Episodes
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...
Published 09/23/22
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...
Published 09/09/22
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...
Published 09/02/22
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.com See omnystudio.com/listener for privacy...
Published 08/26/22
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 omnystudio.com/listener for privacy information.
Published 08/19/22
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?...
Published 08/12/22
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...
Published 08/05/22
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...
Published 07/29/22
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...
Published 07/15/22
What if a little bit of extra paperwork could saves lives and perhaps end an epidemic? Enjoy a cautionary tale from our friend and fellow Pushkin host, Malcolm Gladwell. The new season of Revisionist History begins with a half-baked idea of an obscure bureaucrat in the 1930’s and ends with one of the worst public health disasters in American history - the opioid crisis.  Stick around to hear Tim and Malcolm discuss the episode and the importance of admitting you're wrong. See...
Published 07/08/22
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,...
Published 07/01/22
This week, we're sharing an episode from a new podcast brought to you by Pushkin Industries and the Financial Times. The series is hosted by Tim’s colleagues, reporter Patricia Nilsson and editor Alex Barker.   In this episode, Patricia and Alex wonder how it's legal for porn sites to host millions of videos uploaded by uses. The answer is in the story of an Ohio family in the early 1990s. Stick around until the end to hear Tim interview Alex and Patricia on their reporting on the shadowy...
Published 06/24/22
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.com See...
Published 06/17/22
Cautionary Tales will be back with a new original story next week, but in the meantime, check out one of Pushkin's newest shows, Car Show! With Eddie Alterman. The Chevrolet Corvair was unusual. And it was a Cautionary Tales on four wheels. It was Motor Trend’s Car of the Year for 1960, yet the car hit bottom just three years later. In this episode, you'll hear how battles over safety shaped the future of the Corvair, the car industry, and America itself. Listen to more Car Show episodes...
Published 06/10/22
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 timharford.com If you’d like to keep up with the most recent news from...
Published 06/03/22
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 timharford.com If you’d like to keep up with the most recent news from this and other Pushkin podcasts be sure to...
Published 05/20/22
This week, we're sharing an episode of Against the Rules, hosted by perhaps the greatest non-fiction writer on the planet, Michael Lewis. On the show, Michael explores what’s happened to fairness in modern life. He’s looked at referees and at coaches. Now, he’s looking at experts—the kind who transform people’s lives for the better, and get absolutely no credit whatsoever. Tim shares his favorite episode so far, about the ways better data has revolutionized our understanding of life-and-death...
Published 05/17/22
What happens when a monkey gets elected mayor? Well, not really a monkey, but a monkey mascot for a town’s football games. Tim Harford joins This Day in Esoteric Political History to discuss a weird moment from UK history in 2002, when the northeastern English town of Hartlepool was gearing up for a mayoral election and ended up voting in…the local football club’s monkey mascot to run their government. They discuss how H’Angus the Monkey got elected, and how the man inside the suit, Stuart...
Published 05/13/22
An airline captain thought he was giving his children a harmless thrill by letting them "fly" his packed airplane - the young cockpit visitors weren't really in control... the autopilot was doing the real flying. Until it wasn't.  Do safety features actually lull us into a false sense of security - tempting us to take greater risks than we otherwise would? For a full list of sources go to timharford.com If you’d like to keep up with the most recent news from this and other Pushkin podcasts...
Published 05/06/22
We'll be back with another story of human error next week, but today we're sharing another podcast you might like. On World's Greatest Con, Brian Brushwood talks about the most audacious con jobs, swindles, and heists in history. In this episode of World's Greatest Con, Brian tells the story of how a game show producer was tempted into upping the ante on his own program by feeding answers to the contestants. Those contestants become rich, famous, and admired...until the scheme is discovered...
Published 04/29/22