Cautionary Tales with Tim Harford
Pushkin Industries

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.

Being shunned by a lover, a school or an employer hurts - but we're only just beginning to understand how real this pain is and how we can administer a bit of emotional first aid to stop the hurt. Dr. Laurie Santos of The Happiness Lab podcast talks to leading experts in the science of rejection... and to actor Tim Colceri about one of the most extreme real life stories of humiliation and dashed hopes you're ever likely to hear. You can hear more Happiness Lab episodes at, Learn more about your ad-choices at

We’re excited to share with you the new season of Revisionist History, Malcolm Gladwell’s podcast that re-examines something from the past and asks whether we got it right the first time. We’ve got to warn you, the new season is completely unbound. Malcolm Gladwell is finally out of the house, and taking you into the streets, and even under the sea. All in the name of continuing his journey through the overlooked and misunderstood. He plays chicken with cars. An Oscar winner helps him remake fairy tale history. He dives into your dirty laundry. I haven’t quite decided who he riles up most. College elitists? Nine year old girls? You’ll have to hear it for yourself to find out.  Find the new season of Revisionist History at Learn more about your ad-choices at

Here's a great podcast you might like. It’s called I Spy and it’s made by our friends over at Foreign Policy. On each episode they get a former spy to tell the story of one operation. The show we're bringing you is called The Cassandra. Frank Snepp, a CIA analyst based in Saigon, explains how he discovered that Communist forces were preparing to attack the city. His superiors refused to heed his warnings - resulting in a frenzied, bloody and humiliating evacuation as his predictions came true. If you like it, you can hear part two over at I Spy ( Enjoy the show. Learn more about your ad-choices at

Lizzie J. Magie (played by Helena Bonham Carter) should be celebrated as the inventor of what would become Monopoly - but her role in creating the smash hit board game was cynically ignored, even though she had a patent. Discrimination has marred the careers of many inventors and shut others out from the innovation economy entirely. Could crediting forgotten figures such as Lizzie Magie help address continuing disparities in the patenting of new inventions? Read more about Tim's work at Learn more about your ad-choices at

The British Government promised to create a "world-beating" system to track deadly Covid 19 infections - but it included an outdated version of the off-the-shelf spreadsheet software Microsoft Excel. The result was disastrous. When under pressure or lacking in expertise we can all be tempted to use a tool unsuitable for the job in hand. But whether fitting shelves or trying to halt a pandemic, we need to accept that cutting corners comes at a cost. Read more about Tim's work at Learn more about your ad-choices at

Malcolm Gladwell devoted four episodes of his podcast Revisionist History to the rise of air power during the Second World War. Listeners met Air Force general Curtis LeMay and heard about the birth of napalm and the firebombing of Tokyo. Malcolm couldn't get that story out of his mind, and so he built an entirely new audiobook around it, The Bomber Mafia. The Bomber Mafia features more archival footage, new writing, and enhanced scoring. It's a totally new experience. Purchase the audiobook at, and you'll receive a free Listener's Guide featuring new commentary from Malcolm. Print and ebook editions available wherever books are sold. Learn more about your ad-choices at

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 project after project - would he have made an even greater contribution to human knowledge? Maybe... and maybe not. Are restlessness and "fritterin'" important parts of a rich and creative life? Read more about Tim's work at Learn more about your ad-choices at

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 Learn more about your ad-choices at

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 Learn more about your ad-choices at

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 Learn more about your ad-choices at

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 Learn more about your ad-choices at

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 Learn more about your ad-choices at

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 Learn more about your ad-choices at

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 Learn more about your ad-choices at

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 Learn more about your ad-choices at

"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 Learn more about your ad-choices at

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 Learn more about your ad-choices at

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 Learn more about your ad-choices at

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 well as heroes such as Martin Luther King Jr and Florence Nightingale. This season includes the acting talents of Helena Bonham Carter (The Crown, Fight Club, Howard's End) and Jeffrey Wright (Westworld, The Hunger Games, and the James Bond films). Learn more about your ad-choices at

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 talks to Niala Boodhoo, from the news podcast Axios Today, about why people believe things that aren't true. Check out Axios Today, where Niala delivers the news every weekday - in just 10 minutes. Subscribe to Axios Today wherever you get your podcasts. Learn more about your ad-choices at