Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Summary Findings: Dialectic And The Socratic Method (3 Stars Out Of 5)

Note: This post represents the synthesis of the thoughts, procedures and experiences of others as represented in the 12 articles read in advance of (see previous posts) and the discussion among the students and instructor during the Advanced Analytic Techniques class at Mercyhurst College on 25 MAR 2009 regarding Dialectics generally and the Socratic Method specifically. This technique was evaluated based on its overall validity, simplicity, flexibility and its ability to effectively use unstructured data.


The Dialectic Method is an analytic technique designed to force the participants to re-examine their internal beliefs, biases, and conclusions through an open and directed dialogue.

The Dialectic Method uses questioning techniques with the intention of creating a better understanding of a problem or concept. In the realm of intelligence analysis, it should be used as an analytic modifier; i.e. a technique to reassess the validity of the analytic process, not as a forecasting method.


--The primary strength is the ability to identify and challenge initial assumptions about a target, and in effect, it reduces prejudice and bias.
--The dialectic method is also useful throughout the intelligence cycle from requirements, estimative conclusions, and feedback.
--Using dialectic demands the analyst think critically about the certainty of the analysis generated.


-- It does not provide an analytical forecast by itself.
-- The questioner needs to be highly skilled in managing the process.
-- As a cautionary note, thinkers caught in their own illogical concepts may become irritated or even angered by such an approach.
-- The approach can be time consuming, and should not be used under time constraints.


-- The first step is to provide an initial, well-formulated question with group-wide understanding of the hypothesis at-hand.

-- After the initial hypothesis is presented, the group undetakes an opposing line of questioning to disect the hypothesis and its sub-components.

-- Use the discussion to synthesize arguements for and against the initial hypothesis to determine its truth and validity.


We applied the Socratic Method specifically and the principles of dialectics generally to a variety of realistic intelligence situations. We explored how a formal questioning approach that assumes an antithesis, for example, could perhaps have impacted the estimate regarding the presence of WMD's in pre-war Iraq. Even if a Socratic approach to questioning the conclusions of that estimate would not have changed the overall finding, the group generally agreed that it would probably have altered the final level of confidence.

We also applied the method to the requirement phase where the decisionmaker who wants "everything" could be seen as establishing a thesis while the intelligence professional who knows that the decisionmaker doesn't need everything essentially establishes an antithesis. The ultimate intelligence requirement could then be seen as the synthesis of the two positions.

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