Connecting the Dots Yields Spotty Results

May 19, 2013

In the aftermath of the Boston bombing, many have discussed whether or not the FBI should have had the capabilities to “connect the dots” to identify and prevent the bomber from following through. Boing Boing reiterates the point that Bruce Schneier made in a recent CNN op-ed in their post, “Why ‘Connecting the Dots’ is the Wrong Way to Think about Stopping Terrorism.”

It goes back to the old adage: hindsight is 20/20. It takes a future perspective to look at an event and create a narrative amongst dots of data. The concept of the “narrative fallacy” is what makes a past event seem like a neat story where the dots to be connected should have been obviously illuminated the entire time.

The article tells us:

“Rather than thinking of intelligence as a simple connect-the-dots picture, think of it as a million unnumbered pictures superimposed on top of each other. Or a random-dot stereogram. Is it a sailboat, a puppy, two guys with pressure-cooker bombs or just an unintelligible mess of dots? You try to figure it out. It’s not a matter of not enough data, either. Piling more data onto the mix makes it harder, not easier. The best way to think of it is a needle-in-a-haystack problem; the last thing you want to do is increase the amount of hay you have to search through.”

No one can deny that connecting dots is an important way to increase knowledge. However, as good of a technique — and phrase — that it is, spotty results are invariable.

Megan Feil, May 19, 2013

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