Cautionary Tales


– The Guardian

We’ve always warned children by telling them unsettling fairy tales. But my Cautionary Tales are for the education of the grown ups. And my Cautionary Tales are all true.

Cautionary Tales is my new podcast from Pushkin Industries, makers of Malcolm Gladwell’s Revisionist History, Michael Lewis’s Against The Rules, and Laurie Santos’s Happiness Lab.

Helping me tell these Cautionary Tales are some marvellous actors, including Alan Cumming (Instinct), Archie Panjabi (The Good Wife), Toby Stephens (Die Another Day) and Russell Tovey (Quantico). We also present the acting debut of a certain Mr Malcolm Gladwell.

Together we weave stories of human error, of tragic catastrophes and hilarious fiascos. Oil tankers crash in broad daylight, vital military ideas are carelessly given away to the Nazis, and a shouty man in a uniform pulls off an audacious heist. Alongside the drama, each story has a moral that emerges from psychology, economics, even design. Each story will make you wiser.

Show notes for each episode.

Fascinating and inventively told” 

– The Daily Mail

One of the recommended podcasts “to get you through lockdown” – The Sunday Times

Cautionary Tales, Tim Harford’s terrific podcast about learning from painful mistakes, has returned for a second series” – The Week

Fabulous series.” 

– Bill Dare, creator of “Dead Ringers”

“Tim Harford (presenter of the brilliant number-crunching series More or Less on Radio 4) has come up with this fascinating series in which he tries to find lessons from history. Why did inventors such as Sony and Kodak fail to capitalise on the success of their inventions? Why did John Maynard Keynes fail to predict the Wall Street Crash? The stories are told by such top-drawer acting talent as Toby Stephens and Alan Cumming.” – The Daily Telegraph

How to Vaccinate the World

 The soberly intelligent Tim Harford and other clever people… – explain everything clearly and expertly… God, if only one member of the cabinet would listen to this show.” 

– The Observer

My new series, broadcast on BBC Radio 4 at 11.30am on Mondays. You can catch up on any podcast player or on BBC Sounds.

With misinformation swirling around the internet, you’d have thought that now would be a good time for someone to release a clear, authoritative podcast on the vaccine rollout. Thankfully, the BBC did, too: in this series, Tim Harford cheerfully quizzes experts on topics such as who gets their shot first and the spacing out of the second dose.” – The Guardian

Tim Harford is a one-man mass vaccination regime against nonsense.” – The Daily Telegraph

How to Vaccinate the World has been a repeatedly useful tool for understanding the virus, the vaccine and the politics around it. Harford presents each show both deftly and with a lightness of touch” – The Big Issue

More or Less

Essential listening.” – The Times

I have on occasion wondered if he was biochemically different to other people. He’s a miracle of equanimity.” – The New Statesman

More or Less is indispensable, an oasis of proven fact in a desert of political confusions.” – The Sunday Times

Hands-down the greatest statistical literacy program in the world.” – Cory Doctorow

Some of the best reporting on the coronavirus.” – The Guardian

More or Less is devoted to the powerful, sometimes beautiful, often abused but ever ubiquitous world of numbers. The programme was an idea born of the sense that numbers were the principal language of public argument. And yet there were few places where it was thought necessary to step back and think about the way we use figures – in the way we often step back to think about language.

What do they really measure? What kind of truth, if any, do they capture?

Yet no politician, no economist, and in recent years no doctor, teacher, chief constable or any number of others, has been able to make a case or answer one without regaling you with numbers. Open the pages of any newspaper and you will see risks of this, targets for that, new spending and new cuts, arguments about productivity, performance indicators, measurements, statistics and quantification of every kind.

More or Less was originally presented by the economist Sir Andrew Dilnot. I took over as presenter in October 2007, and More or Less is now a permanent part of the schedule with three series annually on Radio 4, and a shorter version of the program broadcast all year round on the BBC World Service.

More or Less has an outstanding record in The Royal Statistical Society’s “excellence in journalism” awards for broadcasting: runner up in 2011, 2012 and 2014, winning outright in 2010, 2013 and 2019. (I won for my own writing in 2015.) More or Less has also won awards from Mensa and HealthWatch, and in 2018 won “Best Radio News and Factual Programme” from the Voice of the Viewer and Listener.

More or Less can be heard on Wednesdays on BBC Radio 4 at 9am UK time  – or you can subscribe to the podcast and never miss another programme.

Tim Harford is that rare thing — an interpreter of statistics into common sense.” – The Sunday Times

“Tim Harford and his team on Radio 4’s More or Less sit as an island of brilliance.” – The New Statesman

“Unlike almost all other science on radio… They simply trust that you, the listener, are going to be interested in things that are interesting. And you are.” – The Times

“Whatever time you put aside to read the newspapers should be spent listening to Harford instead.” – Robin Ince

Tim Harford is doing some of the best public interest journalism at the BBC.” – The Daily Telegraph

“This brilliant podcast from the economist Tim Harford shines the cool light of reason and mathematics on the numbers behind the news.” – The Times

50 Things That Made the Modern Economy

Easily some of the best radio of recent years.” – The Times

A series to treasure, quote and nudge other people about.” – The Sunday Times

A series of short stories exploring the way new ideas and inventions have woven, tangled or sliced right through the invisible economic web that surrounds us every day. From the bar code to double-entry bookkeeping, covering ideas as solid as concrete or as intangible as the limited liability company, 50 Things That Made The Modern Economy not only shows us how new ideas come about, it also shows us their unintended consequences – for example, how the gramophone introducing radically unequal pay in the music industry, or how the fridge shaped the politics of developing countries across the globe.

A book of the series is available. (In the US, it’s called Fifty Inventions That Shaped The Modern Economy.)

“I love these fact-filled micro-documentaries, steeped in history… A masterclass in socioeconomic storytelling.” – The Financial Times

“Utterly addictive…a mesmerising mix of history, marketing and psychology.” – The Times

“A marvel of brevity, clarity and original thinking.” – The Daily Telegraph

“Tim Harford is a master at picking out the perfect little story that explains some huge economic principle… he’s been my go-to guy for learning about the economics and math behind the world at large… perfectly crafted to light up the pleasure centres of my nerd brain.” – Roman Mars, 99% Invisible

“They are real masterpieces of brevity and audio storytelling… brilliant sideways glances… I’ve been surprised by every episode.” – Monocle Arts Review

“This is what BBC radio is for. The series is utterly compelling and low-key… Just brilliant ideas, told simply. A wonderful, wonderful programme.” – The Times

“Harford’s script is immaculate and so is his presentation.” – The Times of India

“Your first port of call should be Tim Harford, whose BBC World Service series 50 Things that Made the Modern Economy was consistently enlightening. Each episode is a mere eight or nine minutes long and full of the sort of facts you can drop into dinner party chat.” – Harry Wallop, The Times

Nominated for a Webby award, 2018

“Many of the most interesting series in recent years – The Assassination, Fifty Things That Made The Modern Economy, The Big Idea – have come from [the BBC World Service]” – The Times

Pop Up Ideas

…ran for three series (13 episodes). The first series presented stories of remarkable lives or surprising ideas in economics. We learned about the impromptu engineering genius Bill Phillips, the cold war guru Thomas Schelling, and life-saving market designer Al Roth. We discovered how the geeks took over poker, and what happened to them. The second and third series brought in some brilliant guests including Malcolm Gladwell, Gillian Tett and Jared Diamond.

Here’s the free podcast page (or search on iTunes) and here is the series homepage.


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