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Freakonomics meets More or Less

Stephen Dubner (L) Tim Harford (middle) and Steven Levitt (R)
More or Less
Friday, 1 January 2010
BBC Radio 4, 1330 GMT

For this New Year's Day edition we invited two kindred spirits to join us in the More or Less studio:

Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner, authors of the hugely influential Freakonomics - and their recent sequel, Superfreakonomics.

In the introduction to Superfreakonomics, Levitt and Dubner write:

"Some people may argue that statistics can be made to say anything … but the economic approach aims for the opposite: to address a given topic with neither fear nor favour, letting numbers speak the truth".

We agree.

Which is why we invited Messrs Levitt and Dubner to steer this special edition of More or Less by suggesting numbers stories for us to investigate.

Stephen Dubner (L) Tim Harford (middle) and Steven Levitt (R)
Stephen Dubner (L) Tim Harford (middle) and Steven Levitt (R) in the studio. Dubner and Levitt are the authors of Freakonomics.

Cheating in sport

Tom Williams from the Harlequins is led off the field with fake blood coming from his mouth
This Harlequins rugby player was suspended for a year after being found guilty of fabricating an injury.

Tom Williams, the Harlequins rugby winger, used a capsule of fake blood to get himself substituted in a game in 2009.

When Steven Levitt read about this he began to wonder whether the Brits are particularly bad (or good) at cheating.

Now wash your hands

A hand sanitizer in Texas
Hand sanitizers have been cropping up everywhere to help reduce swine flu cases, but do they work?

The government is telling us to wash our hands to help prevent the spread of Swine Flu.

Stephen Dubner wondered whether hand-washing really kills the flu virus.

If we all heed the advice, could there be unexpected consequences?

Drill and fill

A dentist examining a woman's teeth
Americans often accuse the British of having bad teeth. Is it because of the system of incentives?

Like many Americans, Steven Levitt is concerned about the state of British teeth.

More specifically, he asked us to investigate the NHS contract for dentists in England and Wales.

He fears it is encouraging poor treatment through a flawed system of incentives.

Has London's congestion charge worked?

Cars driving past the congestion charge zone in London
The London C Charge costs 8 a day per car and operates from 7am until 6pm, Monday to Friday.

In 2003 London embarked on what some regard as one of the great economic experiments: the congestion charge.

Steven Levitt asked us to look closely at the results.

Did it work? And were there any unintended effects?

Stephen Dubner (L) Tim Harford (middle) and Steven Levitt (R) in the studio
Looking into the recording studio at BBC Bush House, where Tim interviewed Dubner and Levitt for More or Less.

And don't forget our end of year quiz

BBC Radio 4's More or Less is broadcast on Friday, 1 January 2010 at 1330 GMT and repeated on Sunday, 3 January at 2000 GMT.

Subscribe to the More or Less podcast.

You can e-mail us by using the form below:

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Disclaimer: The BBC may edit your comments and cannot guarantee that all emails will be published.

Stephen Dubner: why I like numbers
21 Dec 09 |  Video and Audio
Could a rugby injury be faked?
22 Aug 09 |  Today
Quins stunned by fake injury fine
20 Jul 09 |  Harlequins
Swine flu 'less lethal than feared'
10 Dec 09 |  Health
Shame 'boosts hand-washing rate'
14 Oct 09 |  Health
Dental fear over older population
02 Dec 09 |  Health
TFL to review congestion charge
05 Aug 09 |  England


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