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OU on the BBC: More or Less - About the Series

Updated Monday, 10th January 2005

Find out about the BBC/OU's More or Less series, devoted to the powerful, sometimes beautiful, often abused but ever ubiquitous world of numbers.

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This archive page is about the previous series of More or Less and is no longer updated - follow the link to find out more about the current series of More or Less.

More or Less was an idea born of the sense that numbers were the principal language of public argument. And yet there were few places where it was thought necessary to step back and think - in the way we often step back to think about language - about the way we use figures: what they really measure, what kind of truth, if any, they capture.

Yet no politician, no economist, and in recent years no doctor, teacher, chief constable or any number of others, has been able to make a case or answer one without regaling you with numbers. Open the pages of any newspaper and you will see risks of this, targets for that, new spending and new cuts, arguments about productivity, performance indicators, measurements, statistics and quantification of every kind.

And so was born More or Less, initially with six programmes on BBC Radio 4 and now a permanent part of the schedule with two series annually, one in the summer, one in winter. Since January 2005 it has been produced in association with the Open University.

In past series, we’ve tackled everything from the man who couldn’t walk without numbers to the extent of bad behaviour caused by nursery care; from cancer clusters by way of tossing coins to the real health risks faced by women drinkers; from the many ways that statistics can show us how our instincts are often wrong to arguments about whether maths could explain some aspects of evolution better than Darwinism.

We’ve looked at the poor image of maths students, the development of models of avalanches using a deluge of ping pong balls down an Olympic ski jump, the oddities of government targets for waste collection, how many fish there are in the North Sea, you name it, we've done it. Then, of course, there are the big political arguments about pensions, the budget, the economy, measuring poverty, school league tables… a vast array of stories, issues and ideas.

We like to think that More or Less has no particular subject. Rather it touches on every subject, with the same calm authority. We all use numbers in so many ways to argue about, understand, help make sense of the world around us. More or Lesshopes to make that task easier, more entertaining, more surprising.

More or Less can be heard on BBC Radio 4 on Fridays at 4.30, and again on Sundays at 8.00 when it is on air. You can also listen again through iPlayer , or through the programme's archive page . Each edition is also podcast .

The series is presented by Tim Harford, FT columnist and author of the best-selling Undercover Economist.





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