We live in a world where data is everywhere – informing if not governing our lives. But this wealth of data didn’t just turn up overnight. Tim Harford talks to academics Chris Wiggins and Matthew Jones, whose new book How Data Happened aims to explain how the world we know today has been shaped by not just technological developments but battles around how emerging sources of data should be utilised.
Published 06/03/23
Does Britain really have the most affordable food in Europe? That's a recent claim of the President of the National Farmers' Union. We ask if it's true and look in detail at what is driving rising food prices in the UK. We also try and make sense of the latest net migration figures, ask if dating apps are making Gen Z more single and explain why a correction to a correction on Radio 4's Farming Today wasn't quite right.
Published 05/31/23
Published 05/31/23
What’s the definition of being single – and how easy is it to measure? There’s a perception that young people today are more single – in a relationship sense - than ever, and dating apps are to blame. But how true is that? Ellie House investigates, with the help of Marina Adshade of the Vancouver School of Economics. Presenter: Ellie House Producers: Ellie House, Jon Bithrey Editor: Richard Vadon Sound Engineer: Rod Farquhar Production Co-ordinator: Brenda Brown
Published 05/28/23
The government has trumpeted a big fall in those waiting over 18 months for hospital treatment in England. But total numbers on waiting lists have hit a new high. Also we look at how much impact the introduction of Voter ID had on turnout in May's English local elections. We ask whether Portugal really has a divorce rate of 94%. And we remember mathematician Dr Vicky Neale of Oxford University, who has died at the age of 39. The government has trumpeted a big fall in those waiting over 18...
Published 05/24/23
For more than a decade there’ve been longstanding concerns about the credibility and reliability of science research. This “bad science” has often stemmed from poor data practice or worse. But statistics can also help us identify and understand some of what’s going wrong, whether that’s selective data-slicing or outright fabrication. Tim Harford talks to writer and broadcaster Michael Blastland about his new BBC radio documentary ‘The Truth Police’, which hears from the outsiders who are...
Published 05/20/23
Portugal has a divorce rate of 94% and India just 1%, according to a social media post about divorce in 33 countries that has gone viral. But how are these figures calculated and what do they really tell us about the quality and endurance of marriage? We investigate with guests Marina Adshade, assistant professor at the Vancouver School of Economics and Dr Cheng-Tong Lir Wang of the Institute for the Future in San Francisco. Presenter: Ben Carter Producers: Octavia Woodward and Jon...
Published 05/13/23
The average life expectancy of Americans is shrinking at an alarming rate. Between 2019 and 2021, a staggering 2.7 years has been shaved off, leaving the revised figure at 76.1 years - the lowest it’s been in more than two decades. It also sees the U.S. rank 46th in the global life expectancy charts, behind Estonia and just a nose ahead of Panama. Paul Connolly is joined by John Burn Murdoch, Mary Pat Campbell and Dr Nick Mark to discuss why, on average, citizens of the world’s richest...
Published 05/06/23
Consisting of 2 kilograms of gold and 444 gemstones, the iconic St Edward’s Crown will play a central role in the coronation of King Charles III, as it has for many of his predecessors. There has been much speculation as to what the value of the centrepiece of the Crown Jewels really is. Charlotte McDonald talks to Dr Anna Keay, historian and author of The Crown Jewels - the Official History, and Alan Hart, CEO of the Gemmological Association of Great Britain. Together they break down what...
Published 04/29/23
The leaking of US intelligence documents and the arrest of a 21 year old airman who authorities believe to be responsible has caused a media and diplomatic storm. We look at how the leaks were reported by primetime Fox News host Tucker Carlson, who said seven Ukrainian troops are dying for every one Russian, contrary to most estimates. And we examine an advert Fox News took out claiming to be the American TV network most trusted for news. With guests Aric Toler from investigative journalism...
Published 04/22/23
Paul Connolly is expecting his second child, and the due date is just under two weeks away. In hopes of easing his anxiety every time the phone rings , he is joined by Professor Asma Khalil, Professor Chris Pettker and Doctor Melissa Wong to discover exactly how accurate his baby's due date is... Presenter: Paul Connolly Researcher: Octavia Woodward Editor: Richard Vadon Sound Engineer: Graham Puddifoot Production Co-ordinator: Brenda Brown
Published 04/15/23
The covid-19 pandemic has brought the use of statistics into everyday life in a way never seen before. Tim Harford talks to Professor Oliver Johnson, author of Numbercrunch: A Mathematician’s Toolkit for Making Sense of Your World, about his visual presentation of covid-19 related figures on Twitter and how we can all improve our understanding and use of numbers.
Published 04/08/23
Pythagoras’ Theorem, explaining the relationship between the three sides of a right angled triangle, is one of the most famous in maths. It’s been studied and put to use for thousands of years. Now two US high school students say they’ve found a new trigonometric proof for the theorem, something many in the mathematical community believe to be impossible. We discuss Pythagoras’ Theorem, the importance of proofs in maths and the chances of this being a real breakthrough with mathematician,...
Published 04/01/23
Misinformation around covid-19 and vaccines is rife and as the data available increases, so do often misleading and even wild claims. This week More or Less examines multiple viral claims that the Covid 19 mRNA vaccines increase the risk of miscarriage. To explain where these incorrect figures come from and what the science actually tells us, we are joined by Dr Viki Male, senior lecturer in reproductive immunology at Imperial College London. Presenter: Charlotte McDonald, Producers:...
Published 03/25/23
After the collapse of Silicon Valley Bank sent jitters through the financial system, Duncan Weldon explains how it’s just the latest in the long history of bank runs. He talks to financial analyst and former banking regulator Dan Davies - author of ‘Lying for Money’ - to understand how bank runs happen, and what the repercussions of this very modern bank run might be for the global financial system. Presenter: Duncan Weldon Producer: Nathan Gower Editor: Richard Vadon Programme...
Published 03/18/23
The smash hit TV show and video game ‘The Last of Us’ has spawned lots of curiosity about how worried we should be about the relatively unknown world of fungi. A figure in a recent BBC online article stated that fungal infections kill around 1.7 million people a year, about three times as many as malaria. In this episode we look at the both the global fight against malaria and David Denning, Professor of Infectious Diseases and Global Health at the University of Manchester explains the risks...
Published 03/11/23
The Brink’s-Mat robbery remains to this day one of Britain’s biggest and most audacious heists. Six armed men stole diamonds, cash and three tonnes of gold bullion from a warehouse close to London’s Heathrow Airport in November 1983. It’s now the subject of a BBC television drama, The Gold, which includes the claim that most gold jewellery bought in the UK from 1984 onwards will contain traces of that stolen gold. But how true is that? Tim Harford and team investigate, with the help of Zoe...
Published 03/04/23
Does the UK really have by far the highest domestic energy bills in Europe? We debunk a viral social media claim suggesting just that. Also the number of excess deaths has been falling in the UK - how positive should we be that we’re through the worst? Plus do we really have access to only 3% of rivers and 8% of the countryside in England – and after the conviction of former MP Jared O’Mara we ask whether 5 grams of cocaine is a lot.
Published 03/01/23
How environmentally destructive is our thirst for coffee? Tim and the team investigate a claim that 29,000 coffee pods end up in landfill globally every minute with the help of Dr Ying Jiang, a senior lecturer in bioenergy from Cranfield University in the UK.
Published 02/25/23
The Justice Secretary Dominic Raab says crime reoffending rates in England and Wales have fallen significantly since the Conservatives came to power. We ask whether he’s right and look more broadly at crime and conviction rates with former BBC home affairs correspondent Danny Shaw. Also we look at how much taxes in Wales might have to rise to pay for increases in NHS funding. We ask whether 13 million women in the UK are really menopausal. And we return to the debate that has sparked...
Published 02/22/23
Florence Nightingale became one of the icons of Victorian Britain for her work as a nurse during the Crimean War and the public health improvements she successfully campaigned for later on. Tim Harford discusses how she and her ‘Nightingale Circle’ used spectacular diagrams to explain health statistics persuasively with RJ Andrews, editor of “Florence Nightingale, Mortality and Health Diagrams”.
Published 02/18/23
How much do nurses in the UK earn compared with those elsewhere in Europe? Tim Harford and the team investigate. Also we have an update on ambulance response times, which were the worst on record in December but are showing signs of improvement. Should we use the word data in the singular or plural? The Financial Times has just changed its policy and Tim’s not happy. We look back at women who have made a key contribution to economics but have often been forgotten. And we hear how a...
Published 02/15/23
The UK’s Office for National Statistics recently published some dramatically incorrect data - all because of a spreadsheet slip-up. But that’s just the most recent in a long list of times when spreadsheets have gone wrong, often with costly consequences Stand-up mathematician Matt Parker takes us through a short history of spreadsheet mistakes.
Published 02/11/23
The International Monetary Fund says the UK will be the only major economy to shrink in size this year. We ask how much faith we should put in the IMF’s forecasts and look at some of the big economic challenges facing the UK. Also why the headline number of job vacancies in the NHS in England doesn’t tell the whole story of staff shortages. And why has there been such a dramatic change in whether people describe themselves as British or English?
Published 02/08/23
A new study led by Imperial College in London suggests that data from loyalty card spending in supermarkets and pharmacies could be used as a way of detecting ovarian cancer much earlier. Tim Harford discusses the findings with Professor Hannah Fry, who was most recently on the show talking about her own experience with cancer.
Published 02/04/23