In praise of ‘More or Less’

I’m pretty numerate – mathematical even – so you would expect me to like Radio 4’s ‘More or Less’. And of course I do: its weekly podcast never fails to educate, inform, and entertain (to borrow a motto from Lord Reith). If you haven’t come across it then I should say that Tim Harford explains – and sometimes debunks – the numbers and statistics used in political debate, the news and everyday life (to borrow a phrase from the programme’s website).

My take on the programme’s strength is actually that the stuff about numbers and statistics is perhaps a bit of a smokescreen, and really what is being established are the basic facts of a story, and their context. Furthermore the ‘More or Less’ approach should be common currency, and built in to any story: so really this is about how to improve basic journalism.

This blog features several scattered pieces inspired by the programme. I’m writing this more general post because a series of recent episodes has brilliantly shone light on some big news stories. Some are becoming easy to spot. An example being the story about 50% of food being wasted. This was always going to be clear More or Less territory, and indeed it was (details in a future post).

In the here and now there’s the story about traces of pork in halal meat. Now of course the basic story is of significant concern, but I can’t help thinking that it would be extremely useful to know what is meant by ‘traces’. I don’t have the answer by the way, and More or Less may – or may not – cover this. But as a loyal listener I’m very thankful to the programme for prompting my enquiry.


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