contradicts these models leads to “cognitive dissonance” and is rejected or ignored while we seek more evidence to support our cherished model.40 In his 1759 treatise, The Theory of Moral Sentiments, Adam Smith put it more harshly, “He is…bold who does not hesitate to pull off the veil of self-delusion which covers from his view the deformities of his own conduct.”41

Institutional Design. Research on the “positive theory of fairness” (especially in the regulatory arena) implies that policy makers who base their recommendations solely or primarily on principles of economic and scientific rationality, and give short shrift to concerns of unfairness, do so at their own peril. In particular, while the committee takes no position on the actual extent of cognitive dissonance, self-delusion, and self-serving behavior in the weather industry, the well-documented prevalence of these phenomena in human activities suggests the importance of creating institutions that minimize their effects. Designing institutions in which all participants feel they are being treated fairly is difficult and may be impossible, but some useful steps can be taken. For example, a thorough, transparent, and credible system of information dissemination can help minimize the associated costs of dysfunctional behaviors such as cognitive dissonance and self-serving denial. Suggestions for ensuring that NWS policies are sensitive to fairness issues are discussed in Chapter 6.


Legal, economic, and public policy arguments indicate that the NWS should continue to collect weather and climate data and to disseminate them on a full and open basis. It is economically efficient for the private sector to create value-added products from low-cost government data, but social benefits also arise from having universal access to certain value-added products created by the academic and public sectors (e.g., educational products, models, emergency preparedness tools). Which sector should create a particular value-added product must be decided on a case-by-case basis. Whatever decision is made must be perceived to be as fair as possible—within the constraints of federal laws, regulations, and policies— to all parties, or the public-private partnership will suffer.


Of course, other theories may explain “denial.” Prison inmates, for example, plead that they are innocent or that they have been unjustly incarcerated because of extenuating circumstances. Their behavior may simply reflect their belief that their protestations will shorten their sentences (Appendix E).


A. Smith, 1759, The Theory of Moral Sentiments, reprinted in 1976 by Liberty Classics, Indianapolis, p. 263.

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