We’re all searching (and hopefully finding) little things to help us through these difficult times, but why do I find this radio show that lays bare the stark reality of what we face so comforting?
More or Less (BBc Radio 4, Wednesdays 9am) is a show about statistics. But it isn’t anywhere near as dry as that might sound. 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 is Radio 4’s resident economist and general smart cookie, presents this entertaining numbers show. Formal but conversational, he keeps things light and free flowing. But don’t read ‘light and free flowing’ as ‘fluffy’ and insubstantial’ because often there are mightily weighty topics under the microscope. No more so than during these dark days of COVID-19. Most of us hear the figures every day, R-numbers, confirmed cases and of course the horrifying death toll. But we’re in in safe hands with More Or Less. My grasp on these things is probably the same as yours, certainly no mathematician but I never feel I’m being patronised or like things are dumbed 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 by ever-so-slightly 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. Where some figures are simply spin in the traditional fashion, others are pure fiction. So far, so ordinary. But then along comes More or Less to demonstrate, mostly in words of one syllable, where the real numbers come from and how they compare.
There are a lot of misleading figures floating about social media regarding COVID , especially during the early days of the pandemic. Due to insubstantial data and stats circulated by information fraudsters and spin doctors (assuming they’re not one and the same) there is a lot to disseminate. Tim Harford and his clever friends cut theough it all in a relaxed but thorough way. Quietly but comprehensively debunking misleading statistics. When stats inform government policy you at least want to be sure it is based on sound data. Again, More or Less helpfully dismantles the facts and figures that dominate the headlines and shape government policy has.
Lots of 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 doing just that.
It is strange how this show helps me to cope. But in a world of ‘fake news’, clickbait and sensationalist journalism, there is something really comforting about these hard facts, and a programme that doesn’t need to dress up data in order to be both informative or entertaining.
If you prefer facts to fiction, like your radio shows to dispense information and can enjoy slightly dry academic wit, More or Less may just become your totem of truth in a world of disinformation. It certainly has for me.
Listen to More Or Less : https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b006qshd/broadcasts/upcoming
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All content copyright Martin Gregory. 2021