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


London, United Kingdom




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




Hannah Fry on using shopping data to detect ovarian cancer

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.


Brexit and trade, pensioner millionaires and Hannah Fry on loyalty cards and cancer

Has trade with the EU increased since Britain left the European Union? Tim Harford and the team look at a claim suggesting just that. There’s a row over the renaming of a street in North London previously called Black Boy Lane – but how much has it really all cost? Also are there more pensioners in “millionaire households” than pensioners in poverty. And mathematician Hannah Fry talks about a new study suggesting cases of ovarian cancer can be detected by looking at spending on loyalty cards.


More or Less: Brexit and trade; pensioner millionaires; and Hannah Fry on loyalty cards and cancer

We examine a claim that the UK’s trade with the EU has increased since Brexit.


Are wild mammals only 4% of the mammal population?

A widely respected and cited study says humans and livestock account for 96% of all mammals on Earth. We ask how the study was carried out and what hope there might be for the future. Plus we answer another listener question about whether most mammals are in fact rodents. With the help of Dr Hannah Ritchie, Deputy Editor at Our World in Data and Dr Axel Rossberg, Reader in Theoretical Ecology at Queen Mary University of London.


Coffee with the Chancellor, inflation measures, GP numbers and toilet paper

Jeremy Hunt has pledged in a new social media video to halve the UK’s high rate of inflation. Tim Harford and the team fact check the Chancellor’s claims. Also – CPI, CPIH, RPI – which measure of inflation is best for assessing the impact of the rising cost of living? Plus has the number of GPs in England gone up or down since the start of the pandemic. And does toilet paper cause 15% of global deforestation? Presenter: Tim Harford Series Producer: Jon Bithrey Reporters: Josephine Casserly,...


Does toilet paper cause 15% of global deforestation?

A British company has claimed that the production and use of toilet paper is responsible for 15% of deforestation globally. We investigate the claim and ask what the true environmental cost of toilet paper is. Charlotte McDonald talks to climate change scientist Professor Mary Gagen, chief adviser on forests to the World Wide Fund for Nature, the WWF. Presenter: Charlotte McDonald Producer: Louise Hidalgo and Jon Bithrey Editor: Richard Vadon Production Coordinator: Helena Warwick-Cross...


Ambulance response times, teacher pay and Irish pubs

How long are people really waiting when they call 999 for an ambulance? Tim Harford and the team examine in detail the sheer scale of delays in responding to emergency calls. We also ask why the NHS is facing a crisis when it’s got more funding and more staff than before the pandemic, with the help of Ben Zaranko from the Institute for Fiscal Studies. Plus we fact check a claim from one of Britain’s leading teaching unions about pay. And are there more pubs in Ireland or Irish pubs in the...


How we shook the world of very large numbers

How did an edition of More or Less from 2017 end up influencing the choice of official names for extremely large numbers? We tell the tale of how an interview between presenter Tim Harford and maths whizz Rob Eastaway did just that. Also featuring Professor Richard Brown, head of metrology at the UK’s National Physical Laboratory. Presenter: Tim Harford Producer: Jon Bithrey Editor: Richard Vadon Production Coordinator: Janet Staples Sound Engineer: James Beard Image: Large number, Credit:...


A&E delays and deaths, religious identity in N Ireland and naming the monster numbers

Tim Harford and the team return for a new series of the number crunching show. With the huge pressures facing the NHS we ask how many people may be dying because of treatment delays in A&E. We hear what the latest census tells us about changing religious identity in Northern Ireland. We look at misleading claims about covid vaccines after the collapse of American football player Damar Hamlin. And we hear how More or Less has wielded its influence over how we all describe very large numbers....


Can China's data on covid deaths be trusted?

When the pandemic took hold, the Chinese government imposed a zero-Covid policy that aimed to contain the virus through mass-testing and strict lockdowns. But early in December, amidst widespread public protests and the spread of the omicron variant to more than 200 cities, those draconian, highly restrictive measures were lifted almost entirely. For the first time in just under two years, the majority of the country’s near one-and-a-half billion citizens were free to meet, mix and mingle...


Irish pubs - a global numbers game

It's possible that the question we focus on in this week's programme occurred to you as you were sipping on an Irish Coffee in Bubbles O'Leary's in Kampala, Uganda: Where can the most Irish pubs be found - in Ireland? Or in all other countries combined? The popularity and sheer ubiquity of Irish pubs is a thing to behold. In 2015, the Irish Pubs Global Federation said there was approximately 6500 Irish pubs doing business outside the Emerald Isle - and our own research tells us there's at...


Numbers of the Year 2022

Tim Harford discusses the numbers that help explain some of the biggest stories of the year, including the war in Ukraine, soaring inflation and a breakthrough for women’s football, with the help of Olga Ivshina, correspondent for the BBC Russian service; Chris Giles, economics editor of the Financial Times; Linda Bauld, professor of public health at the University of Edinburgh and Georgina Sturge, author and House of Commons statistician.


Qatar World Cup: the pressure of penalties

The World Cup in Qatar is drawing to a close. Penalties and penalty shootouts have provided some of the biggest moments of the tournament. We analyse penalty data from the World Cup and ask what boosts the chance of scoring from the spot, with the help of Ben Lyttleton, author of Twelve Yards: The Art and Psychology of the Perfect Penalty.


Why are data so important in determining how we live?

Why are good data so important to policymakers – whether they know it or not – and what happens when good data is missing? Presenter Tim Harford speaks to Georgina Sturge, a statistician at the House of Commons library in London and the author of Bad Data: How Governments, Politicians and the Rest of Us Get Misled by Numbers.


The World Cup: how many migrant workers have died?

Qatar has been fiercely criticised over its treatment of migrant workers, many of whom have been employed to build stadiums and other infrastructure in preparation for the 2022 World Cup. We look at the wildly varying estimates of the number of migrant deaths with the help of Max Tunon, head of the Qatar office of the International Labour Organisation and Steve Cockburn, head of economic and social justice at Amnesty International.


When do food shortages become a famine?

Somalia is experiencing its worst drought for 40 years and there are warnings that millions of people need food assistance urgently. The UN body tasked with classifying levels of food security has projected a famine, although no official declaration has yet been made. We ask what data is used to formally categorise famine and explore some of the difficulties in collecting it, with the help of UN IPC Global Programme Manager Jose Lopez and Professor Laura Hammond, Pro Director of Research &...


A $220 billion World Cup?

As the FIFA World Cup in Qatar gets underway, and the newly built stadia, lavish hotels and transport networks come to life, More or Less investigates just how much the Gulf nation has spent in the lead-up to the tournament. Reports claim the figure could be as much as $220 billion - that’s more than Qatar's annual GDP, and more than ten times higher than the 2014 World Cup in Brazil. At an estimated $15 billion, this was previously the most expensive tournament to date. With no access to...


Bonus Episode: Understand the Economy

Tim Harford brings you the first episode of his new podcast, Understand the Economy. If you’ve been missing his dulcet tones, here’s a chance for you to have a preview of Tim Harford’s latest podcast, in which he offers really simple explanations to help make sense of the economy today. If you enjoy it, you can find the rest of the series on BBC Sounds or wherever you get your podcasts. In this episode, inflation. What is inflation, why does it matter, and is someone to blame if it goes up?...


Improving the numbers in the news

How can journalists improve their use of statistics in their reporting of the world around us? It’s a question US academics John Bailer and Rosemary Pennington tackle in their new book Statistics Behind the Headlines. They join Tim Harford to talk about how journalism can be improved by asking the right questions about numbers and using them in the wider context of a story. Presenter: Tim Harford Producer: Jon Bithrey Editor: Simon Watts Production Coordinator: Jacqui Johnson Sound Engineer:...


Lula’s “zero deforestation” plan for the Amazon

Lula Da Silva has pledged “zero deforestation” in the Amazon as he prepares to become Brazil’s next president, in contrast to the policies of outgoing leader Jair Bolsonaro under whom the destruction of the rainforest has soared. On this edition of More or Less we ask how much of the Amazon has been lost and whether Lula’s aim of zero deforestation can be achieved. Presenter and producer: Jon Bithrey Editor: Simon Watts: Sound engineer: David Crackles Production Co-ordinator: Jacqui Johnson...