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Burden of Proof

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Burden of Proof

Revisionist History podcast

The Revisionist History,

5 min read
5 take-aways
Audio & text

What's inside?

When people’s lives are on the line, you don’t need “perfect” evidence to start taking life-saving measures. 

Editorial Rating



  • Controversial
  • Concrete Examples
  • Engaging


How much proof do you need in order to act on something? If you have circumstantial evidence that a certain behavior may harm your health, would you stop the behavior even before you have conclusive evidence? Malcolm Gladwell uses the examples of black lung disease and football head injuries to examine this question in more depth. In this audio episode, the popular author turned podcaster once again proves his knack for converting big questions into compelling narratives. And you don’t need to care for American football to appreciate the episode’s broader message.


In 1918, Frederick Hoffman, a senior statistician at Prudential Insurance, published a landmark report highlighting the large number of asthma-induced deaths among US coal miners. At the time, the medical community was hardly concerned about possible adverse health effects of working in coal mining – one of the leading industries at the time. The conventional wisdom was that coughing up dust particles was a healthy bodily reaction. Hoffman presented statistical evidence that miners were five times more likely to die of asthma than the rest of the working male population and that only one-fifth of miners were able to work past...

About the Podcast

Revisionist History is a podcast “about things overlooked and misunderstood” created by best-selling author and New Yorker writer Malcolm Gladwell and produced through Panoply Media. 

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