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.


Post UK Election Special, Quilting Wars, Exams – the Best Test?  

The results of the UK general election are in – but what do they mean? Did more young people vote than expected? How many extra votes would the Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn have needed to become Prime Minister? Would planned boundary changes have made a difference? Tim Harford and team give the latest analysis. Quilting – it’s an innocent-sounding traditional art, and one with a rich social and political history. But it’s not immune to America’s fractious political climate, as a conflict has erupted online amongst those within the quilting world. And all over the world this summer young people are sitting exams which will have a big impact on their future. However, is this one-size-fits-all approach to assessment really a good judge of ability and understanding? Or do exam results only tell us about a candidate’s ability to memorise material and perform under stressful exam conditions? Caroline Bayley investigates. (Image: young voters arriving at a polling station in Glasgow to vote in the General Election. Credit Andy Buchanan/Getty Images)

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 if cardiac arrest – one of the most common causes of death on the field – is a greater risk factor for people of African heritage. The conflict in Venezuela has now moved beyond the country’s borders – both on and offline. It involves Venezuelan exiles publicly shaming people living abroad who are connected to the government. We hear from those who are targeted and targeting. Also, offensive messages on social media have resulted in some students having their admissions revoked from one of the most prestigious universities in the world. Why do some people deliberately inflict pain on themselves as a way of managing how they feel? Catherine Carr explores the impact self-harming has on those who do it and those close to them, and she hears from people who have recovered by finding alternative coping strategies. (Photo: Cheick Tiote of Newcastle United in action during the Barclays Premier League match between Newcastle United and Southampton at St James Park Credit: Getty Images)

Samba, Strings and the Story of HIV  

Can medical statistics be transformed into music? That was the challenge set by epidemiologist Elizabeth Pisani for composer Tony Haynes. The result was Song of Contagion to be performed this month by his Grand Union Orchestra with steel pans, saxophones and singers telling the story of diseases including Zika and AIDs. What Is 4Chan? How an anonymous social network spawned some of the biggest and most recognisable online political movements. We look at the origins, the people who use it and where it’s going. And why do we talk to ourselves? Matthew Sweet hears how it can calm us down, help us organise our thoughts, and in the case of Sarah Outen, who spent four and a half years rowing, cycling and kayaking around the planet, he hears how it saved her life on more than one occasion. (Photo: Detail close up of French Horn musical instrument, part of the Brass family of instruments. Credit: Shutterstock)

Have 65% of Future Jobs Not Yet Been Invented?  

Our entire education system is faulty, some experts claim, as it fails to prepare children for a future world of work in which 65 % of jobs have not yet been invented. We set off on a round-the-world sleuthing trip to trace this statistic that has been causing headaches for students, teachers and politicians alike. Travelling without male consent: we unpick the case of Dina Ali, the 24-year-old Saudi national whose story triggered a viral hashtag challenging Saudi Arabia’s 'guardianship' rules, which give male guardians control over women. Where is Dina now? And why was the hashtag she inspired so significant? Why take on a role where lots of people hate you for doing it? Dotun Adebayo talks to people whose daily life can include verbal and even physical abuse. They include an 18 year old referee in Manchester and electricity workers in Lagos in Nigeria who are regularly beaten up as they disconnect disgruntled customers. And the plus side of doing a thankless job from a debt collector in Jamaica and death row lawyers in Trinidad and Tobago and Guyana. (Photo: Classmates taking part in peer learning. Credit: Shutterstock)

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. Kony2012 was a social media campaign which led to a US-backed manhunt for an African warlord. 5 years on the hunt’s been called off and Joseph Kony is still on the run. We look back at a turning point in online activism. Also, the Buddhist priest mixing traditional chants with techno beats in an effort to attract younger people to his temple in Japan. Some people are numbers people – and some are not. One meltdown moment in the classroom is often all it takes to put people off maths for life. But, when you lose the ability to interrogate numbers, it makes it easier to be fooled by fancy figures. Timandra Harkness asks why people are intimidated by numbers. Image: Bidi Bidi Refugee Camp

An Urban Maze  

Some parts of towns are hard to navigate and seem like an urban maze. Navigation expert Dr Ruth Dalton explains to Jordan Dunbar that it’s to do with “intelligibility”, as they go on a tour of the Barbican Estate in London, a famous example of Brutalist architecture, which people struggle to find their way around. The technique for finding your way out of a maze is also revealed. The so-called Islamic State group is using a new tactic to market itself. Typically associated with videos showing killings and destruction, supporters of the terrorist group are now using cartoons aimed at children and adults in order to recruit followers. And why are we creatures of habit? Doing everyday tasks without thinking frees our brains for more complicated decision making, but what happens when we form habits beyond our control, and how do we form good habits rather than bad ones? Shiulie Ghosh investigates. (Photo: 'Floating' gardens in the Barbican Estate, Credit: Roger Jackson/Getty Images)

The UK’s Foreign Secretary gets a fact check  

The UK‘s Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson and the Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn get a fact check for claims they’ve made since the General Election was called. How much does the UK pay to belong to the EU, how many French people are there in Britain and what’s happening to living standards? Tim Harford checks the statistics. Why are some global companies and fashion brands now using the Muslim headscarf to promote their products and what impact is that having on female Muslims? Does society discriminate against short people and if so, why? Is it worse for men than for women? Felicity Evans, who at 5 foot (152 cm) tall is shorter than average, investigates. (Photo: Foreign secretary Boris Johnson arrives for a cabinet meeting at 10 Downing Street. Credit: Getty Images)

The Death Rate of White Americans  

Throughout the 20th Century the developed world saw mortality rates fall but one group who may no longer be benefitting are middle-aged white Americans. This is according to research from the eminent economists Anne Case and Angus Deaton. But the work has been criticised for statistical problems and for not focusing enough on black Americans. Tim Harford attempts to explain what is really going on. We examine the disturbing rise of fake celebrity social media accounts targeting children. This comes in the wake of a case currently going through the courts in Australia, where a man who allegedly impersonated Justin Bieber online has more than 900 charges of child sex offences against him. We talk to parents of children who have been targeted, and to law enforcement professionals concerned by this growing trend. The average English-speaker knows about 25,000 words which can be combined into an infinite number of sentences. Many people believe that, whatever language you speak, the words you know have a profound influence on the way you think, though this is a controversial theory among linguists, as Lane Greene explains. (Photo: Harmonica playing steel workers perched on a girder on the 22nd storey of the Murray Hill building, New York. Credit: General Photographic Agency/Getty Images)

The Ignorance Test  

Following the death of Professor Hans Rosling - perhaps best described as a kind of international development myth buster – we rebroadcast one of his interviews for More Or Less. He asked presenter Ruth Alexander three questions from his Ignorance Test, part of his project to investigate what people know and don’t know about key-aspects of global development. Most people do badly. How do you fare? Has there been a rise in anti-Donald Trump fake news since he became President of the United States? We’re familiar with accusations that right-wing fake news is being shared online, but what about fake news from the left? Also, what lures people to delve beneath the earth, peering into the dark recesses that exist underground? Simon Cox hears from the urban explorers trying to find the hidden layers of cities that exist deep beneath our feet, and from a caver who sees his pastime as “mountaineering underground”. (Photo: Hans Rosling, Statistician, Founder of Gapminder speaks about the impact of growing global population on resources at the ReSource 2012 conference Credit: Matthew Lloyd)

Could North Korea Wipe out 90% of Americans?  

A single nuclear weapon could destroy America’s entire electrical grid, claims a former head of the CIA. The explosion would send out an electromagnetic pulse – resulting in famine, societal collapse and what one newspaper has called a “Dark Apocalypse”. But are hungry squirrels a greater threat to the electrical grid than North Korean weapons? A group of anonymous keyboard warriors who claim they helped Donald Trump win his presidency in the “Great Meme War” have moved their fight to Europe and are trying to help elect a right wing leader for France. Conversations in secret online messaging forums reveal a systematic effort to sway opinion but is it working? Also, the power of applause and why we humans like to clap. (Photo: The launch of a surface-to-surface medium long-range ballistic missile Pukguksong-2 Credit: Getty Images)

Will One in Four People Develop a Mental Health Problem?  

The claim that “one in four” of us will suffer from a mental health problem is popular amongst campaigners, politicians and the media. But where is this figure from and what’s the evidence for it? A paranoid conspiracy theory questioning the reality of the shooting dead of 26 people at Sandy Hook Elementary School in 2012 has acquired a new, disturbing power in America. Rumours that the killings were staged by actors have been pushed by alternative media mogul Alex Jones. His online news site Infowars has millions of listeners and viewers. One grieving father, Lenny Pozner, tells how he has led the online fightback. Also, from ancient Greece to Instagram – has the six-pack become the ultimate sign of success for today’s young man? (Photo: Commuters pass through Grand Central Terminal during morning rush hour Credit: Getty Images)

Baby Boxes – are they really saving infant’s lives?  

Since Finland started giving families simple cardboard boxes for their new born babies to sleep in 75 years ago, cot death has fallen and child health has improved. Governments and individuals across the world have adopted them and companies have sprung up selling them. But can a cardboard box on its own really have such a huge effect? Elizabeth Cassin and Charlotte McDonald have been finding out. Thousands of videos aimed at children are posted on YouTube that initially look like some of their favourite cartoon series, but closer inspection reveals weird and often disturbing content that is potentially unsuitable for young children. Who is making this content and Is the onus on parents to take responsibility for their children’s viewing or should the host platform, YouTube, be doing more? And why do millions of people round the world practice yoga and how has it become so popular over time? Valley Fontaine hears from the director of a 98-year-old yoga institute in India, an instructor who teaches yoga for you and your dog, the founders of a yoga festival in the UK, and the 2016 women’s yoga champion. (Photo: A Box of baby essentials. Credit: Getty Images)

The Concrete Facts About Trump’s Wall and China  

If the US is going to build a wall on its border with Mexico, it’s going to take a lot of concrete - millions of tonnes, in fact. But this is a tiny amount compared with China’s concrete use. It’s often said that China used more concrete between 2008-2011 than the US did in the whole of the 20th Century. It sounds astonishing - and is it true? Wesley Stephenson finds out. After comments by author Chimamanda Ngozi Adiche divided opinion over transgender women, we speak to members of some of Nigeria’s secret gay and transgender groups who rely on each other on social media for support. Also, Joey Daley from Ohio has documented his mother Molly’s dementia. One film in which she failed to recognise him for the first time was viewed nearly 2 million times. Joey speaks to BBC Trending about how it feels to care for someone with dementia. And Lee Kumutat examines why blindness comes to define the identity of people who have little or no sight. She talks to people in Jamaica, Ghana, Scotland and California about how they navigate a world which seems to see them as either inspirational or deserving pity. Or both. Image: Getty/Credit: David McNew / Stringer

The Attention Span of a Goldfish  

Is it really true our attention spans are getting shorter in the always-connected world of social media, smartphones and hyperlinks? The statistics say that the average attention span is down from 12 seconds in the year 2000 to eight seconds now. That's less than the nine-second attention span of the average goldfish. But the statistics are not all that they seem - and neither is the received wisdom about goldfish. Twitch is a live video streaming platform used widely in the gaming community. The death of a well-known gamer has opened a huge debate about player safety. And, there is something satisfying about working with our hands, whether it is making something, fixing something or caring for someone. Maria Margaronis asks what it is about our tactile skills that make us so fundamentally human. (Image: Shutterstock/Goldfish)

Why are Hollywood Actresses Paid Less than Men?  

There has been a steady stream of top Hollywood actresses who have complained that they have been paid less than their male co-stars. Meryl Streep, Jennifer Lawrence and Natalie Portman have all pointed out the disparity. So why in the 21st Century is this still the case? Charlotte McDonald reports. We investigate a far right website in Sweden that has been secretly recording phone calls with journalists and academics and then posting heavily-edited versions of the conversations online. The man behind it says he is trying to broaden the debate about immigration. But the site’s targets say their words are being distorted and they feel intimidated. And how does listening differ from hearing? How important is the art of listening to human relationships and how can we develop that skill? Datshiane Navanayagam reports. Image: Jennifer Lawrence at the Oscars. Getty Images/Valerie Macno

What happened last night in Sweden?  

What happened last night in Sweden? Ruth Alexander tells the strange tale that connects Donald Trump, rape in Sweden, immigration and her reporting on More or Less. Why did a network of Twitter accounts, usually the source of pro-Russian messages, pump out tweets about a very specific British election? BBC Trending’s Mike Wendling investigates. And why do some people stammer? More than 70 million people globally – that’s about 1% of the world’s population - are affected by this neurological condition. Becky Milligan talks to people with a stammer to find out the effect on their lives. She also discovers what treatments are available and whether stammering can be cured. Image: Getty / Joe Raedle

Hidden Figures: The Real Story  

Hidden Figures, the film, tells the little-known story of a group of African American women and their contribution to the space race in the 50s and 60s. We explore the history of how these women were recruited by Nasa and put to work on complex mathematical tasks – at a time when African Americans and women were far less likely to be employed in such jobs. The Alt.Right in the US is locked in a fierce ideological battle with Antifa - a group of anti-fascists. We investigate online dirty tricks by both sides. It’s probably something we take for granted and do every day - but why do we smile and what effect does it have on other people? Scientists say it’s one of our most basic human expressions and it’s easier to smile than to frown. Aasmah Mir explores the power of the smile, how easy it is to fake and what happens when you lose the ability to smile. (Photo: Taraji P. Henson as Katherine Johnson,in a scene from Hidden Figures. Credit: Hopper Stone/Twentieth Century Fox/AP)

Hans Rosling - the Extraordinary Life of a Statistical Guru  

The recent death of the inspirational Swedish statistician Han Rosling has left a hole in the world. Tim Harford and others who met him pay tribute to a master communicator whose captivating presentations on global development were watched by millions. His friend Bill Gates said Hans ‘brought data to life and helped the world see the human progress it often overlooked’. Is there any substance to NATO’s claims of misinformation against a Russian-funded online news agency with an office in Scotland? Is it just another perspective on news or is it an example of what some call ‘Russia’s state-run propaganda machine’? Hypochondria: the fear of having a serious, undiagnosed illness. We may mock the hypochondriac, but a constant fear of sickness and death can be a debilitating and distressing condition in itself, with some sufferers even ending up in wheelchairs. So why don’t we take this misunderstood malaise more seriously? Image: Hans Rosling, Credit: Associated Press

Is Democracy Failing in America?  

In the wake of Donald Trump’s claim that three million people may have voted illegally in last year’s presidential elections, we scrutinise the American electoral system and the work of the Electoral Integrity Project that suggests North Carolina is on a par with Cuba. A disturbing rumour’s been trending online recently - of a paedophile ring on YouTube. BBC Trending investigates and debunks another internet myth. In his first TV interview as US President, Donald Trump claimed that torture “absolutely” works and said the US should “fight fire with fire.” But what evidence is there that torture is an effective method of obtaining valuable intelligence? And can the use of torture ever be justified? Becky Milligan hears from a former interrogator who worked at the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq, a former political prisoner who was tortured in the notorious Evin prison in Tehran, and a neuroscientist who has studied the effects of torture on the brain. (Photo: Americans head to the polls in Charlotte, North Carolina. Credit: Davis Turner/Getty Images)

Counting Crowds  

How many people attended President Trump’s inauguration? How many people went to the Women’s March in Washington DC the next day? A fierce debate has been raging about the numbers of people at each event. We explore the difficulties of counting people in a crowd. Tens of thousands of automated videos have appeared online recently. All feature photos of news events accompanied by a robotic voice. BBC Trending’s very own digital supersleuth Mike Wendling investigates who’s making them and why. Can deep-frozen bodies ever return from the dead? Mike Williams explores the science, the motivation and the ethics behind cryonics and asks whether frozen human bodies will ever be fit for a new life. (image: Attendees line the Mall at Trump's Inauguration Day in Washington DC. Photo: Lucas Jackson/Getty Images)

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