DailyAudio: More or Less with Tim Harford

MORE OR LESS with Tim Harford >>> BBC Radio 4 >>> 253 episodes >>> Latest Series 2020

More or Less is a show about statistics but it’s nowhere near as dry as that might sound. Segments are presented by statisticians , mathematicians and probably a few other ‘stician’s besides, giving us the facts behind the figures in an accessible but informative way.


Tim Harford, Radio 4’s resident smart cookie, presents and he keep things light and free flowing. But don’t read ‘light’ as ‘fluffy’ or ‘insubstantial’ because often there are mightily weighty topics under the microscope. But we’re in safe hands. More or Less does not dumb down, if something is hard to grasp the presenters find imaginative ways to lift the understanding of the audience. Trimming the fat from around the stats, this show goes to great efforts to ensure everyone is involved, regardless of their intelligence quotient and it is this inclusive atmosphere that makes the show not just penetrable but palatable. The producers obviously know numbers can be horribly dry , but the way the facts are disseminated (with sometimes curiously off-beat framing devices) by ever so kooky academics is one of the key ways in which the audience is helped in appreciating the data on display.,


That More or Less concerns itself merely with facts is another thing that sets this show apart. The only ‘agenda’ this programme has is to give substance to the cold facts and numbers, put them in context and present this crucially important, and often incorrectly reported, information accessible to a casual daytime audience.


The UK government uses it’s own statisticians, which is curious when the public funded Office of National Statistics does such a comprehensive job. Governments the world over massage numbers to provide stats that fit their narrative and spin. So far so ordinary. But recent successive Conservative governments have been giving those numbers the full spa treatment. Where some figures are simply spin in the traditional fashion, others are pure fiction. But then along comes More or Less to quietly but entirely debunk and demonstrate, mostly in words of one syllable, where the real numbers come from and how they compare. In a world of ‘fake news’, clickbait and sensationalist journalism, there is something oddly comforting about these hard facts, and a programme that doesn’t need to dress up data in order to be informative or entertaining.


The British Broadcasting Corporation always has a hard time when the Conservative party are in government. The BBC has suffered a string of bad publicity of it’s own making whilst the Tories attack the organisation from every side. The BBC says it’s impartial and not aligned to either the political left or right, yet comes under fire from both sides. Both left and right attack the BBC over the corporation’s impartial mandate but since 2010, it has been legislation presented by the right that has forced the BBC to reduce spending and axe services, amid growing opposition from online platforms. But here is More or Less, quietly flying under the radar and giving British politicians more headaches than there is aspirin in the world to cure them – if they had the wit to tune in! Tucked away in a quiet time slot on Radio 4, this gem is well hidden from Tory ire, and fire.


There were a lot of misleading figures floating about during the summer peak of the Coronavirus pandemic, some of them due to insubstantial data and some circulated by information fraudsters and spin doctors (assuming they’re not one and the same). I know this because Tim Harford and his clever friends told me so. On a weekly basis. Week after week, show after show, quietly but comprehensively debunking the UK government’s statistics, and highlighting the increasing gulf between truth and lies. When stats inform government policy you at least want to be sure it is based on sound data. More or Less demonstrated time and again the facts and figures shaping government policy has been constructed on particularly shaky ground.


Other programmes concern themselves with hype, embellishment and discrediting government advice and data but that isn’t what this programme is really here to do, it’s not what the show is for. And yet it has been utterly essential during the pandemic.


If you prefer facts to fiction, like your radio shows to dispense information instead of jokes, and can handle dry academic wit, More or Less will become your totem of truth in a land of disinformation. If you enjoy stats and maths, you will be in your element. And if you enjoy hearing official data being thoroughly crapped on by the brightest minds on the radio, enjoy yourself. And don’t say a word!

https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b006qshd


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Copyright Martin Gregory 2020

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