Consulting

There is a post at Politico about the adventures of McKinsey & Company, a giant consulting firm, in the world of intelligence:

America’s vast spying apparatus was built around a Cold War world of dead drops and double agents. Today, that world has fractured and migrated online, with hackers and rogue terrorist cells, leaving intelligence operatives scrambling to keep up.

So intelligence agencies did what countless other government offices have done: They brought in a consultant. For the past four years, the powerhouse firm McKinsey and Co., has helped restructure the country’s spying bureaucracy, aiming to improve response time and smooth communication.

Instead, according to nearly a dozen current and former officials who either witnessed the restructuring firsthand or are familiar with the project, the multimillion dollar overhaul has left many within the country’s intelligence agencies demoralized and less effective.

These insiders said the efforts have hindered decision-making at key agencies — including the CIA, National Security Agency and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence.

They said McKinsey helped complicate a well-established linear chain of command, slowing down projects and turnaround time, and applied cookie-cutter solutions to agencies with unique cultures. In the process, numerous employees have become dismayed, saying the efforts have at best been a waste of money and, at worst, made their jobs more difficult. It’s unclear how much McKinsey was paid in that stretch, but according to news reports and people familiar with the effort, the total exceeded $10 million.

Consulting to U.S.-government agencies on a grand scale grew out of the perceived successes in World War II of civilian analysts who were embedded in military organizations. To the extent that the civilian analysts were actually helpful*, it was because they focused on specific operations, such as methods of searching for enemy submarines. In such cases, the government client can benefit from an outside look at the effectiveness of the operations, the identification of failure points, and suggestions for changes in weapons and tactics that are informed by first-hand observation of military operations.

Beyond that, however, outsiders are of little help, and may be a hindrance, as in the case cited above. Outsiders can’t really grasp the dynamics and unwritten rules of organizational cultures that embed decades of learning and adaptation.

The consulting game is now (and has been for decades) an invasive species. It is a perverse outgrowth of operations research as it was developed in World War II. Too much of a “good thing” is a bad thing — as I saw for myself many years ago.
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* The success of the U.S. Navy’s antisubmarine warfare (ASW) operations had been for decades ascribed to the pioneering civilian organization known as the Antisubmarine Warfare Operations Research Group (ASWORG). However, with the publication of The Ultra Secret in 1974 (and subsequent revelations), it became known that code-breaking may have contributed greatly to the success of various operations against enemy forces, including ASW.

The Technocratic Illusion

Kevin Williamson explodes it:

Professor [Neil deGrasse] Tyson, who may be the dumbest smart person on Twitter, yesterday wrote that what the world really needs is a new kind of virtual state — he wants to call it “Rationalia” — with a one-sentence constitution: “All policy shall be based on the weight of evidence.” This schoolboy nonsense came under withering and much-deserved derision. Conservatives, who always have the French Revolution in their thoughts, reminded him that this already has been tried, and that the results are known in the history books as “the Terror.” Writing with a great deal of reserve in Popular Science, Kelsey D. Atherton notes:

Rationalia puts a burden on science that it cannot bear: to work, it must be immune to the passions of the day, promising an objective world and objective truth that will triumph over obstacles.

That’s true enough, but it shortchanges the scientific objection to Tyson’s Rationalia pipe dream, which is that it implicitly presupposes quantities and types of knowledge that are not, even in principle, available, even if the scientists in question were the dispassionate truth-seekers of Atherton’s ideal.

But will the technocrats be deterred from trying to make the world more perfect, thus making it more hellish? No, they will not be deterred. The world is full of biased know-it-alls — many of whom claim to be scientists (e.g., Neil deGrasse Tyson).

The last word goes to G. Shane Morris:

Tyson … has a philosophy, whether he realizes it or not. It’s called “scientism,” the belief that science is the only valid source of knowledge. The rule-by-self-identified-experts he envisions for the happy land of Rationalia is scientism’s logical outcome. But when you insist that facts and evidence speak for themselves, it has a funny way of silencing everyone else. As one intrepid Twitter user replied to Tyson’s initial tweet, “Convenient how the ‘evidence’ always seems to line up with Tyson’s personal beliefs.”

The real problem, of course, is that Rationalia doesn’t take into account the fallenness of human nature, or the fact that we all approach reality with a certain set of assumptions. If we’re to build a new country based on rationality, the question is simply, “Whose rationality?” I certainly don’t want it to be from someone who’s blind to his own biases, to the flaws of science, and to other people’s perspectives.

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Related posts:

Demystifying Science
Scientism, Evolution, and the Meaning of Life
The Fallacy of Human Progress
Pinker Commits Scientism
The Limits of Science (II)
The Pretence of Knowledge
“The Science Is Settled”
The Limits of Science, Illustrated by Scientists
Rationalism, Empiricism, and Scientific Knowledge

The Limits of Science, Illustrated by Scientists

Our first clue is the title of a recent article in The Christian Science Monitor: “Why the Universe Isn’t Supposed to Exist.” The article reads, in part:

The universe shouldn’t exist — at least according to a new theory.

Modeling of conditions soon after the Big Bang suggests the universe should have collapsed just microseconds after its explosive birth, the new study suggests.

“During the early universe, we expected cosmic inflation — this is a rapid expansion of the universe right after the Big Bang,” said study co-author Robert Hogan, a doctoral candidate in physics at King’s College in London. “This expansion causes lots of stuff to shake around, and if we shake it too much, we could go into this new energy space, which could cause the universe to collapse.”

Physicists draw that conclusion from a model that accounts for the properties of the newly discovered Higgs boson particle, which is thought to explain how other particles get their mass; faint traces of gravitational waves formed at the universe’s origin also inform the conclusion.

Of course, there must be something missing from these calculations.

“We are here talking about it,” Hogan told Live Science. “That means we have to extend our theories to explain why this didn’t happen.”

No kidding!

So, you think “the science is settled,” do you? Think again, long and hard.

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Related posts: Just about everything here. Enjoy.