I run to podcasts. My favourite podcast is More or Less: Behind the Stats, by Tim Harford. It is broadcasted weekly by BBC Radio 4. Tim humorously examines mainstream statistics that come up in the news. Listeners send their questions and he tries to analyse the numbers to examine the claims that are made.
For instance, in the latest show, Tim analyses two interesting statistics. The first, was that joggers who run for more than two and a half hours, for more than three times per week, are as likely to die as those who are couch potatoes, whereas those who run for up to two and half hours for less than three times a week and at a slower running pace, enjoy increased chances of survival of non-joggers and strenuous joggers alike. The conclusion reached by the statisticians who conducted the longitudinal study, eagerly circulated by mainstream media, was that strenuous jogging is bad for you.
Alas, the sample of strenuous joggers used was very low, only thirty six, and definitely not enough to justify such a grand conclusion. Moreover, the number of people in the strenuous joggers’ group who actually died, were two. One. Two. Only two. And we have no data about their cause of death. So if a strenuous jogger died in a car accident we would have no way to distinguish her from someone who died whilst running. Nevertheless, the runner who might have died in a car accident would still be counted towards the overall number of deaths of strenuous joggers.
The second interesting statistic was that the average number of legs per person is less than two. This can be verified statistically, but in reality, it tells us nothing. The statistic is technically true. There are more people with amputated legs than there are people who were born with three legs. Whilst the statistic is true, it doesn’t tell us much; it is illustrative of the sensational excitement that statistics can create, even in the absence of actual substance.
Anyway, I just wanted to bring the podcast to your attention. I hope you enjoy it.