An Intelligencer's Guide to: Assessing Information Part Two
In Assessing Information Part One, we looked at how the reliability of sources and the credibility of information can be graded to give analysts confidence in the veracity of both. An essential part of this grading system is to objectively corroborate any piece of information used to promote a theory, present an argument, or prove a fact.
The Principle of Objectivity In certain circles (military, police, government agencies, etc.) the product of processing information is known as "intelligence". Whatever we call it, the product should always be unbiased, which means analysts must approach processing with an open mind. They should not distort their assessments to fit preconceived ideas to provide the answer that they think the audience wants, or simply conform to fit existing theories. A methodical and determined exploitation of all available information and intelligence will help objectivity.
Alternative perspectives also reinforce objectivity. Even facts supported by strong evidence will be contested by others and understanding somebody’s perception can be as important as understanding the facts. Analysts and critical thinkers must seek to understand the likely perspective of challengers. A key part of perspective, and thus objectivity, is being open-minded and informed based on an ability to understand other peoples’ views.
Corroboration Being open-minded and objective is fine, but a single source or a single piece of information is of little value other than as start point for further research. As we have seen, the answers we seek only come from asking questions and processing the information gathered. Any piece of information has to be analysed against what is already known, what is not known, or what might reasonably be expected given our understanding of the picture at a given point. Corroborating information is absolutely key, therefore, but beware of circular reporting.
The demand for information drives journalists and content producers to be highly competitive. This can easily lead to the circulation of misleading, unchecked facts, or the spreading of fake news. As consumers, we should all be more aware of the cited information we receive may not, necessarily, be true. Authors, journalists and content producers need to fact check and be wary of circular reporting. To stop the spread of fake news, we, as consumers, also need to take matters in hand. Apply the six questions for critical thinking, assess the reliability of the source(s), and consider whether the information is credible before sharing it.
1. Analyst in this sense essentially means anyone researching or commenting on a subject of interest (e.g. archaeologists, historians, students, media reporters/journalists, investigators, and so on).
2. Joint Doctrine Publication JDP 2-00 "Understanding and Intelligence Support to Joint Operations" (3rd Edition), Chapter 2, Section I, paragraph 203, retrieved July, 21st, 2020.
3. Ibid., paragraph 204, retrieved August 18th, 2020.