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Excel ideas – More or Less

There’s a nifty BBC program all about the abuse of numbers.

by Office Watch

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Excel is about numbers and numbers can be used or abused. In the media numbers are often abused for the sake of a headline or to push a certain product or ideology. There's a nifty BBC program all about the abuse of numbers.

More or Less is a BBC Radio 4 / Open University program about numbers and stats in the news. They take news stories with compelling statistics and pull them apart to see if they make sense.

For example, we've been hearing stories about retail sales in late 2007 being down by, say, 2.6% but that's not as bad as it might seem.

A simple question like 'The UK town with the most pubs per head of population' doesn't have a simple answer.

The alleged 'street value' of drugs given by the police is a highly flexible value - after all there's no official price list.

Does a doctors' strike actually save lives?

How can the same news story produce these two headlines: "Migrant crime wave a myth" and "Immigrants bring more crime".

What does this have to do with Excel?

Anyone who uses Excel has to watch out for (or perhaps deliberately look for) statistical or numerical traps. More or Less is an entertaining way to learn about some of those traps.

The current presenter is Tim Hartford, a columnist for the Financial Times and author of the fascinating book The Undercover Economist.

You can check out More or Less from the BBC web site and the affiliated Open University site. The easiest way to catch up is with the podcast.

Article posted: Sunday, 11 January 2009

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