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.
More or Less
“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
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.
And so was born More or Less, initially with six programmes on BBC Radio 4 presented by economist Andrew Dilnot. 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. I took over as presenter in October 2007.
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 Fridays on BBC Radio 4 at 16:30 UK time and is repeated on Sundays at 20:00 – 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 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 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
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.