Confronting context effects in Intelligence Analysis: How can Mathematics Help? by Keith Devlin

Abstract: We use the interpretation of a key piece of information in the 2002 U.S. decision to invade Iraq to motivate a study of the role of context in decision making. Although our primary focus is intelligence analysis, our study seeks to adopt a mathematical approach. This should make it applicable in a wide variety of application domains. In particular, the level of abstraction at which we work enables us to make useful comparisons between data gathering for intelligence analysis and Internet commerce, both of which depend on making crucial estimates of trust.

The initial examination of the way context influences reasoning and decision making, together with the results of studies carried out by others (some of which we mention), leads us to conclude that the role played by mathematics in improving intelligence analysis will necessarily be different from the role it plays in engineering or the natural sciences. Whereas some aspects of our study may find their way into the design of computer support tools for intelligence analysis — for instance the logical formalism we described in our earlier paper — we believe that the most significant benefits to intelligence analysis from this work are likely to be:

• better appreciation of the way context influences reasoning and decision making;
• sharper insight into the human problems inherent in intelligence analysis;
• improved analysis protocols to guide the intelligence analysis community.

In this respect, our study may be viewed as a mathematical analog of Richards J Heuer’s Psychology of Intelligence Analysis, a work on which we draw.