Cautionary Tales with Tim Harford

40 followers

About

We tell our children unsettling fairy tales to teach them valuable life lessons, but these Cautionary Tales are for the education of the grown ups – and they are all true. Tim Harford (Financial Times, BBC, author of “The Data Detective” and “The Undercover Economist”) brings you stories of awful human error, tragic catastrophes, daring heists and…

We tell our children unsettling fairy tales to teach them valuable life lessons, but these Cautionary Tales are for the education of the grown ups – and they are all true. Tim Harford (Financial Times, BBC, author of “The Data Detective” and “The Undercover Economist”) brings you stories of awful human error, tragic catastrophes, daring heists and hilarious fiascos. They’ll delight you, scare you, but also make you wiser. iHeartMedia is the exclusive podcast partner of Pushkin Industries.

Episodes

MAY 13, 2021 Fritterin’ Away Genius
Claude Shannon was brilliant. He was the Einstein of computer science... only he loved "fritterin' away" his time building machines to play chess, solve Rubik's cubes and beat the house at roulette. If Shannon had worked more diligently - instead of juggling, riding a unicycle and abandoning projec…
MAY 6, 2021 The Fan Who Infected a Movie Star
German measles is a minor illness for most people - but for unborn children it can be devastating. In 1943 - when the link was only just becoming clear - a young US marine decided to break rubella quarantine to meet the movie star Gene Tierney (played by Mircea Monroe). The marine was sick... and G…
APR 29, 2021 Whistleblower on the 28th Floor
Financial expert Ray Dirks (played by Jeffrey Wright) exposed one of the biggest corporate crimes of all time - and yet he was the one who ended up in front of the Supreme Court. Whistleblowers often face intimidation from those they bring to justice, but also face hostility from their co-workers, …
APR 22, 2021 Masterly Inactivity Versus Micromanaging
Lady Sale (played by Helena Bonham Carter) was part of a bloody and ignominious British retreat from Afghanistan in 1842. The arrogant colonial invaders had thought intervening in Afghan affairs and dominating the country would be easy - they were wrong. Lady Sale was among the lucky few to escape …
APR 15, 2021 Demonizing Dungeons & Dragons
When James Dallas Egbert III was reported missing from his college dorm - one of America's most flamboyant private detectives was summoned to solve the case. "Dallas" had many of the same problems that most teenagers face - but P.I. William Dear stoked fears that he might have fallen under the evil…
APR 8, 2021 Number Fever: How Pepsi Nearly Went Pop
Pepsi twice ended up in court after promotions went disastrously wrong. Other big companies have fallen into the same trap - promising customers rewards so generous that to fulfil the promise might mean corporate bankruptcy. Businesses and customers alike are sometimes blinded by the big numbers in…
APR 1, 2021 The Curse of Knowledge Meets The Valley of Death
Why were soldiers on horseback told to ride straight into a valley full of enemy cannon? The disastrous "Charge of the Light Brigade" is usually blamed on blundering generals. But the confusing orders issued on that awful day in 1854 reveal a common human trait - we often wrongly assume that everyo…
MAR 25, 2021 The Dunning Kruger Hijack (and Other Criminally Stupid Acts)
The hijackers of flight 961 wanted its pilot to fly them to Australia - and wouldn't listen to his pleas that there simply wasn't enough fuel for the mammoth trip. What would cause them to totally disregard the advice of an expert when the stakes were so very high? The Dunning Kruger effect. But be…
MAR 18, 2021 Catching a Killer Doctor
Family doctor Harold Shipman got away with murdering his patients for decades. He was one of the most prolific serial killers in history - but his hundreds of crimes largely went unnoticed despite a vast paper trail of death certificates he himself had signed. Why do we sometimes fail to see awful …
MAR 11, 2021 The Art Forger, the Nazi, and "The Pope"
"The Pope" was a revered Dutch art expert - and yet he fell for a not very convincing forgery of a "lost" Vermeer masterpiece. The forger had duped other art connoisseurs too - including the high ranking Nazi Hermann Göring. But perhaps Han van Meegeren's biggest con was to convince the Dutch publi…
MAR 4, 2021 Florence Nightingale and Her Geeks Declare War on Death
Victorian nurse Florence Nightingale (played by her distant cousin Helena Bonham Carter) is a hero of modern medicine - but her greatest contribution to combating disease and death resulted from the vivid graphs she made to back her public health campaigns. Her charts convinced the great and the go…
FEB 25, 2021 Martin Luther King Jr, the Jewelry Genius, and the Art of Public Speaking
One speechmaker inspired millions with his words, the other utterly destroyed his own multi-million-dollar business with just a few phrases. Civil rights icon Martin Luther King Jr (played by Jeffrey Wright of Westworld, The Hunger Games, and the James Bond films) and jewelry store owner Gerald Rat…
FEB 18, 2021 Cautionary Tales returns February 26th
We shouldn't just gawk at the misfortune and stupidity of others - we should try to learn lessons to save us from enduring the same pain. Economist and writer Tim Harford returns with a new season of Cautionary Tales introducing us to idiotic hijackers, murderous doctors and brazen art forgers - as…
FEB 12, 2021 Bonus: Why We Believe What Isn't True (with Axios Today)
We're no stranger to stories about misinformation or deliberate disinformation. We live in a world where now more than ever, you have to be skeptical. That skepticism can be healthy, but it also can be used to cast more doubt and misinformation on data and statistics that are very real. Tim Harford…
FEB 1, 2021 The Data Detective
Cautionary Tales' host Tim Harford has a new book - The Data Detective - setting out ten commandments for understanding the numbers, charts, graphs and statistics that bombard us every day. In this free extract, Tim explains his extra "golden" rule that allows us to observe all his other commandmen…
SEP 16, 2020 BONUS: Storks, Smoking and the Power of Doubt
It's easy to mock statistics or cast doubt on them... but we do so at our peril. Undermining our trust in facts and figures can cause great harm, and even death. We should guard against it. Tim Harford looks at how the seeds of doubt are planted in this mini-episode of Cautionary Tales to celebrate…
JUL 16, 2020 How To End A Pandemic
The eradication of smallpox is one of humanity's great achievements - but the battle against the virus was fought by the most unlikely of alliances. How did the breakthrough happen - and can we guarantee that the world is still safe from smallpox? This episode owes a debt to Stephen Coss’s book The…
JUL 9, 2020 That Turn To Pascagoula
For years, people had warned that New Orleans was vulnerable - but when a hurricane came close to destroying the city, the reaction was muted. Some people took the near miss as a warning - others, as confirmation that there was nothing to worry about. So why do we struggle to prepare for disasters?…
JUL 2, 2020 The Village of Heroes
It looked like any ordinary roll of cloth, but it brought the dreaded plague to the village of Eyam. First it killed the tailor, then resident after resident succumbed. To stop the spread of the disease to neighbouring towns the people of Eyam agreed to isolate themselves and let the plague run its…
JUN 25, 2020 The Spreadsheet of Life and Death
Clive had a deadly form of cancer, but fortunately there was a new drug to treat it. Imagine his anger when he was told the treatment was too expensive. He’d entered a world where unique human lives are given a value in a mathematical formula. So how much should we spend to extend or save a life? A…
JUN 18, 2020 A Tsunami of Misery
A monstrous wave and then a nuclear disaster forced Mikio and Hamako Watanabe from their home. But being saved from the potential dangers of a radiation leak destroyed their lives in a different way. Why do we overlook the fact that taking action against an urgent danger can also cause longer term …
JUN 11, 2020 Fire at The Beverly Hills Supper Club
Flames are spreading through a Cincinnati hotel. The staff know it, the fire department is coming, and the people in the packed cabaret bar have been told to evacuate… and yet they hesitate to leave. Why don’t we react to some warnings until it’s too late? Read more about Tim's work at http://timha…
JAN 30, 2020 Cautionary Tales Presents: TED Talk Daily
In this special episode of Cautionary Tales, we feature Cautionary Tales host Tim Harford's TED Talk Daily from 2018. What can we learn from the world's most enduringly creative people? They "slow-motion multitask," actively juggling multiple projects and moving between topics as the mood strikes -…
DEC 26, 2019 You Have Reached Your Destination
We may mock our ancestors for seeking the advice of oracles, soothsayers and psychics, but today we rely heavily on computer programs and math formulas to help us navigate our world. If we continue to follow them unthinkingly, should we be surprised when we end up in unexpected and dangerous places…
DEC 19, 2019 Bowie, Jazz and the Unplayable Piano
It was the biggest concert of Keith Jarrett's career - but the pianist was in for a shock when he entered Koln's opera house. The only piano at the venue was a broken-down wreck. Should he risk humiliation and play anyway or simply walk out? The collaboration between pop superstar David Bowie and a…
DEC 12, 2019 How Britain Invented, Then Ignored, Blitzkrieg
In 1917, a brilliant British officer developed a way to use an emerging military technology: the tank. The British army promptly squandered the idea – but the Germans did not. Blitzkrieg, the devastating advance of German tanks across Europe in 1940, was invented by the British. This is a common st…
DEC 5, 2019 Buried by the Wall Street Crash
Both of the world’s greatest economists, Irving Fisher and John Maynard Keynes, thought they could see into the future and make a killing on the stock market - and then both were wiped out by the Wall Street Crash. One died a pauper, the other millionaire. What does it take to bounce back from ruin…
NOV 28, 2019 The Deadly Airship Race
A British Lord wanted to build the best airship in the world - and so he had two rival design teams battle it out to win the juicy government contract. Competition is supposed to bring the best out of people, but run in the wrong way it can cause people (and the things they produce) to fall apart i…
NOV 21, 2019 La La Land: Galileo's Warning
Galileo tried to teach us that adding more and more layers to a system intended to avert disaster often makes catastrophe all the more likely to happen. His basic lesson has been ignored in nuclear power plants, financial markets and at the Oscars... all resulting in chaos. Read more about Tim's wo…
NOV 14, 2019 The Rogue Dressed as a Captain
One crisp morning in Berlin, in 1906, a small group of soldiers were led on an extraordinary heist by a man they believed to be a Captain. So how did an ageing nobody in a fake uniform trick them into aiding him in the crime of the century? Some say we humans will obey orders from anyone who dresse…
NOV 14, 2019 DANGER: Rocks Ahead!
Torrey Canyon was one of the biggest and best ships in the world - but its captain and crew still needlessly steered it towards a deadly reef known as The Seven Stones. This course seemed like utter madness, but the thinking that resulted in such a risky manoeuvre is something we are all prone to d…
OCT 22, 2019 Introducing: Cautionary Tales
Coming November 15 from Tim Harford and Pushkin Industries, Cautionary Tales relates a true story of a time when something did not go according to plan. Some of these true stories are tragic, some are comic, but like the great fables and parables, each of them has a moral. Equipped with the latest …