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More or Less: Behind the Stats

More or Less: Behind the Stats

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


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Sweden?s lockdown lite

Unlike its Nordic neighbours, Sweden never imposed a lockdown to stem the spread of coronavirus. Tim Harford speaks to statistician Ola Rosling to find out what the results have been. Presenter: Tim Harford Producer: Jo Casserly Picture: A woman wearing a face mask stands at a bus stop featuring a sign reminding passengers to maintain a minimum social distance between each other to reduce the risk of infection with the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus that causes the pandemic COVID-19 disease, in Stockholm, Sweden, 25 June 2020. Credit: EPA/ Stina Stjernkvist
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Why Trump is wrong about the USA?s coronavirus case comeback

Are cases really rising in the US or are they just testing more? Tim digs into the data.
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Why did the UK have such a bad Covid-19 epidemic?

The UK has suffered one of the worst outbreaks of coronavirus anywhere in the world. We?ve been tracking and analysing the numbers for the last 14 weeks, and in the last programme of this More or Less series, we look back through the events of March 2020 to ask why things went so wrong - was it bad decision-making, bad advice, or bad luck?
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A new Covid-19 drug and a second wave

The steroid Dexamethasone has been hailed a ?major breakthrough? in the treatment of Covid-19. But what does the data say? Plus, why haven?t mass protests led to a second wave?
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Child Poverty, School Inequality and a Second Wave

As lockdown eases, why hasn't there been a spike in infections? We get a first look at the evidence for the much-trumpeted Covid-19 treatment, Dexamethasone. Stephanie Flanders tells us what?s happening to the UK economy. Keir Starmer says child poverty is up; Boris Johnson says it?s down, who's right? Plus which children are getting a solid home-school experience, and who is missing out?
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Who Should be Quarantined?

Some countries are requiring new arrivals to self-isolate, a policy designed to stop infection spreading from areas of high prevalence to low prevalence. Tim Harford and Ruth Alexander find out which countries have the highest rate of Covid-19 infection. Plus, is it really true that the coronavirus mostly kills people who would die soon anyway?
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Quarantine, Test and Trace and BODMAS

The UK has introduced new rules requiring all people arriving in the country to self-isolate for 14 days. But given the severity of the UK?s outbreak can there be many places more infectious? Is it true that Covid-19 mostly kills people who would die soon anyway? The first figures are out showing how England?s Test and Trace programme is performing, but they contain a mystery we?re keen to resolve. And we play with some mathematical puzzles, courtesy of statistician Jen Rogers.
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Antibody tests, early lockdown advice and European deaths

At the start of March the government's Chief Scientific Adviser Sir Patrick Vallance said that the UK?s coronavirus outbreak was four weeks behind the epidemic in Italy. This ability to watch other countries deal with the disease ahead of us potentially influenced the decisions we made about which actions to take and when, including lockdown. So was he right?
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Keep your distance

What difference does a metre make? The World Health Organisation recommends that people keep at least 1 metre apart from each other to stop the spread of Covid-19, but different countries have adopted different standards. The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends staying six feet apart - that?s just short of 2 metres; in the UK, the rule is 2 metres. But all this has a big impact on the way businesses and societies get back to work. Tim Harford investigates the economic costs and conundrums of keeping our distance in a post-lockdown world. How can we avoid infection spreading again, while getting on with life?
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False negatives, testing capacity and pheasants

As lockdowns begin to lift the government is relying on testing and contact tracing programmes to prevent a second wave of Covid-19 infections. But how accurate are the swab tests used to diagnose the disease? The UK Statistics Authority has criticised the government for the way it reports testing figures, saying it?s not surprising that these numbers ?are so widely criticised and often mistrusted.? We take a look at how the government achieved its target of developing a daily testing capacity of 200,000 by the end of May. Can we really have only 60 harvests left in the world? Plus, the very pleasant Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall has a pleasant pheasant question for us.
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Obeying lockdown, flight arrivals and is this wave of the epidemic waning?

More than 35,000 people in the UK have now officially died from Covid-19, but what does the data show about whether this wave of the epidemic is waning? We ask who respects lockdown, who breaks it, and why? Our listeners are astounded by how many people allegedly flew into the UK in the first three months of the year - we?re on the story. We look at the performance of the Scottish health system on testing. And some pub-quiz joy involving a pencil.
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60 Harvests and statistically savvy parrots

A listener asks if there can really only be 60 harvests left in Earth's soil. Are we heading for an agricultural Armageddon? Plus we meet the parrots who are the first animals, outside humans and great apes, to be shown to understand probability. (image: Kea parrots in New Zealand)
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School re-opening, Germany?s Covid-19 success and statistically savvy parrots

Risk expert David Spiegelhalter discusses whether re-opening some schools could be dangerous for children or their teachers. We ask what?s behind Germany?s success in containing the number of deaths from Covid-19. Many governments across the world are borrowing huge sums to prop up their economies during this difficult time, but with everyone in the same boat who are they borrowing from? Plus we revisit the UK?s testing figures yet again and meet some statistically savvy parrots.
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Social Distancing and Government Borrowing

As lockdowns start to lift, many countries are relying on social distancing to continue to slow the spread of coronavirus. The UK says we should stay 2 metres apart, the World Health Organisation recommends 1 metre, Canada six feet. So where do these different measurements come from? Plus, governments around the world are trying to prop up their economies by borrowing money. But with everyone in the same situation, where are they borrrowing from?
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Vitamin D, explaining R and the 2 metre rule

R is one of the most important numbers of the pandemic. But what is it? And how is it estimated? We return to the topic of testing and ask again whether the governments numbers add up. As the government encourages those who can?t work at home to return to their workplaces - we?re relying on social distancing to continue to slow the spread of the virus. But where does the rule that people should stay 2 metres apart come from? And is Vitamin D an under-appreciated weapon in the fight against Covid-19?
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Covid-19 fatality rate

The question of just how dangerous Covid-19 really is, is absolutely crucial. If a large number of those who are infected go on to die, there could be dreadful consequences if we relaxed the lockdowns that have been imposed across much of the world. If the number is smaller, for many countries the worst might already be behind us. But the frustrating thing is: we?re still not sure. So how can we work this crucial number out?
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Testing truth, fatality rates, obesity risk and trampolines.

The Health Minister Matt Hancock promised the UK would carry out 100,000 coronavirus tests a day by the end of April. He claims he succeeded. Did he? The question of just how dangerous the new coronavirus really is, is absolutely crucial. If it?s high, there could be dreadful consequences if we relaxed the lockdowns. So why is the fatality rate so difficult to calculate? Is it true that being obese makes Covid-19 ten times more dangerous? And whatis injuring more kids in lockdown, trampolines or Joe Wicks? exercises?
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Climate change and birdsong

With much of the world?s population staying indoors, there are fewer cars on the roads, planes in the skies and workplaces and factories open. Will this have an impact on climate change? Plus as the streets become quieter, is it just us, or have the birds begun to sing much more loudly?
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Ethnic minority deaths, climate change and lockdown

We continue our mission to use numbers to make sense of the world - pandemic or no pandemic. Are doctors from ethnic minority backgrounds disproportionately affected by Covid-19? Was the lockdown the decisive change which caused daily deaths in the UK to start to decrease? With much of the world?s population staying indoors, we ask what impact this might have on climate change and after weeks of staring out of the window at gorgeous April sunshine, does cruel fate now doom us to a rain-drenched summer? Plus, crime is down, boasts the home secretary Priti Patel. Should we be impressed?
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Comparing countries' coronavirus performance

Many articles in the media compare countries with one another - who?s faring better or worse in the fight against coronavirus? But is this helpful - or, in fact, fair? Tim Harford and Ruth Alexander discuss the limitations that we come across when we try to compare the numbers of Covid-19 cases and deaths in different countries; population size, density, rates of testing and how connected the country is all play a role.
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Bonus Podcast: Professor John Horton Conway

John Horton Conway died in April this year at the age of 82 from Covid-19 related complications. An influential figure in mathematics, Conway?s ideas inspired generations of students around the world. We remember the man and his work with mathematician Matt Parker and Conway?s biographer Siobhan Roberts.
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Comparing countries, the risk to NHS staff, and birdsong

We compare Covid-19 rates around the world. Headlines say NHS staff are dying in large numbers, how bad is it? And is it just us, or have the birds started singing really loudly?
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Superforecasting the Coronavirus

Scientific models disagree wildly as to what the course of the coronavirus pandemic might be. With epidemiologists at odds, Tim Harford asks if professional predictors, the superforecasters, can offer a different perspective. (Image: Coronovirus graphic/Getty images)
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Should you wear a face mask?

Do face masks stop you getting coronavirus? You might instinctively think that covering your mouth and nose with cloth must offer protection from Covid-19. And some health authorities around the world say people should make their own masks. But expert opinion is divided. Tim Harford and Ruth Alexander unpick the arguments.
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Coronavirus deaths, face masks and a potential baby boom

Is the coronavirus related death count misleading because of delays in reporting? Do face masks help prevent the spread of the virus? Was a London park experiencing Glastonbury levels of overcrowding this week? And after reports of condom shortages, we ask whether there?s any evidence that we?re nine months away from a lockdown-induced baby boom. Plus in a break from Covid-19 reporting we ask a Nobel-prize winner how many Earth-like planets there are in existence.
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Are more men dying from coronavirus?

Tim Harford and Ruth Alexander examine the statistics around the world to see if more men are dying as a result of Covid-19, and why different sexes would have different risks. Plus is it true that in the US 40% of hospitalisations were of patients aged between 20 and 50?
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Supermarket stockpiling, A-level results and Covid-19 gender disparity

This week, we examine criticisms of Imperial College?s epidemiologists. We ask how A-Level and GCSE grades will be allocated, given that the exams have vanished in a puff of social distancing. Adam Kucharski, author of The Rules of Contagion, tells us about the history of epidemiology. We look at the supermarkets: how are their supply chains holding up and how much stockpiling is really going on. And is coronavirus having a different impact on men than on women?
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The Risk

Professor Sir David Spiegelhalter, Chair of the Winton Centre for Risk and Evidence Communication, puts the risks of Covid-19 into perspective. He found that the proportion of people who get infected by coronavirus, who then go on to die increases with age, and the trend matches almost exactly how our background mortality risk also goes up. Catching the disease could be like packing a year?s worth of risk into a couple of weeks. (Mathematician and Risk guru, Professor Sir David Spiegelhalter at the University of Cambridge. Credit: In Pictures Ltd./Corbis via Getty Images)
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Coronavirus Special

We?ve dedicated this special episode to the numbers surrounding the Coronavirus pandemic. Statistical national treasure Professor Sir David Spiegelhalter put the risks of Covid-19 into perspective. We ask whether young people are safe from serious illness, or if statistics from hospitalisations in the US show a high proportion of patients are under 50. We try to understand what the ever-tightening restrictions on businesses and movement mean for the UK?s economy, and we take a look at the mystery of coronavirus numbers in Iran. Presenter: Tim Harford
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Mitigation or Suppression: What?s best to tackle Coronavirus?

Last week, while schools and businesses across Europe closed in an attempt to halt the spread of Coronavirus the UK stood alone in a more relaxed approach to the pandemic; letting people choose whether they wanted to go to work, or socially distance themselves. This week, things have changed. Schools are closing for the foreseeable future and exams have been cancelled. The British government says their change of heart was based on the work scientists like Christl Donnelly from Imperial College London and the University of Oxford. So what has Christl found that has caused such concern? (Image: A lollipop lady helps children cross the road in Glasgow. Credit: EPA/Robert Perry)
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The mystery of Iran?s coronavirus numbers

Does Iran have a lot more covid-19 cases that its figures suggest?
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How much heat do you lose from your head?

Every winter its the same, someone will tell you to put a hat on to save your body from losing all of its heat. But how much heat do you actually lose from your head? We take you on a journey from arctic conditions to a hot tub in Canada to explain why there might actually be more than one answer... Presenter: Tim Harford Producer: Leoni Robertson and Lizzy McNeill
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Netflix vs the environment

Does watching 30 minutes of Netflix have the same carbon footprint as driving four miles?
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More or Less: Superforecasting, wood burning stoves and the real story of Hidden Figures

Dipping into the archive for stories on the art of prediction and wood burner pollution
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Artificial (not so) Intelligence

Artificial Intelligence ? or AI for short ? is often depicted in films in the shape of helpful droids, all-knowing computers or even malevolent ?death bots?. In real life, we?re making leaps and bounds in this technology?s capabilities with satnavs, and voice assistants like Alexa and Siri making frequent appearances in our daily lives. So, should we look forward to a future of AI best friends or fear the technology becoming too intelligent. Tim Harford talks to Janelle Shane, author of the book ?You Look Like a Thing and I Love you? about her experiments with AI and why the technology is really more akin to an earthworm than a high-functioning ?death bot?.
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WS More or Less: Coronavirus - The Numbers

A lot has changed since our last episode covering the numbers behind the coronavirus - for a start it now has a name, Covid-19. This week news has broken that deaths are 20 per cent higher than thought, and the number of cases has increased by a third. Tim Harford talks to Dr Nathalie MacDermott, a clinical lecturer at King?s College London about what we know ? and what we still don?t.
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Coronavirus, jam, AI and tomatoes

Covid-19 stats, spreading jam far and wide, cooking with AI, and James Wong on vegetables
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WS More or Less: How fast are Alligators and Hippos?

We all know that you should never smile at a crocodile, but rumour has it that alligators are great perambulators ? at least that?s what a booklet about Florida?s wildlife claimed. Tim Harford speaks to John Hutchinson, Professor of evolutionary bio-mechanics to see whether he could outrun one of these reportedly rapid retiles. Also ? our editor thinks he could outrun a hippo, is he right? (?probably not).
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Tracking terror suspects

Costing counter-terrorism, interrogating tomatoes, the UK's reading age, politics and GDP
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WS More or Less: Coronavirus

The WHO have declared a ?Global Health Emergency? as health officials are urgently trying to contain the spread of a new coronavirus in China and beyond; but not all the information you read is correct. We fact-check a particularly hyperbolic claim about its spread that?s been doing the rounds on social media.
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Coronavirus, emotions and guns.

Fact checking claims about coronavirus and whether more guns equal fewer homicides.
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WS More or Less: Dozy Science

Anxiety around sleep is widespread. Many of us feel we don?t get enough. An army of experts has sprung up to help, and this week we test some of the claims from one of the most prominent among them: Professor Matthew Walker. He plays ball and answers some of the criticisms of his bestselling book Why We Sleep.
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Netflix and Chill

The list of ways campaigners say we need to change our behaviour in response to climate change seems to grow every week. Now, streaming video is in the frame. We test the claim that watching 30 minutes of Netflix has the same carbon footprint as driving four miles. We hear scepticism about a report that sepsis is responsible for one in five deaths worldwide. Author Bill Bryson stops by with a question about guns ? and gets quizzed about a number in his new book. And, how much sleep do we really need? Find out if we need more or less.
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WS More or Less: Japan?s 99% Conviction Rate

The fugitive former Nissan boss, Carlos Ghosn, has raised questions about justice in Japan. The government in Tokyo has defended its system, where 99% of prosecutions lead to conviction. Prof Colin Jones, from Doshisha Law School in Kyoto, explains what's behind this seemingly shocking statistic. And a listener asks if it?s true Canada?s is roughly the same. Toronto lawyer Kim Schofield sets them straight.
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Weighing the Cost of Brexit

Is it possible to calculate the cost of Brexit? Gemma Tetlow from the Institute for Government helps us weigh the arguments. How much does luck play into Liverpool FC's amazing season? And, crucially, how fast is an alligator?
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WS More or Less: Bushfire mystery

Have a billion animals died in Australia?s fires? And which ones are likely to survive?
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Australian Animal Deaths, Carbon Emissions, Election Mystery

Tim Harford on animal deaths in Australia's fires, how many Labour voters went Conservative and are UK carbon emissions really down 40%. Plus: have we really entered a new decade?
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C-sections and sharks

How many women in China give birth in hospitals, and whether it was true that 50% of births there are delivered by caesarean section. Oh, and we also mention guts and bacteria? Sharks kill 12 humans a year but humans kill 11,417 sharks an hour. That?s the statistic used in a Facebook meme that?s doing the rounds. Is it true?
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Presidential candidates and dementia

We talk about the age of some of the frontrunners in the Democrat nomination race and President Donald Trump and the health risks they face. Also, More or Less listeners were surprised by a claim they read on the BBC website recently: ?Pets are estimated to be consuming up to 20 percent of all meat globally.? So we ? of course ? investigated and will explain all.
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The Simpsons and maths

We explore the maths secrets of The Simpsons on their 30th anniversary.
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En liten tjänst av I'm With Friends. Finns även på engelska.
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