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Cautionary Tales – A leap of faith from the Eiffel Tower


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 reckless acts of egotism and hubris? 

Cautionary Tales is written by me, Tim Harford, with Andrew Wright. It is produced by Ryan Dilley, with support from Courtney Guarino and Emily Vaughn.

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

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

[Apple] [Spotify] [Stitcher]

Further reading and listening

On self-experimentation

Who Goes First? The Story of Self-Experimentation in Medicine by Lawrence Altman

Self-Experimentation and Its Role in Medical Research, Allen B. Weisse

Review of Scientific Self-Experimentation: Ethics History, Regulation, Scenarios, and Views Among Ethics Committees and Prominent Scientists. Brian P. Hanley, William Bains, and George Church

On Franz Reichelt

Reporting in Le Figaro, Le Gaulois, Le Petit Journal, La Presse, Liberation and Le Petit Parisien.

On Barry Marshall

Nobel Prize Autobiography

Interview with the Academy of Achievement

Interview with Discover Magazine

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