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Richard Zeckhauser
Frank Plumpton Ramsey Professor of Political Economy
phone: (617)495-1174
fax: (617)384-9340
Academic Journal/Scholarly Articles
Friedman, Jeffrey A., and Richard Zeckhauser. "Handling and Mishandling Estimative Probability: Likelihood, Confidence, and the Search for Bin Laden." Intelligence and National Security 30.1 (2015): 77-99.
In a series of reports and meetings in Spring 2011, intelligence analysts and officials debated the chances that Osama bin Laden was living in Abbottabad, Pakistan. Estimates ranged from a low of 30 or 40 per cent to a high of 95 per cent. President Obama stated that he found this discussion confusing, even misleading. Motivated by that experience, and by broader debates about intelligence analysis, this article examines the conceptual foundations of expressing and interpreting estimative probability. It explains why a range of probabilities can always be condensed into a single point estimate that is clearer (but logically no different) than standard intelligence reporting, and why assessments of confidence are most useful when they indicate the extent to which estimative probabilities might shift in response to newly gathered information.




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