The Thought Show

The Thought Show

United Kingdom

A look at the numbers behind the news; the true story about what’s making a buzz on social media and a compact guide to the way we live.


Algorithms, Crime and Punishment  

A drive-by shooting in the US midwest has raised questions about how algorithms are being used in the country's criminal justice system. A defendant in the case was jailed after an algorithm used by the court calculated that he was at high risk of reoffending. The risk assessment algorithm is supposed to make decisions less subjective, but one recent analysis found that the algorithm was biased against black people. In Iran, social media users found novel ways to support the national football team when a match fell on a day of public mourning and the country’s religious leaders banned cheering and said only religious chanting would be tolerated. Also, how US prison inmates are arranging a nationwide prison strike from their cells, using banned social media. And why do we write farewell letters? Whether it's messages from the living to the dying or from the dying to the living, how can we find the words to say goodbye? (Photo: A guard walking down a cell block. Credit: Getty Images)

Sustainable Development Goals – Are there Just too Many?  

It is now a year since the UN set its new Sustainable Development Goals to try to make the world a better place. They include 17 goals and no fewer than 169 targets on subjects like disease, education and governance. But some people, such as Bjorn Lomborg, say that they are too broad and too numerous to achieve anything, if left as they are. There is another chance to hear a special report on the trade in viral video clips. Plus, why do we feel so many different and intense emotions when someone close to us dies? Whether it is yearning, sadness, anger or even shame, Mike Williams explores why each person’s grief is unique when they lose a loved one. (Photo: A teacher writes on a blackboard during a class in Kenya. Credit: Getty Images)

Who Won the US Presidential Debate?  

Polling on the first TV debate between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump appears to be divided over who won it. But not all polls are equal: when internet polls can be hijacked by online activists, they can throw up some strange results. Controversy has erupted in the US over a hip hop song that offers a step-by-step guide to committing burglary and contains lyrics suggesting criminals target Chinese homes. We talk to one of the protesters who is trying to get the track banned. In a few countries, terminally-ill people — suffering pain and distress — are allowed to get help from friends, family and physicians to bring their lives to an end. In many countries, it’s a crime. Mike Williams explores the sensitive issues at stake on both sides of the argument. (Photo: Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton first presidential debate. Credit: Getty Images)

Trump’s Crime Claims  

Donald Trump has claimed that there are some inner city areas in the US which are suffering from the worst crime rates ever. They are so dangerous, he says, that Afghanistan is safer. But could this be true and can you compare the two? A viral Justin Bieber parody is highlighting problems with prescription painkiller addiction in the United States. Z Dogg MD is a real doctor who uses a rap alter ego to discuss medical issues, and his new song has received over a million hits at a time when congress is debating whether to invest in new treatment programmes. And why are we so fascinated with the superheroes which emerged from 20th century comic books and populate our cinema screens in multi-million dollar blockbusters? Mike Williams investigates. (Image: Chicago - Neighbourhood residents watch as police investigate a homicide scene. Credit: Scott Olson/Getty Images)

The Cost of A Wedding Gift  

Can economics help us work out the perfect amount to spend on a wedding gift? Economist Maria Kozlovskaya has advice on the factors we need to consider. Also, when Hillary Clinton almost collapsed at a 9/11 memorial, conspiracy theorists went into overdrive, falsely claiming the presidential candidate was using a body double to avoid questions about her health. The lookalike in question tells her side of the story. And why do some games, hobbies and activities – like Pokemon Go - become crazes while others do not? Is there a secret formula? (Photo: Several gifts wrapped and on a table. Credit: Jayme Burrows/Shutterstock)

Drug deaths in the Philippines  

How many people have died in the Philippines since the Government encouraged the police to clampdown on the illegal drug trade? The new President, Rodrigo Duterte, went as far as saying that citizens could shoot and kill drug dealers who resisted arrest. The press have reported that many thousands are the victims of extra-judicial killings but exactly how high is the death toll likely to be? Sightings of suspicious clowns have left a US community in fear. Is the town the victim of a viral elaborate prank, or witnessing an outbreak of mass hysteria? And why do we find certain types of voices or accents annoying ? Does that irritation reveal more about the speaker or about our own biases and prejudices and are irritating voices the same the world over? (Image: A Filipino human rights advocate holds a placard as he joins a demonstration in front of the Philippine National Police (PNP) headquarters, protesting the number of deaths related to government's war against illegal drugs. Credit: European Photopress Agency)

Menstrual Syncing  

It is a commonly held belief that if women spend enough time together, their bodies start to communicate through chemical signals, known as pheromones. Eventually the women’s bodies will start to menstruate at the same time. But where does this idea come from? And is it really true? Happy couples in Shanghai have been rushing to get divorced because of rumours of a rule change that would make it more expensive for them to buy property. And what makes one voice trustworthy and another not? Mike Williams hears from a voice coach about how we can adapt our voices to persuade or deceive. (Photo: Two women. Credit: Eugenio Marongiu/Shutterstock)

Death Penalty abolition  

Statistics suggest that officially about half of the countries in the world have abolished Capital Punishment, and a further 52 have stopped its use in practice. But we tell the story behind the numbers and show why the picture is more complicated. We speak to Parvais Jabbar, co-director of the Death Penalty Project. Also in the programme, we delve into the world of viral video trading, speaking to the people who acquire and sell viral footage – some of it entertaining, some of it tragic – as well as the news organisations (the BBC included) that buy it. And what does it mean to be an introvert? Anu Anand explores the growing movement which is challenging a seeming bias in favour of the extrovert – for the person who talks first in meetings and makes off-the-cuff remarks and who may shout the loudest to get their ideas heard. (Photo: Handcuffed hands of a prisoner behind the bars of a prison. Credit: View Apart via Shutterstock)

Counting Terror Deaths  

With high profile attacks in Brussels, Nice and Munich, you might think that 2016 has been a particularly bad year for terrorism in Europe. But what happens when you put the numbers in historical context and compare them with figures for the rest of the world? Also in the programme, it’s not common for Olympic athletes to discuss their menstrual cycle live on TV. But that’s what happened when Chinese swimmer Fu Yuanhui admitted she wasn’t at her best because of period pains. It’s opened up a whole new conversation about tampons in China - a country where some have never even heard of them. Also, why do we love to watch and follow pets on social media? Mike Williams meets the cat at the top of the viral video tree, ‘Grumpy Cat’. (Photo: A man wrapped in a Belgian flag holds a candle as people gather at a makeshift memorial on Place de la Bourse two days after a triple bomb attack hit. Credit: Philippe Huguen/AFP/Getty Images)

Swimming World Records  

World Records are being set at a much faster rate in swimming than in other sports. At the Rio Olympics, British swimmer Adam Peaty managed to break the men's 100m breaststroke world record twice in two days. Tim Harford speaks to swimming coach, Rick Madge, about the reasons swimmers keep getting better results in the pool. Also in the programme, photos of an overcrowded jail in the Philippines – taken by photographer Noel Celis – have gone viral. But remarkably some prisoners told him they felt ‘lucky’ to be there. They say many have met with a much worse fate as the new president Rodrigo Duterte cracks down on the country’s illegal drug trade. And, why do we still fear animals that pose no serious threat to us and how can the effect of that irrational fear be so overpowering? Mike Williams discovers the answers lie deep in our evolutionary past. (Photo: Britain's Adam Peaty swimming, credit: Reuters)

Predicting Olympic Medals  

How can we use statistics to predict how many medals each nation will win? Dr Julia Bredtmann, an economist at the RWI Leibniz Institute for Economic Research, explains the different factors you have to consider to predict Olympic success. The British-American porn star Candy Charms has become the talk of social media in Iran because she travelled to the Islamic republic to get a nose job. Her story has put the spotlight on Iran as a top destination for rhinoplasty and it has re-ignited a campaign to save the Iranian nose. Also, do we live in a post factual age where messages of fear dominate? Mike Williams investigates the “Backfire Effect” which means that entrenched views can become more entrenched – when confronted by contradictory facts. (Photo: Lagoa Stadium - Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Credit: Reuters)

Odd Socks and Algorithms  

Brian Christian, co-author of ‘Algorithms to Live by: The Computer Science of Human Decisions’, argues that the techniques of computer science can help us manage everyday situations in a more logical and efficient manner. So which algorithm can help solve the problem of odd socks? Tim Harford investigates. Also, photoshopped images of Mark Zuckerberg, Narendra Modi and several Bollywood stars - all wounded by pellet guns - are trending in Kashmir. They are part of a campaign to raise awareness about unrest in the region, which also claims Facebook is censoring posts about the story. And why do we love driving? Mike Williams asks if we would miss driving ourselves, as auto-piloted cars are tested in cities around the world. (Photo: Socks. Credit: Angela N Perryman via Shutterstock)

Ireland’s Shock GDP figures  

Official figures showing that Ireland’s economy grew by 26% in 2015 would make it the fastest growing economy in the world. But American economist Paul Krugman says this is “leprechaun economics” as this growth rate is so unrealistically high. Also in the programme, online streaming services like Periscope and Facebook Live were used to show what was happening during the attempted coup in Turkey and are even being credited with changing the course of events. And why are men more violent than women, committing 90 per cent of murders across the world and being more likely to join a gang? Caroline Bayley reports. (Photo: Riverpoint buildings and Shannon bridge in Limerick, Ireland. Credit: Shutterstock; Luis Santos)

Police shootings in the United States  

Journalists in the United States are doing the counting for the number of people killed each year by the police, as official figures are incomplete or non-existent. Tim Harford reports and asks why black people are disproportionately killed. Also, the anti-vaccination movement that appears to be gaining ground in India, and why we seem to be getting smarter with every passing decade. Mike Williams reports on the Flynn Effect, which measures rising IQ scores across the globe. (Photo: Police officers stand guard at a barricade following the sniper shooting in Dallas. Credit: AFP/Getty Images)

How long should we sleep  

It’s often said that we should all be aiming to get eight hours of sleep a night. But could it actually lead you to an early grave? Research shows that sleeping for much longer, or shorter, than the average seven hours is associated with an increased risk of disease and mortality. Also on the programme, the new Snapchat subculture where millions of people tune in to gory live videos of plastic surgery operations. It’s raised questions about how young women are being advertised to on the app. And as digital news threatens traditional newspapers around the world, why do they survive and what is their future? (Photo: Man asleep in a bed. Credit: Corbis)

Ranking Iceland’s Football Team; Social media movements inspired by the UK’s vote to leave the EU; Why we love Cycling  

Is Iceland the best football team in the world per capita? England suffered a 2-1 defeat to Iceland in the European Football Championship in France. This was embarrassing for England whose population is 163 times bigger than Iceland’s. We take a look at whether Iceland is now the best performing football team in the world if you compare UEFA ranking to the size of each country’s population. Many media outlets have reported that it was predominantly the older generations in the UK who voted to ‘Leave’ the EU in the recent referendum, while those under 25 were keenest to ‘Remain’. It has prompted many people to ask whether a referendum on this topic might yield a different result if held in a few years’ time as the electorate changes. The More Or Less team attempts some back of the envelope calculations but asks how good is the data available. First came #Brexit, could #Frexit, #Ausexit or #Texit follow? The social media movements which have been inspired by Britain voting to leave the European Union are explained. And less than an hour after a terror attack in Istanbul, why did Turkey's government ban Facebook and Twitter? BBC Trending reports. The bicycle - and cycling - started out as somewhat of a faddish leisure pursuit, largely the preserve of middle-aged and wealthy men. Yet it quickly became the world’s most popular means of transport and remains so to this day. Mike Williams explores its history and role in society for the Why Factor. (Photo: England v Iceland, EURO 2016, Nice, France. Credit: Reuters)

Brexit Economics; Viral videos and US murder rates;  Attraction  

Following a referendum, the UK has voted to leave the European Union. What might that mean for the UK’s economy, especially for trade? Tim Harford examines the economic forecasts from the government, and how the UK might manage its relationships with other countries for More Or Less. Why have murder rates spiked in several US cities? The head of the FBI, James Comey, has asked whether police are holding back from their work through fear of being filmed on camera phones and going viral on YouTube. The theory has been dubbed the ‘Viral Video Effect’, or the ‘Ferguson Effect’ after the city that witnessed unrest after a black teenager was killed by a white police officer. BBC Trending reports. Why are we attracted to some people and to not others? Beauty, facial symmetry, personality and values all play a role in our attraction to others. Evolution biologist Dr Anna Machin from Oxford University explains the science behind our feelings. Mike Williams presents the Why Factor. (Photo: A pay-per-view binocular with the British and European Union flags. Credit: Sean Gallup/Getty Images)

When Companies Track Your Life; Tipsters on Trial; Loneliness  

How are companies using our personal data? Online retailers track us so they can sell us things, our banks and credit card companies know all about us and the big computer and telecoms companies could track our internet searches, our phone calls , and even our location. But this isn’t the first time companies have gathered sensitive data about their customers. More Or Less tells the shadowy story of how the personal details of Americans were pooled among insurance companies more than a hundred years ago. Will you be betting on Euro 2016? Most people will probably rely on national allegiances if they decide to gamble, but thousands of social media users, particularly in Britain, are now taking advice from strangers on where to place their money. A new breed of tipster on Twitter and Facebook offer free advice but many are actually in league with the bookies. They’re paid around 30% of all the money their followers lose. So how much faith should people have in these new gambling gurus? Kate Lamble reports for BBC Trending. What is loneliness and why do we feel it? Why do some people feel lonely when surrounded by people and others never feel lonely at all. Studies of twins in Holland have shown that loneliness has a hereditary element. And it can be catching, too. In the Why Factor, Mike Williams speaks to the Chinese artist Li Tianbing about how growing up under China’s one child policy shaped his art and to a Swedish entrepreneur who invited eleven people to come and live with her to combat her loneliness. (Photo: A police CCTV camera observes a woman walking. Credit: Leon Neal/AFP/Getty Images)

Sexist Data Crisis; Trading Medicine in Venezuela; Copying Art  

Are countries around the world failing to collect adequate details about their female citizens? Campaigners have argued we are missing data in areas that would help us understand women’s lives better, for example land and inheritance rights. Women’s work can also be overlooked in labour surveys, More Or Less reports. Patients in Venezuela are resorting to social media to source vital medical supplies. If the government declared a state of emergency, international aid agencies could provide fresh supplies, but the government says the situation is manageable. And why people are putting their names in parenthesis on Twitter. BBC Trending hears how a campaign led by anti-Semitic trolls turned into an act of defiance, as both Jewish and non-Jewish people try to reclaim the racist symbol. And why do people try to create old masters and modern art, brush stroke by brush stroke? Why do people buy them? Mike Williams talks to art copier David Henty, gallery owner Philip Mould and Paul Dong a Beijing based art auctioneer, among others, for the Why Factor. (Photo: A woman works in a corn field, near Bouake, central Ivory Coast. Credit: Issouf Sanogo/Getty Images)

HIV in Africa; Hate Speech; Safe Space  

The news aggregation website Zimbabwe Today recently ran a headline stating that 74% of African girls aged 15-24 are HIV positive. Although the statistic is not true, Mary Mahy from UNAIDS reveals that young women do have a higher infection rate than young men. And Kyle Evans, a folk singing mathematician, performs his competition entry for the international Cheltenham Science festival in England in the studio for More Or Less. The hashtag 'I stand with hate speech' has been trending in several countries, causing outrage as tens of thousands of people appeared to support online abuse. But the hashtag’s supporters claim they’re simply taking a stand for freedom of expression on the internet. BBC Trending also meets some of the Pakistani women who've been reacting to a recent suggestion that men in the country should be allowed to beat their wives, as long as it's done ‘lightly’. The university experience is expected to train the minds of students by exposing them to new ideas and challenging their assumptions. Why then, in the English speaking west at least, are some students rebelling against this principle by insisting there are some ideas which are so abhorrent they should not be heard? To them a university should be a safe space. In the Why Factor, Mike Williams tries to discover where the balance lies between freedom of speech and protection from offence. (Photo: HIV test in Africa. Credit: Polepole-tochan/Getty Images)

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