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Fishermen and forecasts: how barometers helped make the Meteorological Department safer in Victorian Britain

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In 1854, Admiral FitzRoy, acting as the first head of the Meteorological Department, initiated a project to distribute fishery barometers to poor fishing communities to help them predict poor weather. At roughly the same time, FitzRoy developed a controversial system of telegraphing weather forecasts to coastal towns to warn them of impending storms, the first of its kind in Britain. This episode serves as a case study in the role of tacit and formal knowledge in risk management and the construction of responsible users of scientific information. Rather than contributing to formal risk management in the new government office, the fishery barometers distributed by FitzRoy and the Meteorological Department were explicitly excluded from the wider project to map British and global weather. But by being excluded from the formal system, these barometers and their fishermen users were in fact able to contribute to the overall safety of the national system of meteorology. This study reveals that autonomous individuals can augment formalized risk management systems by remaining separate from them in key respects.

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en

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application/pdf

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http://eprints.lse.ac.uk/36139/1/DissPaper46.pdf

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