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More or Less: Winter 2016

Tim Harford presents BBC Radio 4's surprising and refreshing guide to statistics in the news.

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Bar chart made of beans Copyrighted image Icon Copyright: © Doreen Salcher | Dreamstime.com
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.

More Or Less is on BBC Radio 4 on Fridays at 4.30pm, with a repeat on Sundays at 8.00pm; on iPlayer; by podcast - or dip into the archive.

Alcohol, sepsis and gender balance

Wine Creative commons image Icon Through the Lens of Kimberly Gauthier under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 licence under Creative-Commons license Tim Harford and the team explain - and sometimes debunk - the numbers and statistics used in political debate, the news and everyday life.

On this week's episode:

  • New alcohol guidelines were issued recently which lowered the number of units it recommends for safe drinking. But what evidence was used to justify these recommendations? We speak to Professor David Speigelhalter to find out more.
  • 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.
  • Tim Harford interviews Dan Bouk about his new book ‘How our days became numbered’ – looking at how data from insurance company has shaped knowledge about our lives.
  •  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.

Listen to More or Less

Tune in to BBC Radio 4 on Friday 29 January at 16:30 to listen to this week's programme, or catch up with the repeat at 20:00 Sunday 31 January. You can also download the podcast for extended interviews and bonus content. More information and a link to listen again later will be available from the BBC's More or Less pages.

Episodes in this series

Episode Description
Flooding, tweets and Christmas Eve traffic More or Less investigates flooding, the total number of possible tweets that could be created from 140 characters and... Read more
NHS, alcohol, election polls and general relativity More or Less investigates NHS weekend statistics, premium bonds, alcohol-related accidents, why the election polls... Read more
Wealth, maths, primes and oil More or Less investigates the inequality of wealth, maths for children, whether British Muslim women speak English,... Read more
Alcohol, sepsis and gender balance More or Less investigates the new alcohol guidelines, sepsis deaths, insurance, and gender imbalances. Read more