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There are eight American turkeys painted on the walls of Schleswig's Cathedral of St Peter - which is odd... since the frescoes were created two centuries before Columbus even crossed the Atlantic.    How did the creatures come to be added to the medieval Biblical scene? Was this proof that the Germans reached the Americas before Columbus? Or do the painted birds tell a different story all together?  For a full list of sources used in this episode visit Tim See for privacy information.
In a crisis most people respond with decency and solidarity. The bombing of British cities in the Second World War did not cause society to crumble as was expected, but proved instead human resilience. That defiant "Blitz Spirit" is still a source of pride for Britons... but have inconvenient facts about that time been ignored? Alice Fiennes (co-host of the podcast Bad Women: The Blackout Ripper) explains that the chaos and disruption of the bombing allowed some people to commit awful crimes - and especially a trainee RAF pilot who embarked on a vicious killing spree under cover of darkness.    Find Bad Women: The Blackout Ripper wherever you get your podcasts. See for privacy information.
Thomas Midgley's inventions caused his own death, hastened the deaths of millions of people around the world, and very nearly extinguished all life on land.  Midgley and his employers didn't set out to poison the air with leaded gasoline or wreck the ozone layer with CFCs - but while these dire consequences were unintended... could they have been anticipated? For a full list of sources used in this episode visit Tim See for privacy information.
The Halloween Poisoner

The Halloween Poisoner


Candy laced with cyanide and needles in marshmallows, we've long been warned to be suspicious of the sweet treats handed out by strangers at Halloween. But it seems that most stories of "Halloween sadism" are just that, stories. No child seems to have been  killed by adulterated Halloween candy... well... there is one terrible exception. The poisoned Pixy Stix of Pasadena, TX. For a full list of sources used in this episode visit Tim See for privacy information.
Charlie Veitch was certain that 9/11 was an inside job. The attack on the World Trade Center wasn't the work of Al-Qaeda, but an elaborate conspiracy. He became a darling of so-called "9/11 truthers" - until he actually visited Ground Zero to meet architects, engineers and the relatives of the dead. The trip changed his mind... there was no conspiracy.   His fellow "truthers" did not take Charlie's conversion well.  David McRaney (host of You Are Not So Smart and author of How Minds Change: The Surprising Science of Belief, Opinion and Persuasion) joins Tim Harford to discuss what happened to Charlie Veitch; what it tells us about those who hold strong beliefs even in the face of damning contrary evidence; and why persuasion isn't always the right answer.  See for privacy information.
This week, it's an episode from Warfare, a podcast from our friends at History Hit. It's 1942. The year Anne Frank and her family went into hiding during the Second World War. It was there that Anne began keeping a diary that would become one of the most recognisable testimonies of the Jewish war-time experiences. But what do we know of her life before the war? Host James Rogers explores the Franks' lives before the outbreak of war, and why this story is still so relevant today. You can find more from Warfare at for privacy information.
Single and looking for love, Dr Robert Epstein found himself chatting with a slim, attractive brunette online. She seemed perfect... perhaps even too good to be true.  Dr Epstein is an expert on artificial conversation - so surely he'd be the last person to fall for a computer? Chatbots fool us more often than we think... especially when they replicate our very worst conversational habits.   To read more on this topic try Brian Christian’s “The Most Human Human”. For a full list of sources go to  See for privacy information.
Inventor Franz Reichelt wants to test his novel "parachute suit" from as tall a structure as possible - and the Eiffel Tower seems ideal. Previous trial runs used a mannequin strapped to the chute and have not ended well. Despite this, his plan is to make the Eiffel Tower jump himself. Can he be persuaded to see sense? Self-experimentation - particularly in the field of medicine - has a long and checkered history. Can we learn anything useful from such unorthodox experiments, or are they reckless acts of egotism and hubris?  For a full list of sources go to  See for privacy information.
A meter is longer than a yard. An ounce is heavier than a gram. We harmlessly mix them up sometimes, but a "unit conversion error" when you're filling up the fuel tanks of an airliner can be fatal. Which is exactly what happened to Air Canada Flight 143.  Tim Harford talks to mathematician and comedian Matt Parker about how the aircraft came to take off without the proper fuel load, how no one noticed until it was too late, and why such errors give us an insight into just how important maths is to keeping our complex world working as it should.  For more "unit conversion errors"  check out Matt's book Humble Pi.See for privacy information.
Invented in the mid-1800s, bicycles have had enduring popularity. Across cultures, they have been embraced, promising freedom and mobility at a lower price point.  Tim joins Dallas Campbell on Patented: History of Inventions, to discuss the history of the bicycle, from the invention story through to bicycle booms, the C5 Sinclair and the rise of dockless bike sharing schemes.  If you're interested in the stories behind the world's greatest inventions - from the mighty steam train to the humble condom - subscribe to Patented: History of Inventions today.See for privacy information.
By the 1970s Howard Hughes was the "invisible billionaire”. A business tycoon, a daring aviator and Hollywood Lothario, Hughes had an amazing life story... but hiding away in luxury hotels he wasn't sharing his memories with anyone. Then the recluse told a respected publishing house - via intermediaries - that he was working on an autobiography. The book would be a blockbuster... only it was all a lie. For a full list of sources go to timharford.comSee for privacy information.
Malcolm Gladwell joins Tim Harford to discuss our recent three-part tale about the race to reach the South Pole. There's talk of imperial decline; the power of the underdog; why getting everything you want is actually a handicap; and limes... lots and lots of limes.   See for privacy information.
Polar exploration is dangerous... but trudging hundreds of miles in subzero temperatures isn't made any easier if you're suffering from scurvy. The deadly vitamin deficiency destroys the body and will of even the strongest and most determined adventurer - and it seems that scurvy stuck down the ill-fated expedition of Captain Scott.  But scurvy... in 1912? Hadn't the Royal Navy to which Scott belonged famously cracked the problem of scurvy a century before, with a daily dose of lime juice? How did the 'Limeys' seemingly unlearn that lesson?  For a full list of sources go to timharford.comSee for privacy information.
Cautionary Tales returns next week, but in the meantime enjoy a story of disaster from The Bowery Boys Podcast.  It's July 30th 1916, just after 2am, and a massive explosion rips apart the munitions depot on Black Tom, an island off Jersey City. Tons of debris and jagged shrapnel pepper neighboring Ellis Island and the Statue of Liberty. Thousands of windows across New York are shattered, and millions of residents are awoken wondering what had just happened. Was it an accident or German sabotage?  The Bowery Boys is show about the people and events that have shaped the history of New York City, and really, shaped America. Listen to more episodes of The Bowery Boys at or wherever you get your podcasts.See for privacy information.
Roald Amundsen beat Captain Scott to the South Pole. The Norwegian - using dog sleds and skis - made it look easy... fun, even. He was heading home to safety, while the British party - hauling sleds by hand - were struggling to survive out on the ice. In this case, to the victor went a spoiled reputation. The British grumbled that Amundsen had somehow cheated, or had at least behaved in an underhand manner. These stinging accusations would haunt the adventurer until the day he died in the polar wastes. For a full list of sources go to timharford.comSee for privacy information.
1910: Two men are racing to be the first to reach the South Pole. Captain Robert Falcon Scott heads a well-financed, technologically-advanced expedition - aiming to reach the pole in the "proper" and heroic way... on foot. Roald Amundsen's effort is more modest, relying on cheap sled dogs to carry him to victory.  Scott - for all his money, for all his fancy equipment, for all his backing from the mighty Royal Navy - is doomed to failure in the icy wastes of Antarctica. Why? For a full list of sources go to timharford.comSee for privacy information.
Chicago When It Sizzles

Chicago When It Sizzles


July 1995: A deadly heatwave gripped Chicago - bridges buckled; the power grids failed; and the morgue ran out of space - but some neighbourhoods saw more deaths than others. Sociologist Eric Klinenberg wanted to know why. So he headed to the hardest hit districts and found that social isolation and loneliness played an unsettling role in their heavy deaths tolls.    Does the Chicago heatwave teach us that in dealing with climate change we need to consider not just physical infrastructure, but social infrastructure too?   Eric Klinenberg's classic text on the topic is called Heat Wave: A Social Autopsy of Disaster in Chicago. For a full list of other sources go to timharford.comSee for privacy information.
France 1346: The army of King Philip VI is Europe's pre-eminent killing machine. It's accustomed to crushing any force stupid enough to oppose it, and now fully expects to annihilate a motley band of English invaders in a field near the village of Crecy.    Except as night falls, it is Philip's army that lies broken and bleeding in the mud. What went wrong? The French knights, it seems, had failed to update their corporate culture.    For a full list of sources go to timharford.comSee for privacy information.
When Mount Tambora erupted it spewed ash across the globe; blotting out the sun; poisoning crops; and bringing starvation, illness and death to millions. It may also have helped inspire great scientific and cultural advances - including the horror masterpiece Frankenstein. How well do we adapt to catastrophe and what are the limits of our ability to weather even the worst circumstances?  For a full list of sources go to If you’d like to keep up with the most recent news from this and other Pushkin podcasts be sure to sign up for our email list at for privacy information.
When Billy Joel agreed to let dance legend Twyla Tharp turn his songs into a Broadway musical it seemed like a surefire hit. But in previews, Movin’ Out was panned by the critics. It was soon headed for Broadway and was set to be an expensive and embarrassing failure.So how could Twyla turn things around and avert disaster before opening night? For a full list of sources go to If you’d like to keep up with the most recent news from this and other Pushkin podcasts be sure to sign up for our email list at for privacy information.
Comments (86)


Why did you only mention the number of Europeans and Americans that died during the pandemic instead of a total number across the globe?

Nov 4th

william marshall

Iit would be interesting to apply this reasoning to religion and nationalism.

Oct 31st

Phillip Rew

I'm excited to discover this podcast. however, I just noticed, at least on my service, there's a big blip that cuts out the last part of the story. talk about a cliffhanger

Oct 28th

Roger Paton

Fascinating and enjoyable tale.A couple of points,John Hunter was not English,he was born in East Kilbride in Scotland.Also the implication that wing suits have been perfected is surely inaccurate,a parachute is still required.

Oct 6th

Rebecca MA

I'm sorry I had to stop. The description plus the sound effects are causing me to feel sick. Self-experimenting scientists are a different breed.

Sep 23rd

Patricia Blake

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Sep 11th

Shannon Olson

Wow! This was a trip down memory lane. I lived in a 4th floor dorm room with no a/c in Chicago that summer. Horrible! I remember watching all the neighborhood kids playin the fire hydrants.

Aug 6th

Alan Kruszka


Aug 1st

Jill Leslie

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Aug 1st

Martin Jolly

Tim, can't believe it. Long time follower, loyal listener etc etc. Fahrenheit only?! What even is a Fahrenheit? With all your excellent content I have to say I was shocked and disappointed. Keep up the rest of the good work.

Jul 6th

jamie ackerley

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Jul 2nd

Chris Horton

Wow! What a great and powerful story on so many levels. Best episode yet! Seems like a similar thing happened in Paris to.

Jul 1st

Lucas Nasution

beautifully written

Jun 27th

Alex McNaughton

conclusions did not seem warranted from evidence. not my fave.

Jun 21st

David Evans

I really enjoy this podcast, if it ever happens. But I'm unsubscribing today as I'm tired of thinking there is a new episode but over and over again it's just yet another advert for someone else. Greed ruined a great show. It's ironic that cautionary tales has become a cautionary tale itself

Jun 17th

Budd Jupp

Such a wonderful story. The film of the events, Fairytale, A True Story, is utterly magical too.

May 26th


This episode was incredible. I felt, and have felt with every episode, that the host is understanding and compassionate. I have taken each “lesson” to heart easily because of the way it is presented. I have been binge-listening since this podcast was recommended by the other great podcast “World’s Greatest Con”. 100% I would recommend this podcast.

May 23rd

Chocolate Ocelot

I do love a good infographic. I've been trying to convince the powers that be at work recently that we have too many IT platforms. My boss wrote a long email to his bosses about the situation, but it was just TL:DR. I created a colourful diagram that showed all the different platforms snaking around in a jumble, printed it out and left it on a table in the coffee area in the office. One of the senior managers came round to ask me about it last week, saying he'd seen the diagram lying around somewhere. Passive-aggressive infographics for the win.

May 1st

Shona Paolino

I have just listen to several podcasts for the first time. Totally impressed with all of them! Who knew the background on the topics I listened to. Great research and presentation. Thank you.

Apr 18th

Amanda Dirickson

Good podcast. Are we using good data with Covid 19 though?

Apr 13th
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