Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Hope v Analysis

As said during a recent interview*, about times of great stress and dire consequence, regarding risk analysis:
... the most dangerous thing [analysts] can do is to confuse [their] hopes with [their] analysis
Tom Friedman
Author and Commentator

In other words, hope is not analysis, a play on the more popular construction: "Hope is not a plan"

It's almost axiomatic that great stress and possibly dire consequences have the potential to color and filter analytic results, so much so that analysis of the possible outcomes could be compromised into error and miscalculation.

Such analysis confusion is a form of Framing Error, a phenomenon explained by Amos Tversky and David Kahneman as a tendency to weigh or interpret facts differently depending on the frame of reference.  That is, if a circumstance is described in terms of potential harm, analysts have a darker outlook than if the same circumstance is described in terms of the potential of harm avoided. 

You could also say the coloration of analysis with hoped for results is a form of Availability Error, also described in another paper by Tversky and Kahneman, in which we attach the closest [retrievable, imaginable, familiar] similar historical situation to the facts at hand and announce that the present is a representative of the past. 

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