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Cautionary Tales with Tim Harford
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Cautionary Tales with Tim Harford

Author: Pushkin Industries

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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. 

31 Episodes
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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 Gene was pregnant. The appalling consequences of that meeting tell us much about how our thoughtlessness can harm those around us - but the kind of tragedy that befell Tierney and her daughter can be averted if we appeal to the better parts of human nature. Read more about Tim's work at http://timharford.com/ Learn more about your ad-choices at https://www.iheartpodcastnetwork.com
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, new employers, the authorities and even the public. Why are we suspicious of "tattletales" and what can we do to make vital whistleblowing easier? Read more about Tim's work at http://timharford.com/ Learn more about your ad-choices at https://www.iheartpodcastnetwork.com
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 with her life. Wiser heads later recommended "masterly inactivity" as a better course of action. In politics, parenting and even medicine - avoiding the temptation to act is a sadly neglected art form. Read more about Tim's work at http://timharford.com/ Learn more about your ad-choices at https://www.iheartpodcastnetwork.com
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 spell of a mysterious and sinister game.... Dungeons & Dragons. The global panic about the dangers the role-playing game posed to impressionable young minds may seem quaint 40 years on - but again and again we show how fearful we are of creative endeavours we don't quite understand. Read more about Tim's work at http://timharford.com/ Learn more about your ad-choices at https://www.iheartpodcastnetwork.com
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 such PR stunts - but it's usually the customers, not the businesses, who end up losing out. Read more about Tim's work at http://timharford.com/ Learn more about your ad-choices at https://www.iheartpodcastnetwork.com
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 everyone knows what we know and can easily comprehend our meaning. Starring Helena Bonham Carter as Florence Nightingale. Read more about Tim's work at http://timharford.com/ Learn more about your ad-choices at https://www.iheartpodcastnetwork.com
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 being too stupid to recognise the limits of your knowledge isn't confined to such prize idiots - it's something we are all guilty of at times and has huge implications for society. Starring Jeffrey Wright (Hunger Games, Westworld, and the Bond films) as Ethiopian Airlines captain Leul Abate. Read more about Tim's work at http://timharford.com/ Learn more about your ad-choices at https://www.iheartpodcastnetwork.com
Catching a Killer Doctor

Catching a Killer Doctor

2021-03-1936:1517

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 things happening right under our noses? And how can the systems that maintain quality control in cookie factories be employed to prevent another doctor like Shipman killing with impunity? Read more about Tim's work at http://timharford.com/ Learn more about your ad-choices at https://www.iheartpodcastnetwork.com
"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 public that he was a cheeky resistance hero. We assume knowledge and intelligence can protect us from being duped - but often they are not enough to save us from the fraudster's greatest ally - our own wishful thinking. Read more about Tim's work at http://timharford.com/ Learn more about your ad-choices at https://www.iheartpodcastnetwork.com
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 good that deaths due to filth and poor sanitation could be averted - saving countless lives. But did Nightingale open Pandora's Box, showing that graphs persuade, whether or not they depict reality? Read more about Tim's work at http://timharford.com/ Learn more about your ad-choices at https://www.iheartpodcastnetwork.com
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 Ratner offer starkly contrasting stories on when you should stick to the script and when you should take a risk. Read more about Tim's work at http://timharford.com/ Learn more about your ad-choices at https://www.iheartpodcastnetwork.com
The Data Detective

The Data Detective

2021-02-0236:1220

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 commandments - be curious. Enjoy. Cautionary Tales returns February 26. The Data Detective (Riverhead Books) is published in the US and Canada on February 2. The same book is available elsewhere under the title How to Make the World Add Up. (Audio excerpted courtesy of Penguin Random House Audio from The Data Detective by Tim Harford, narrated by the author.) Learn more about your ad-choices at https://www.iheartpodcastnetwork.com
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 the release of his latest book. “How To Make The World Add Up” is out now in much of the world, while listeners in US/Canada can pre-order it under the title "The Data Detective" - ahead of its release in early 2021. Learn more about your ad-choices at https://www.iheartpodcastnetwork.com
How To End A Pandemic

How To End A Pandemic

2020-07-1725:4328

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 Fever of 1721, Ibram X. Kendi’s book Stamped From the Beginning, and to an article about Dark Winter written by Tara O’Toole, Michael Mair and Tomas Inglesby. For a full list of our sources please see the shownotes at http://timharford.com/ Tim's latest books 'Fifty Inventions That Shaped The Modern Economy' and 'The Next Fifty Things That Made The Modern Economy' are available now. Learn more about your ad-choices at https://www.iheartpodcastnetwork.com
That Turn To Pascagoula

That Turn To Pascagoula

2020-07-1026:3123

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? And why don't we draw the obvious lessons from clear warnings? Sources for this episode include Amanda Ripley's The Unthinkable, The Ostrich Paradox by Howard Kunreuther and Robert Meyer, Margaret Heffernan's Willful Blindness, and Predictable Surprises by Max Bazerman and Michael Watkins. For a full list of sources see http://timharford.com/ Tim's latest books 'Fifty Inventions That Shaped The Modern Economy' and 'The Next Fifty Things That Made The Modern Economy' are available now. Learn more about your ad-choices at https://www.iheartpodcastnetwork.com
The Village of Heroes

The Village of Heroes

2020-07-0324:3324

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 deadly course. This terrible act of sacrifice is still remembered centuries later - but what does it tell us about how far people will go to save the lives of strangers? Read more about Tim's work at http://timharford.com/ Tim's latest books 'Fifty Inventions That Shaped The Modern Economy' and 'The Next Fifty Things That Made The Modern Economy' are available now. Learn more about your ad-choices at https://www.iheartpodcastnetwork.com
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? And are some lives worth more than others? Read more about Tim's work at http://timharford.com/ Tim's latest books 'Fifty Inventions That Shaped The Modern Economy' and 'The Next Fifty Things That Made The Modern Economy' are available now. Learn more about your ad-choices at https://www.iheartpodcastnetwork.com
A Tsunami of Misery

A Tsunami of Misery

2020-06-1921:5223

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 ills? WARNING: This episode discusses death by suicide. If you are suffering emotional distress or having suicidal thoughts, support is available - for example, from the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. Read more about Tim's work at http://timharford.com/ Tim's latest books 'Fifty Inventions That Shaped The Modern Economy' and 'The Next Fifty Things That Made The Modern Economy' are available now. Learn more about your ad-choices at https://www.iheartpodcastnetwork.com
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://timharford.com/ Tim's latest books 'Fifty Inventions That Shaped The Modern Economy' and 'The Next Fifty Things That Made The Modern Economy' are available now. Learn more about your ad-choices at https://www.iheartpodcastnetwork.com
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 -- without feeling hurried. Tim Harford shares how innovators like Einstein, Darwin, Twyla Tharp and Michael Crichton found their inspiration and productivity through cross-training their minds. Learn more about your ad-choices at https://www.iheartpodcastnetwork.com
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Comments (50)

Increbex

w X

May 7th
Reply

grey rock

So often, we do better if we were never interrupted. Great story-telling.

May 7th
Reply

grey rock

The only way you get to give a 'Masterly Yes' is if you know you could of said, 'no'.

May 7th
Reply

grey rock

Seemingly doing nothing can take a lot of courage.

May 7th
Reply

grey rock

I call. You're stone. One day you'll look and find I'm gone. #folkcouplet #afghanwomen #afghanpoetry #RahilaMuska

May 7th
Reply

grey rock

When sisters sit together, they always praise their brothers. When brothers sit together, they sell their sisters to others. #afghanpoets #RahilaMuska

May 7th
Reply

grey rock

'Masterly Inactivity' it's such a lovely phrase.

May 7th
Reply

Sean Rosenau

Fezic, are there rocks ahead? IF THERE ARE WE'LL ALL BE DEAD. No more rhymes now, I mean it! ANYBODY WANT A PEANUT? Daagh!

May 4th
Reply

Ivan Curacao

i love this show!

May 1st
Reply

jimter

*Maths

Apr 30th
Reply

Leif Denby

it was really nice to hear that you play too Tim :) I just started playing during the pandemic, never quite giving it a fair judgement better. But it is one of the most fun, must creative and most social things I have done (and continue to do). I feel really lucky to have been invited to a game just as the pandemic started. if you ever feel the inspiration I for one would find reading a book about your adventures a fun read

Apr 26th
Reply

JohnJohn Hoelen

Brilliant show. No other like it. Thx for all the great research and excellent storytelling!

Apr 25th
Reply

Sayeh Majzoob

So inspiring. Story-telling at its best 😍😍😍😍

Apr 6th
Reply

Abhishek Shah

My Lord! What an episode. 🔥❤️

Mar 22nd
Reply

Teresa Wilkinson

understand you're trying to sell your book, but it got tedious listening to the ads over and over, it put me off

Mar 21st
Reply (2)

Gilad Amar

I generally have loved all the episodes. One complaint though, you have one particular ad 'quick books online' several times in all the episodes that is so noisy and abrasive it makes me want to rip off my headphone.

Mar 14th
Reply

Kyle Pavelka

You forced an advertisement onto a podcast about logically dissecting mistakes people have made historically. This channel isn't about satire or cheap jokes. I'm a big fan of this channel and seeing this leaves the wrong taste in my mouth. Low brow and money grabbing would be the flavor im experiencing. p.s. I'm in no way a Trump supporter I just thought this channel was more about education.

Jan 21st
Reply

Frankomagic

I like you Chris Harford..

Sep 17th
Reply

Teresa Wilkinson

"Cautionary Tales" is an absolute feast for the intellect, full of historical references, data, modern tech, and of course those wonderful Cautionary Tales

Jul 21st
Reply

Claire Howdle

Great episode and very relevant to what's happening in the world today, couldnt agree more with the moral to the story at the end, Covid is NOT the worst that could happen but a very good warning for the future, thanks for outlining that Tim 👍

Jul 12th
Reply
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