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Fluconomics 2

A man in Amsterdam is examined for swine flu
More or Less
Friday, 21 August 2009
BBC Radio 4, 1330 BST

How reliable are the data being collected on swine flu?

Statisticians have told us they think there is too much guess-work and not enough empirical evidence.

If they are right, it is important.

Tim Harford speaks to the Chief Medical Officer, Sir Liam Donaldson, to find out what is really happening.

Batting for statistics

Australian bowler Peter Siddle (R) celebrates the wicket of England's Alastair Cook (L)
If Andrew Strauss had taken advice from mathematicians, could this wicket have been avoided?

Could numbers give an edge to England's Ashes cricketers?

A research paper by statisticians has come up with some controversial advice for cricketers.

England has already made one mistake (it is better to bat second) but it is not too late to make use of another of the researchers' discoveries.

A Levels examined

Pupils from Withington Girls School, Manchester celebrate their results
Another year of record-breaking results - but how would someone sitting them in 1992 do today?

By the time A Level students were ripping into their results on Thursday, pundits were already rushing to the nation's microphones to complain of so-called 'grade inflation'.

We look at the evidence - and, in the process, age-adjust Tim's least impressive A Level result.

Financial WMD

An office worker watching the FTSE 100
Mathematicians have been blamed for the economic crisis, but is it their fault?

It is two years since the credit storm engulfed the global economy.

We speak to one of the gifted mathematicians who helped pioneer the complex products Warren Buffet famously described as "financial weapons of mass destruction".

She is Terri Duhon.

BBC Radio 4's More or Less is broadcast on Friday, 21 August at 1330 BST and repeated on Sunday, 23 August at 2000 BST.

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Your Comments

A levels examined

Just because the students are getting higher grades doesn't make it easier to get to university. One of my daughters is looking at universities to do a very similar subject to that which I did in 1984. In 1981 I received a B,C & D in my A levels and was easily able to gain a place at Sheffield Uni to study Physiology and Zoology. My daughter is going to need an A and 2Bs to do the same course to start in 2010. My daughters deserve the grades they obtained and I know that they are certainly more applied, organised and better motivated than I was at 17! Teresa Hughes

For many years until recently I was an adviser to students in schools and colleges, particularly in relation to A level subject choices and eventual progression to university. Up until the late 1990s maths was quite a popular option for students. Generally welcome changes to GCSE Maths then put the focus on the students' ability to apply mathematics in the real world. However, this reduced the connection between skills needed for GCSE success and those needed to succeed at A level, which must quite rightly meet the needs of universities, particularly in Pure Maths. When this happened, students who had achieved even A grades at GCSE sometimes found themselves struggling with A level. As a result, teachers and advisers were careful to suggest that only the most 'mathemetically minded' (however academically able) took up the subject at A level. As a result, it is perhaps unsurprising that students who take A level maths are likely to be more successful than they were in the past. Jackie Powell

Why does no-one mention the bell-shaped curve of normal distribution? As a student of education back in the 70s/80s in the USA, one course on the setting and grading of tests emphasised this curve as an indicator of the validity of a test for a given group. If the test is appropriate for the group very few will fail, very few achieve A grades and the majority will achieve a middle grade of C. Any kind of skew toward the top or bottom end indicates a test too easy or too hard for the group. Clearly A-level exam results are no longer a good indicator of ability. Maureen Ille

Financial WMD

While your US contributor may have had a firm grasp of the constituents needed to achieve 'success', it's obvious she, and certainly those charged with overseeing the process, didn't appreciate the effect if this were to be applied by those with only the bottom line bonus in mind. Gordon Petherbridge

Derivatives are manufactured, mostly by banks. If they can sell them, they may make a profit. Intermediaries can also profit from various forms of handling fees. But how can the ultimate purchaser ever receive a benefit? Given their complexity, no-one (on the basis of the last two years' experience) can price the risk. So why do regulators not ban their sale? Jimmy Adams

Swine flu death toll climbs to 59
20 Aug 09 |  Health
Record top A-level grades awarded
20 Aug 09 |  Education
Timeline: Credit crunch to downturn
07 Aug 09 |  Business
Swine flu: how the numbers add up
31 Jul 09 |  Health
What to do if you have swine flu
30 Jul 09 |  TV and Radio
08 May 09 |  More Or Less

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