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Last Updated: Thursday, 12 January 2006, 10:26 GMT
Top of the league
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More or Less
Thursday, 12 January, 2006
BBC Radio 4, 1500 GMT

More or Less this week is proud to announce that it is number one in the world league of numbers programmes.

Click here to have your say

Ok, that is a lie. There is not, yet, a world league of numbers programmes. But if present trends continue, it cannot be long.

There has been a proliferation of world rankings in the last 30 years, and not just in sport.

Every time you pick up the paper or turn on the news, it seems, we find that Britain is third at this or tenth at that.

Comparisons of public services, health, education and of crime, transport or governance are becoming increasingly common.

They make big news and, depending where Britain is placed, they can cause political rows or bouts of self congratulation.

In Germany recently, an international educational league table caused a national scandal and the reform of maths teaching.

So you would want to know that they were telling you something useful. Are they?

The Economic and Social Research Council is currently conducting research into international rankings. It is led by Christopher Hood of Oxford University.

We delve into some of that work and talk about what the league tables really tell you.

Welcome to Ranking World.

'Natural' measurements

Also on the programme this week, the art of measuring the impossible.

We look at an attempt to find out what can be measured about what is "natural".

Could it be that this is an area of life where numbers fail? And why should anyone want to try to measure naturalness?

Find out in More or Less.

BBC Radio 4's More or Less was broadcast on Thursday, 12 January, 2006 at 1500 GMT.

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