Hanged for Accuracy

Alex posted a few weeks ago about India prohibiting competing monsoon forecasts.  I came across an even more dramatic example of such thinking in Dava Sobel’s Longitude (1995:11-12):

Returning home victorious from Gibraltar after skirmishes with the French … the English fleet … discovered to their horror that they had misgauged their longitude … the Scillies became the unmarked tombstones for two thousand of Sir Clowdisley’s troops.  [Admiral Sir Clowdisley] had been approached by a sailor,  … who claimed to have kept his own reckoning of the fleet’s location during the whole cloudy passage.  Such subversive navigation by an inferior was forbidden in the Royal Navy, as the unnamed seaman well knew.  However, the danger appeared so enormous, by his calculations, that he risked his neck to make his concerns known to the officers.  Admiral Shovell had the man hanged for mutiny on the spot. … In literally hundreds of instances, a vessel’s ignorance of her longitude led swiftly to her destruction.

Even though shipmates had a strong common interest in knowing their longitude, other social incentives apparently prevented them from sharing their information.   As a consultant on the use of prediction markets within organizations, I’ve also noticed that managers are often surprisingly uninterested in the prospect of more accurate forecasts and more informed decisions.  Could these phenomena have similar explanations?


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