Cautionary Tales – The Curse of Knowledge meets the Valley of Death

2nd April, 2021

How assuming others understand exactly what we are thinking gets people killed.

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.

Cautionary Tales is written by me, Tim Harford, with Andrew Wright. It is produced by Ryan Dilley and Marilyn Rust.

The sound design and original music are the work of Pascal Wyse. Julia Barton edited the scripts.

Thanks to the team at Pushkin Industries, Mia Lobel, Jacob Weisberg, Heather Fain, Jon Schnaars, Carly Migliori, Eric Sandler, Emily Rostek, Maggie Taylor, Daniella Lakhan and Maya Koenig.

[Apple] [Spotify] [Stitcher]

Further reading and listening

Two authoritative accounts of the Light Brigade’s charge are The Charge by Mark Adkin and Hell Riders by Terry Brighton.

Steven Pinker’s The Sense of Style describes the “curse of knowledge”, and Elizabeth Newton’s reserach paper is “The Rocky Road From Actions to Intentions“.

Power distance and the Korean Air Flight 801 crash are dissected in Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers.

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