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About More or Less

Lottery balls
We look at the way numbers crop up in everyday life

More or Less is devoted to the powerful, sometimes beautiful, often abused but ever ubiquitous world of numbers.

The programme was an idea born of the sense that numbers were the principal language of public argument.

And yet there were few places where it was thought necessary to step back and think about the way we use figures - in the way we often step back to think about language.

Writer and economist Tim Harford (photo: Fran Monks)

What do they really measure? What kind of truth, if any, do they capture?

Yet no politician, no economist, and in recent years no doctor, teacher, chief constable or any number of others, has been able to make a case or answer one without regaling you with numbers.

Open the pages of any newspaper and you will see risks of this, targets for that, new spending and new cuts, arguments about productivity, performance indicators, measurements, statistics and quantification of every kind.

And so was born More or Less, initially with six programmes on BBC Radio 4 presented by economist Andrew Dilnot. More or Less is now a permanent part of the schedule with two series annually, one in the summer, one in winter.

Tim Harford, Financial Times columnist and author of the best-selling books The Undercover Economist and The Logic of Life, took over as presenter in October 2007.

Since January 2005, More or Less has been produced in association with the Open University.

In past series, we have tackled everything from the man who could not walk without numbers to the extent of bad behaviour caused by nursery care.

From cancer clusters by way of tossing coins to the real health risks faced by women drinkers. From the many ways that statistics can show us how our instincts are often wrong to arguments about whether maths could explain some aspects of evolution better than Darwinism.

We have looked at the poor image of maths students, the development of models of avalanches using a deluge of ping pong balls down an Olympic ski jump, the oddities of government targets for waste collection, how many fish there are in the North Sea, you name it, we have done it.

Then, of course, there are the big political arguments about pensions, the budget, the economy, measuring poverty, school league tables, a vast array of stories, issues and ideas.

We like to think that More or Less has no particular subject.

Rather it touches on every subject, with the same calm authority.

We all use numbers in so many ways to argue about, understand, help make sense of the world around us.

More or Less hopes to make that task easier, more entertaining, more surprising.

More or Less can be heard on Fridays on BBC Radio 4 at 1330 BST and is repeated on Sundays at 2000 GMT. It is presented by Tim Harford.

Series Producer: Richard Knight

Open University Adviser: Kevin McConway

Producer/Reporter: Ruth Alexander

Researcher/Reporter: Oliver Hawkins

Editor: Richard Vadon

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