How To Make The World Add Up [Tim Harford]

Episodes

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01Beware Of Your Emotions2020120720201208 (R4)Tim Harford reads from his new book revealing how we can evaluate the statistical claims that surround us with confidence, curiosity and a healthy level of scepticism.

Statistics are vital in helping us understand the world. We see them in the papers and on social media, and we hear them used in everyday conversation. Yet we doubt them more than ever. But numbers – in the right hands – have the power to change the world for the better.

Tim argues that, contrary to popular belief, good statistics are not a trick, although they are a kind of magic. Good statistics are like a telescope for an astronomer, a microscope for a bacteriologist or an X-ray for a radiologist. If we are willing to let them, good statistics help us see things about the world that we would not be able to see in any other way.

Tim Harford is a senior columnist at the Financial Times and the presenter of Radio 4’s More or Less and Fifty Things that Made the Modern Economy, as well as author of the best-selling The Undercover Economist.

In this first episode, Tim tells the story of the eminent Dutch art historian Abraham Bredius, who was tricked into believing a crude forgery was actually a lost masterpiece by Vermeer. Tim uses this cautionary tale to warn us of the power our emotions have to distort rational thinking.

Abridged and produced by Jane Greenwood
Read by Tim Harford
A Loftus Media production for BBC Radio 4

Tim Harford reads from his new book decoding the truth behind statistics.

02Put Words Before Numbers2020120820201209 (R4)Tim Harford reads from his new book revealing how we can evaluate the statistical claims that surround us with confidence, curiosity and a healthy level of scepticism.

Statistics are vital in helping us understand the world. We see them in the papers and on social media, and we hear them used in everyday conversation. Yet we doubt them more than ever. But numbers – in the right hands – have the power to change the world for the better.

Tim argues that, contrary to popular belief, good statistics are not a trick, although they are a kind of magic. Good statistics are like a telescope for an astronomer, a microscope for a bacteriologist or an X-ray for a radiologist. If we are willing to let them, good statistics help us see things about the world that we would not be able to see in any other way.

Tim Harford is a senior columnist at the Financial Times and the presenter of Radio 4’s More or Less and Fifty Things that Made the Modern Economy, as well as author of the best-selling The Undercover Economist.

In this second episode, Tim argues that, when faced with a statistic, we should avoid diving straight into the maths and ask a simple question instead - what is actually being measured or counted here? When we know the answer to that question, we can start to think constructively about the numbers involved and avoid what he calls ‘premature enumeration’.

Abridged and produced by Jane Greenwood
Read by Tim Harford
A Loftus Media production for BBC Radio 4

Tim Harford reads from his new book decoding the truth behind statistics.

03Question The Algorithm2020120920201210 (R4)Tim Harford reads from his new book revealing how we can evaluate the statistical claims that surround us with confidence, curiosity and a healthy level of scepticism.

Statistics are vital in helping us understand the world. We see them in the papers and on social media, and we hear them used in everyday conversation. Yet we doubt them more than ever. But numbers – in the right hands – have the power to change the world for the better.

Tim argues that, contrary to popular belief, good statistics are not a trick, although they are a kind of magic. Good statistics are like a telescope for an astronomer, a microscope for a bacteriologist or an X-ray for a radiologist. If we are willing to let them, good statistics help us see things about the world that we would not be able to see in any other way.

Tim Harford is a senior columnist at the Financial Times and the presenter of Radio 4’s More or Less and Fifty Things that Made the Modern Economy, as well as author of the best-selling The Undercover Economist.

In this third episode, Tim examines the role of big data and algorithms in our lives in the wake of this summer’s furore over A Level and GCSE grades. He draws a fascinating analogy between the secret algorithms of big companies today and the secrecy of the doomed alchemists of the seventeenth century.

Abridged and produced by Jane Greenwood
Read by Tim Harford
A Loftus Media production for BBC Radio 4

Tim Harford reads from his new book decoding the truth behind statistics.

04Keep An Open Mind2020121020201211 (R4)Tim Harford reads from his new book revealing how we can evaluate the statistical claims that surround us with confidence, curiosity and a healthy level of scepticism.

Statistics are vital in helping us understand the world. We see them in the papers and on social media, and we hear them used in everyday conversation. Yet we doubt them more than ever. But numbers – in the right hands – have the power to change the world for the better.

Tim argues that, contrary to popular belief, good statistics are not a trick, although they are a kind of magic. Good statistics are like a telescope for an astronomer, a microscope for a bacteriologist or an X-ray for a radiologist. If we are willing to let them, good statistics help us see things about the world that we would not be able to see in any other way.

Tim Harford is a senior columnist at the Financial Times and the presenter of Radio 4’s More or Less and Fifty Things that Made the Modern Economy, as well as author of the best-selling The Undercover Economist.

In this fourth episode, Tim describes the contrasting lives of two of the 20th century’s greatest economists - Irving Fisher and John Maynard Keynes. Fisher was a teetotal vegetarian who married his childhood sweetheart; Keynes was a bisexual hedonist and part of the Bloomsbury Group. Both men failed to predict the Wall Street crash of 1929 but their reactions to it were very different and, Tim argues, a vital lesson to us all.

Abridged and produced by Jane Greenwood
Read by Tim Harford
A Loftus Media production for BBC Radio 4

Tim Harford reads from his new book decoding the truth behind statistics.

05Step Back And Enjoy The Long View2020121120201212 (R4)Tim Harford reads from his new book revealing how we can evaluate the statistical claims that surround us with confidence, curiosity and a healthy level of scepticism.

Statistics are vital in helping us understand the world. We see them in the papers and on social media, and we hear them used in everyday conversation. Yet we doubt them more than ever. But numbers – in the right hands – have the power to change the world for the better.

Tim argues that, contrary to popular belief, good statistics are not a trick, although they are a kind of magic. Good statistics are like a telescope for an astronomer, a microscope for a bacteriologist or an X-ray for a radiologist. If we are willing to let them, good statistics help us see things about the world that we would not be able to see in any other way.

Tim Harford is a senior columnist at the Financial Times and the presenter of Radio 4’s More or Less and Fifty Things that Made the Modern Economy, as well as author of the best-selling The Undercover Economist.

In this final episode, Tim urges us to take the long view of statistics and the way they are presented in the news. He suggests we consider the idea of the fifty year newspaper - topics that seemed earth-shattering to the daily newspapers of the time might not be mentioned at all, while huge changes in the world would scream from the front pages.

Abridged and produced by Jane Greenwood
Read by Tim Harford
A Loftus Media production for BBC Radio 4

Tim Harford reads from his new book decoding the truth behind statistics.