What is Big Think?  

We are Big Idea Hunters…

We live in a time of information abundance, which far too many of us see as information overload. With the sum total of human knowledge, past and present, at our fingertips, we’re faced with a crisis of attention: which ideas should we engage with, and why? Big Think is an evolving roadmap to the best thinking on the planet — the ideas that can help you think flexibly and act decisively in a multivariate world.

A word about Big Ideas and Themes — The architecture of Big Think

Big ideas are lenses for envisioning the future. Every article and video on bigthink.com and on our learning platforms is based on an emerging “big idea” that is significant, widely relevant, and actionable. We’re sifting the noise for the questions and insights that have the power to change all of our lives, for decades to come. For example, reverse-engineering is a big idea in that the concept is increasingly useful across multiple disciplines, from education to nanotechnology.

Themes are the seven broad umbrellas under which we organize the hundreds of big ideas that populate Big Think. They include New World Order, Earth and Beyond, 21st Century Living, Going Mental, Extreme Biology, Power and Influence, and Inventing the Future.

Big Think Features:

12,000+ Expert Videos

1

Browse videos featuring experts across a wide range of disciplines, from personal health to business leadership to neuroscience.

Watch videos

World Renowned Bloggers

2

Big Think’s contributors offer expert analysis of the big ideas behind the news.

Go to blogs

Big Think Edge

3

Big Think’s Edge learning platform for career mentorship and professional development provides engaging and actionable courses delivered by the people who are shaping our future.

Find out more
Close

How I Poured Cold Water on a Nuclear Iran

September 17, 2013, 4:38 PM
Iran-nuclear-program

In 2007 I was asked using my forecasting model to look over a period of a few years into the future to analyze the likelihood that Iran was going to build a nuclear weapon. My model led to the conclusion that within the 95% confidence interval Iran was not going to build a nuclear weapon, although the leadership would advocate developing enough weapons grade fuel so that people would know they know how to build a weapon because they could gain all the political advantage from showing that they have the technology to make weapons grade fuel and none of the political liability by making it.

When I briefed the government on that forecast there was a lot of resistance and during the briefing I pointed out the data that I had used were after all their data, so we couldn’t argue about the data.  We could argue about the logic of my model and compare that to the logic they had used to reach a different conclusion. 

My model’s logic was completely transparent and so I said "All right, here is my logic, you tell me where there is a flaw in reasoning or tell me what the reasoning was that led to your conclusion."  This led to a rather unpleasant exchange.  I went off not very happy.  I got an email from the chief intelligence officer responsible for proliferation issues two days later indicating that my briefing had kept him up for two nights because he couldn’t answer my question with anything other than at the end of the day it really was his belief, but he didn’t have hard evidence for his belief. 

That person - this was in August, 2007 - was the person who in October, 2007 wrote a new national intelligence estimate, which was made public that stated that we had no hard evidence that Iran was trying to build a nuclear weapon and had not had any such hard evidence since 2005. 

I'm sure they had lots of sources of information that were compatible with what I had to say.  I'm not suggesting that I was responsible for that change in view, but I think my model helped a little bit to contribute to it and in particular it helped to compel people to have an internal debate about exactly how did we arrive at this conclusion.  That is what a good model should do whether it’s being used in the intelligence community, it’s being used in the business community, it’s being used by NGOs all of whom have used it.  It should prompt debate when it disagrees with the conclusions that the people in that organization have come to.

I feel very good about the notion that I made a little contribution to tying President Bush’s hands because this national intelligence assessment was made public because that is the period when people were talking about a third world war, which thank God didn’t happen.

In Their Own Words is recorded in Big Think's studio.

Image courtesy of Shutterstock

 

How I Poured Cold Water on ...

Newsletter: Share: