Keys to interpreting news about the Georgia – Russia fighting
Let’s leave the analysis to the experts. As a consumer of analysis, are there any general lessons we can find in the wealth of reporting on the Internet about the fighting in Georgia? Of course, these are just general rules — one man’s guidelines for sorting wheat from chaff on the Internet.
- Avoid analysts discussing the “group mind” of a nation.
- Avoid analysts relying on psychic powers.
- Look for analysts with actual background of some sort in the players (e.g., area experts) or relevant professional skills (e.g., military or diplomacy).
1. Avoid analysts discussing the “group minds” of nations
Russia and Georgia are nations, not unitary entitites. Nations lack group minds. Hence they do not have intentions or personalities. Small-scale, in geography and time, events like this require greater precision than discussions of larger geopolitical trends. IMO we need discussion of institutional interests and objectives. Better yet, discussion of the individual leaders.
2. Avoid analysts relying on psychic powers
Many bloggers appear to have psychic powers, discussing the thoughts and plans of individuals — esp. Putin. While nice for them, we should expect some evidence before accepting their reports as anything but chaff.
Understanding individuals is difficult even under the most favorable circumstances. Look at the US election. We have a wealth of evidence about Obama, someone of our own nation and culture. Yet great uncertainties remain about him. We can only guess about Putin, who has not yet followed Obama’s example — no candid autobiographies, no hundreds of open interviews about his feelings, no hundreds of detailed speeches about his objectives.
3. Look for analysts with actual background of some sort in the players (e.g., area experts) or relevant professional skills (e.g., military or diplomacy)
The third guideline is an offset to the first two. Experience and knowledge about these things grants the expert license to make general statements and speculate about individuals.
Unfortunately the Internet tends to do the opposite, a form of Gresham’s Law at work: amateur guessing overshadows expert analysis. Joshua Foust describes this pheomenon in his post of 9 August at Registan. A host of armchair strategists drown out experts like Helena Cobban (“The South Ossetian War: Some thoughts“).
Please share your comments by posting below (brief and relevant, please), or email me at fabmaximus at hotmail dot com (note the spam-protected spelling).
Prevous posts in this series
- The Russia-Georgia war threatens one of the world’s oil arteries, 10 August 2008
- Perhaps *the* question about the Georgia – Russia conflict, 10 August 2008
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