models and preconceptions.
This reluctance to confront uncertainty has
parallels in science and medicine, both of which discourage interpretations
contrary to prevailing paradigms.
Like intelligence analysts, scientific advisors to policymakers have long
prided themselves on ‘‘speaking truth to power.’’
In prac tice, matters are
more complicated. In science advising as in intelligence analysis, ‘‘truth’’
may be probabilistic, and may depend on an advisor’s best educa ted guess
as to the outcome of experiments that have not yet been performed or the
interpretation of data that are not quite in point. Like intelligence
professionals, scientific advisors must adjust to the needs of their advisees,
who bear ultimate responsibility for their decisions.
Moreover, like most intelligence analysis, most scientific research is
concerned with filling gaps in existing paradigms; revolutionary concepts
require years to become established. In principle, this derives from the
dictum that ‘‘extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.’’ In
practice, scientists’ judgment re garding the quality of evidence often
depends o n how closely it fits their preconceptions.
Abandonment of a
fundamental paradigm may owe as much to the death or retirement of an
older generation of scie ntists as to the success of the new model in winning
Similarly, young doctors are advis ed to look for the most common
diagnosis before considering rare or exotic diseases: ‘‘When you hear
hoofbeats, think horses, not zebras.’’
They also learn to b e hesitant to
point out mistakes or disagreements with senior authority figure s—a
phenomenon well-known in other professions, such as pilots, and in
bureaucracies of all kinds. Nevertheless, these fields have well–established
procedures for identifying and highlighting less likely possibilities that
might undermine these key assumptions and for carrying out the tests
needed to eliminate (or possibly confirm) them. Doctors, fo r ex ample,
conduct tests intended to rule out possible but less likely diagnoses.
Many a scientific reputation has been established by a dramatic experiment
that overturned long-held preconceptions.
Environmental sc ientists are particularly alert to possib le surprises, and
emphasize research on indicators that could be the first signs of more
serious environmental damage than would be predicted by the hypothesis
deemed most likely in a particular situation. Extensive research is
underway, for example, to test for phenomena that would indicate an
increased likelihood of catastrophic sea level rise due to the melting of the
Antarctic ice shelf, or of the weakening of the Gulf Stream (and
consequent chilling of Western Europe) due to possible melting of the
Greenland icecap and c onsequent weakening or disruption of the ‘‘oceanic
Even so, these scientists have been criticized for
‘‘anchoring’’ on past estimates of climate change, and in particular for the
INTERNATIONAL JOURNAL OF INTELLIGENCE
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