More or Less: Behind the Stats

More or Less: Behind the Stats

United Kingdom

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


Calling the shots at Wimbledon  

Using statistics to prove or disprove the wisdom of tennis is the theme this week. In this digital age we are used to information at our fingertips. This week More or Less finds out how every rally, every shot at this tennis championship is counted and makes its way to our phones, desktops and TV screens. And once you have this information – what can you do with it? Is it useful for players and coaches? Traditionally, players will take a risk on their first chance to serve, and hit the ball as fast as they can, knowing that they have a second chance. On their second attempt, players tend to serve more slowly and carefully to make sure it goes in. But could the statistics show they might as well take a risk again? (Venus Williams plays a backhand during the Ladies Singles first round match against Elise Mertens at Wimbledon. Credit: Getty Images)

Is Steph Curry cheap and how random is random?  

Are top basketball players underpaid? The American basketballer Stephen Curry has just signed the biggest contract in NBA history. The new deal will pay him $200 million over 5 years but amazingly, according to fellow superstar player Lebron James, he’s probably being underpaid. It may sound ridiculous but economists agree. How can this be true? We look at the economics of superstar sports salaries. The mystery of Ryanair’s seat allocation Ryanair carries more international passengers a year than any other airline. The European budget carrier is renowned for its low cost seats. If you want to guarantee seating next to people you book with, you have to pay extra. Otherwise, Ryanair says it will allocate seats randomly. We speak to statistician Dr Jennifer Rogers from the University of Oxford about her doubts over the ‘random’ nature of the seat allocation. Presenter: Charlotte McDonald Producer: Charlotte McDonald and Richard Vadon

In Search of Woodall Primes  

It’s the 100 year centenary of an obscure type of prime number – the Woodall Primes. To celebrate, stand-up mathematician Matt Parker is calling on listeners to search for a new one. Ordinary citizens can already help search for Mersenne Prime numbers by lending computer processing power to GIMPS – the Great Internet Mersenne Prime Search. Matt explains to Tim Harford what a Woodall Prime is, and why it deserves more attention. Also - Making penalty shoot-outs fairer - 60% of penalty shoot-outs are won by the team going first, can this unfairness be overcome? (image Matt Parker / photographer: Steve Ullathorne)

How rare are deadly tower block fires?  

How statistics can help us understand the tragic fire at London’s Grenfell Tower.

Trumpton Extra  

The Voice of 1960s British children’s TV series ‘Trumpton’, Brian Cant, died this week. The More or Less team has visited the town of Trumpton on a number of occasions so we have brought together a handful of our favourites as a tribute.

Post-Election Special  

The results of the general election are in - but what do they mean? Did more young people vote than expected? Have we now got a more diverse parliament? How many extra votes would Jeremy Corbyn have needed to become Prime Minister - these are just some of the claims and questions that have been floating around on social media and in the press. Tim Harford and the team are going to analyse, add context and try and find answers.

WS More or Less: Are African football players more likely to die on the field?  

Cheick Tiote, the much loved former Newcastle United player collapsed and died while training with Chinese side Beijing Enterprises earlier this month. His death and that of other black footballers have caused some commentators to ask – are African or black players more likely to die while playing than other people? The data of footballers deaths is pretty poor but we try to glean some answers from the scant numbers available. It look like one of the most common causes of death among players on the pitch is cardiac arrest – son is this is a greater risk factor for people of African heritage? We speak to statistician Dr Robert Mastrodomenico and Professor Sanjay Sharma, a specialist in sports cardiology. Presented and produced by Jordan Dunbar and Charlotte McDonald

UK Election extra  

This podcast is a compilation of interviews by the More or Less team with Eddie Mair from Radio 4’s PM programme. Each interview features a different claim or hotly discussed topic from the UK general election campaign: from school funding, to numbers of armed police officers.

WS More or Less: Samba, strings and the story of HIV  

Trumpets are blasting in this week’s musical episode. But can medical statistics be transformed into a jazzy night out? That was the challenge which epidemiologist Elizabeth Pisani set for composer Tony Haynes. This June, his Grand Union Orchestra will be performing Song of Contagion, an evening of steel pans, saxophones and singers telling the story of diseases including Zika and AIDs. We met Elizabeth and Tony in an East London music studio, to hear Song of Contagion come together for the very first time. Producer: Hannah Sander (Photo: Detail close up of French Horn musical instrument, part of the Brass family of instruments. Credit: Shutterstock)

Election Special: Tax, borders and climate  

On this final programme of the series we try to give some context to some of the issues that are being discussed during the current election campaign. Who pays tax? What proportion of adults are paying income tax? How much are they paying? Where does the highest burden lay? We take a look. Also, we look at the different political parties’ tax policies. This includes corporation tax, but what about National Insurance? How do you cut migration? The Conservative manifesto again includes the aim to lower net migration to tens of thousands. How has this aim fared in the last six years? And what could the Conservatives do in future years to achieve their goal? We also take a look at what impact that might have on the economy. Taking the nations’ temperature Summer has arrived – but we cast our minds to the chilly months ahead and think about the Winter Fuel Payment. The Conservatives are proposing to change this to a means-tested system – everywhere except Scotland. Is this because Scotland is colder than the rest of the UK? BBC Weather Man Phil Avery has the answer. Free School Meals It’s been a popular topic in party manifestos - free school meals. Jamie Oliver thinks school dinners are essential for fighting obesity – but is there really a case to be made for the health benefits of a school lunch? Emily Tanner from the National Centre for Social Research puts the case for and against Universal Free School Meals – while munching a pie and a packed lunch.

WS More or Less: Have 65% of future jobs not yet been invented?  

Our entire education system is faulty, claim experts. They worry that schools don’t prepare kids for the world outside. But how could anyone prove what the future will be like? We set off on a round-the-world sleuthing trip to trace a statistic that has been causing headaches for students, teachers and politicians alike. Helping us on our quest are educators Cathy Davidson, Daisy Christodoulou and Andrew Old – plus a little bit of Blade Runner and a lot data-wrangling. Producer: Hannah Sander (Photo: Classmates taking part in peer learning. Credit: Shutterstock)

Spies, care homes, and ending sneak peaks  

Can security services follow everyone known to them? The attack on Manchester Arena took place exactly four years since the killing of Drummer Lee Rigby in Woolwich. Back in 2013 we broadcast an interview with the former Head of MI5, Dame Stella Rimmington, about the difficulties of monitoring people who have been flagged up to the services. We are re-visiting that interview. Chances of ending up in a care home There are around 11.6 million people over the age of 65 in the UK, but how many need social care services? A listener got in chances to say that he was 72 - what are the chances that he will need social care services in his lifetime? We look at the numbers of people in both residential care and receiving formal care services in the home currently. Penalty shoot outs update A few weeks ago we explained UEFA's new procedure for carrying out penalty shoot outs. We bring news of how that system is playing out, and how a loyal listener has spotted a famous pattern in Blur's song, 'Girls and Boys'. Stop sneak peak access For years statisticians have been calling for an end to the practice of allowing ministers and officials to see official numbers before everyone else. Why does it matter? We tell the strange tale exploring whether economic data is leaked to City traders before its official publication. Could pre-release access to Government statistics be behind strange movements on financial markets? With help from Mike Bird of the Wall Street Journal, and Alex Kurov of the University of West Virginia, we take a look at the evidence. Also - a tribute to Sir Roger Moore.

WS More or Less: Uganda’s refugees  

Has Uganda been accepting more refugees on a daily basis than some European countries manage in an entire year? That is the claim from the Norwegian Refugee Council – and it is a claim we put to the test. Civil war and famine in South Sudan have forced millions to leave their homes, and this has had a colossal impact on neighbouring Uganda. We speak to Gopolang Makou, a researcher at Africa Check who has some startling figures to share. (Photo: Children wait as WFP, 'World Food Programme' prepare to deliver food aid at the Bidi Bidi refugee camp Credit: Dan Kitwood/Getty Images)

Tax, speed dating and sea ice  

Exploring the Labour manifesto's tax plans for high earners.

WS More or Less: Is my Baby a Giant?  

All over the world mothers are given numbers as their baby grows. The numbers are from ‘growth charts’ showing how a baby is developing in comparison to others. Seven month old Baby Arlo has particularly big numbers, so much so that his parents are worried he’s one of the biggest babies in America. But where do these numbers come from? Is it an average? Why do they measure a baby’s head? Reporter Jordan Dunbar sets out to find out how we get these baby numbers and just how big Baby Arlo is. Presenter: Tim Harford and Jordan Dunbar Producer: Charlotte McDonald and Jordan Dunbar

Nurses' pay, Scottish seats, Penalty shootouts  

What is happening to nurses pay? Amid reports of nurses using food banks, Jeremy Hunt said he doesn’t recognise claims their wages are worth less now than in 2010. He says nurses are actually paid £31,000 - more than the average person. If he’s right, why do so many nurses say they’re earning much less than that? The Great Scottish Election Conspiracy The reporting of the Scottish council elections has caused a bit of a stir. Did the SNP lose seven seats or gain six. The media including the BBC reported that they had lost seats, the many SNP supporters are sure that this isn’t a fair representation of their performance. This all hinges on how you look at the results last time around and how you account for the major boundary review that took place between elections. Tim tries to get to the bottom of what has happened with Professor David Denver from Lancaster University. Penalty shootout maths What do coffee, stew and nerve-biting football finales have in common? Maths whizz and football aficionado Rob Eastaway explains all. UEFA, European football’s governing body, is currently trialling a new system for penalty shootouts. But what is the maths behind the new system – and could a century-old Scandinavian mathematical sequence offer a better approach? Presenter: Tim Harford Producer: Charlotte McDonald

WS More or Less: An urban maze  

Why some parts of town are hard to navigate.

Is Crime Rising?  

It looks like homicides are on the rise - but better check the footnotes

WS More or Less: The Maths of Dating  

How to use mathematics to find your partner. And, how reliable are pregnancy due dates?

Fact-checking Boris Johnson  

Giant bombs, a war hero and the foreign secretary's stats.

Video player is in betaClose