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14 November 2006

Political science witchery

The medicine man believes in the effectiveness of his dance no less fervently than the modern methodologist in his techniques.

We do not normally comment on matters political or domestic, however one item emerging in the wake of the election is speculation over the possible impact of flawed analysis on party decision-making processes.

Of course, we know full well the difficulties in assembling accurate metrics for effects assessment tasks, particularly when the effects involve the subtleties of opinion and affinity. However, we have never made any pretense to an authoritative illusion about the manner and means by which we reach our conclusions. It is certainly always more of an art than any science.

But it can be so addictive, the siren call of certainty. It comes draped in the trappings of the obscure cult and flanked by the initiated acolytes echoing its praises. At some point, it all comes back to the heart of the matter - you want to believe

Of course, among our political science comrades we are routinely hounded out of the discussion for even daring to raise the idea that all their cherished theories amount to little more than the rattle of the bones.

As the train says, the market for something to believe in is infinite.

Some marketing merely takes a political form.

There are actually a lot of lessons for the intelligence community to be found in the ongoing Cluetrain / gapingvoid heresy against the entrenched marketing and media worlds. These lessons apply equally to the theoreticians, the methodologists, and the serving line analysts. Too few understand or appreciate the weight that comes with the appellation “advisor.” Fewer still are willing or able to handle the kind of direct, in your face criticism in its purest and least PC fashion that characterize that style. A little more of that might get us somewhere beyond the usual tripe of the stale back and forth of unread papers attempting to re-invent the intelligence cycle wheel, or cram the genie back in the bottle through yet another reorganization designed to restore the illusion of centrality and the fiction of control.

Hell, it might even lead to a good old fashioned auto-de-fe, where we can use the light of the burning witch doctors to mark out a new path.