GEOG 885
Advanced Analytic Methods for the GEOINT Professional

SGAM Step 3: Hypothesis

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The third step in the process is to identify all hypotheses that merit detailed examination, keeping in mind that there is a distinction between the hypothesis generation and hypothesis evaluation. If the analyst does not begin with the correct hypothesis, it is unlikely to get the correct answer. Psychological research into how people go about generating hypotheses shows that people are actually rather poor at thinking of all the possibilities. Therefore, at the hypothesis generation stage, it is wise to bring together a group of analysts with different backgrounds and perspectives for a brainstorming session.

Brainstorming in a group stimulates the imagination and usually brings out possibilities that individual members of the group had not thought of. Experience shows that initial discussion in the group elicits every possibility, no matter how remote, before judging likelihood or feasibility. Only when all the possibilities are on the table is the focus on judging them and selecting the hypotheses to be examined in greater detail in subsequent analysis.

When screening out the seemingly improbable hypotheses, it is necessary to distinguish hypotheses that appear to be disproved from those that are simply unproven. For an unproven hypothesis, there is no evidence that it is correct. For a disproved hypothesis, there is positive evidence that it is wrong. Early rejection of unproven, but not disproved, hypotheses biases the analysis, because one does not then look for the evidence that might support them. Unproven hypotheses should be kept alive until they can be disproved.

One example of a hypothesis that often falls into this unproven but not disproved category is the hypothesis that an opponent is trying to deceive us. You may reject the possibility of denial and deception because you see no evidence of it, but rejection is not justified under these circumstances. If deception is planned well and properly implemented, one should not expect to find evidence of it readily at hand. The possibility should not be rejected until it is disproved, or, at least, until after a systematic search for evidence has been made and none has been found.

There is no "correct" number of hypotheses to be considered. The number depends upon the nature of the analytical problem and how advanced you are in the analysis of it. As a general rule, the greater your level of uncertainty, or the greater the impact of your conclusion, the more alternatives you may wish to consider. More than seven hypotheses may be unmanageable; if there are this many alternatives, it may be advisable to group several of them together for your initial cut at the analysis.