October 11 2020 — Accurate intelligence judgments do not solely rely on the abundance and accuracy of the information. Indeed it has long been known that rigorous analysis of the information is at least as important as the gathered material in order to reach accurate intelligence estimates. Follow us on Twitter: @INTEL_TODAY
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In the 1960’s, CIA psychologists investigated the correlations between the amount of information available to experts, the accuracy of their judgments, and the experts’ confidence in the accuracy of these judgments. The results of these experiments are far-reaching.
In one of these experiments, experienced horse race handicappers were shown a long list of variables that included data related to the recent performances of the horses, the weight of the jockeys, the time since the last race, the weather conditions, etc. Each handicapper was asked to order these variables according to its perceived importance in the making of his prediction.
Next the handicappers were shown real data that had been renamed to ensure that they could not remember the events. Each of them was then given the five variables he had listed as the most useful. At that point they were asked to make a prediction as well as an estimate of the degree of accuracy of his prediction (from 0% to 100%). The same exercise was repeated after the handicappers were given 10, 20 and 40 variables.
The result of this particular experiment is abundantly clear. On one hand the accuracy of the prediction did not improve with additional information. As a matter of fact, several handicappers tended to be less accurate as more information became available to them.
On the other hand, their confidence in the accuracy of their predictions increased significantly as they were provided with more information. (See figure above.)
Note that only when provided with the lowest amount of information were the handicappers realistic about the probability of their predictions being correct.
This experiment is described in a book published on the CIA website:
Psychology of Intelligence Analysis — Richards J. Heuer Jr
Chapter V – Do You Really Need More Information?
Spy Quotes — Dr Richards J. Heuer [#7]