus, what can venomous snakes tell us about the government's plan to increase the number of people self-isolating?
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 Harford Producers: Nathan Gower and Chloe Hadjimatheou (Robots work on the MINI car production line at the BMW plant in Cowley, Oxford, UK. Credit: Tolga Akmen/ Getty Images)
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.
Ants and Algorithms

Ants and Algorithms

2021-01-0908:583

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 Rogers, vice president for external affairs at the Royal Statistical Society. Presenter: Tim Harford Producer: Charlotte McDonald
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 Minnesota.
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.
Tracking Covid 19

Tracking Covid 19

2020-11-2809:581

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.
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Comments (27)

Audray Harkins

As ever, David Spiegelhalter twisting statistics to fit his narrative. Claiming we are nowhere near the death tolls of the first wave because he a) claims daily deaths were somehow 40% higher than reported in the first wave (but assuming for some reason current reported deaths aren't), b) claims that new "daily" number is nowhere near the current figures and c) fails to look at weekly figures which are well above the actually reported 1st wave peak and pretty close to that 1st wave peak+40% (they are exactly 35% above the 1st wave peak). Liberally using assumptions that flavour his argument like one might use brown sauce on a bacon butty. And then he gives talks to apparently teach scientists to provide statistical figures in a trustworthy fashion...

Jan 31st
Reply

David Morgan

Best Superman joke ever!

Jan 14th
Reply

A C

hey. my

Dec 8th
Reply

Behzad Tahmouresi

good

Dec 6th
Reply

Top Clean

👍 An interactive dashboard that estimates Covid-19 incidence at gatherings in the U.S. has added a new feature: the ability to calculate county-level risk of attending an event with someone actively infected with Coronavirus (Covid-19). Previously, the dashboard estimated exposure for different size events by state.👍 https://covid19risk.biosci.gatech.edu/

Nov 22nd
Reply

Alex K.

Quick! where can I deposit money at 5%? More like 2% these days, and at that rate it'll take me 36 years to double my money.

Oct 8th
Reply

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 (2)

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
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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
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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
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Michael Jiggens

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

Mar 2nd
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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
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R Knox

excellent podcast, really brings stats to life!

Apr 26th
Reply

Gabriele Gnozza

lettori. .zampata. .stai. ?

Jan 12th
Reply (7)

Gabriele Gnozza

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

Jan 12th
Reply
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