Revisiting the Boy Who Cried Wolf: Tornados and the False Alarm Effect

Thursday, July 17, 2014: 6:15 PM
Room: Booth 48
Oral Presentation
Joseph TRAINOR , School of Public Policy and Administration, University of Deleware, Newark, DE
Danielle NAGELE , University of Deleware, Newark, DE
Brittany SCOTT
While the origin of the story is not clear, the 1867 publication of Aesops Fables brought “The Boy Who Cried Wolf” into the homes and hearts of many families.  The story is simple and the message clear.  It tells of a shepherd boy who lies to his community about a dangerous wolf to make people run to his assistance for his entertainment.   The moral of the story is “if you don’t tell the truth people won’t believe you when you need them to.”  Its appeal is massive and cultures around the globe use it to extol the moral virtues of truth, honesty, and honor.  It is somewhat unsurprising then that building on the very same logic, academics and practitioners have long debated the “cry wolf” or more often the false alarm effects of warnings.  The question is simple: Are we somehow acting like that little boy and “crying (insert some weather phenomenon)” too often.  Using a playful reference to the original fable, this analysis breaks down the key moral elements of the classic story and reinterprets their connection to current tornado prediction and patterns of risk perception as a way to help illustrate the range of complexities in need of targeted scientific research.  We go on then to provide sociologically based quantitative analysis of false alarm, public perception of false alarm, and behavioral response to a series of tornadoes that occurred between 2007 and 2010. Contrary to most existing research, we do find a statistically significant false alarm effect among other important predictors. Conclusions discuss the importance and limits of these results and suggest further research needs.