How to Analyze Information.  © 2010 by Herbert E. Meyer. 

From the Introduction:


“We are living now through the early decades of the Information Revolution, and it's a miracle of human energy and ingenuity. Never before has so much information been available, so easily and inexpensively, about so many subjects.


And the most important thing we've learned is that information is like water. It's vital to our lives; we cannot survive without it. But if too much pours over us - we drown. To keep from drowning in information we must learn to use it properly, which means figuring out what the information is telling us. After all, it isn't the information itself we use to make decisions; it's the knowledge within the information that we use. This is why we must learn how to analyze information - how to determine just what information we need to make the decisions we face, how to get that information, and then - this is the most crucial step of all -- how to reach inside this information to grasp the knowledge it contains.


Of course, we all analyze information all the time, even without realizing we're doing it. For example, we see the fuel gauge in our car pointing toward "empty," and we understand it's time to look for the nearest gas station. We arrive at the airport, glance at the departure screen and see that our flight has been cancelled, and know that we must run to the ticket counter and book another flight. We watch a weather report on television alerting us that a blizzard is heading our way, and we dash out to buy a shovel. Extracting the meaning of information is part of human nature; we've always done it, and we couldn't stop doing it even if we tried.


What's changed is the volume of decisions we all make, and their impact. In today's world, each of us makes more decisions than our ancestors made - not only in our personal lives, but more importantly in our professional lives. Moreover, the isolation of families, communities, and businesses that marked earlier epochs has long since ended; today a decision made in Kansas City affects people in Miami and Mumbai, and a decision made in London may be based, at least in part, on information that originated in Cairo or Beijing. And these countless decisions we make -- in our personal lives, at work, in our communities, in business, and in politics -- all combine to have a profound effect not only on ourselves and our families but on our countries and even, sometimes, on civilization itself.


This means that making the best possible decisions is more important than ever. And since information is the raw material of decision making, this is why it's time to learn, step-by-step, how to analyze it.”

About the Author


Herbert E. Meyer is a leading authority on the use of information.


During the Reagan Administration, Mr. Meyer served as Special Assistant to the Director of Central Intelligence and Vice Chairman of the CIA’s National Intelligence Council.  In these positions, he managed production of the U.S. National Intelligence Estimates and other top-secret projections for the President and his national security advisers.  Mr. Meyer is widely credited with being the first U.S. Government official to forecast the Soviet Union’s collapse  -- a forecast for which he later was awarded the U.S. National Intelligence Distinguished Service Medal, which is the Intelligence Community’s highest honor.


Formerly an associate editor of FORTUNE, he has authored several books including The War Against Progress, Real-World Intelligence, and Hard Thinking.  Mr. Meyer and his wife, Jill, are co-authors of How to Write, which is among the world’s most widely used writing handbooks.


Mr. Meyer’s essays on Intelligence and Politics have been published in The Wall Street Journal, National Review Online, Policy Review and The American Thinker.


Mr. Meyer is host and producer of The Siege of Western Civilization, a DVD that outlines the threats to America’s security, economy, and culture.


These days, Mr. Meyer is a popular speaker on the lecture circuit.  He delivers his overview of global trends and developments, entitled What in the World is Going On?, to corporations, business associations, student organizations and public affairs groups throughout the world.

 

The Jeff Rense Program

"The best value I have ever seen....A set of keys to the kingdom of knowledge....This book ought to be standard equipment in any home schooling environment."


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Review From American Thinker

"Herbert E. Meyer tackles the characteristic dilemma of our age: how to cope with the deluge of data made available via the internet, and come up with meaningful and usable knowledge..."


"He is a master at explaining complex concepts in a manner which makes them simple, even commonsensical..."


"You will not find 5000 or so words of reading matter that will be more helpful to you (outside of Holy Scripture, at least) in the unprecedented age we are creating."


Thomas Lifson

Editor and Publisher


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"Today I came across the article about analyzing information on the American Thinker website and I want to thank you for it. I teach 8th grade science and students always have difficulty grasping the idea of analyzing data and coming to a conclusion based on that data. I plan to use this essay as a framework to once again tackle the idea of analyzing information with my students this fall. The beauty of this article is that I believe it is written with such simplicity and clarity that my students will be able to read it without my having to modify it. The range of examples used to illustrate his thinking will engage all my students at some personal level, again making it a very useful bit of writing. Thank you for making it available to the masses!"


Wendy Sandy

Napa California


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"This is fabulous. I'm going to read it over and over and assign it to my students."


Randall E. Parker

Professor, Dept. of Economics, East Carolina University

Greenville NC


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"This guide should be required reading for all high school freshmen. I only wish it had been available for me, way back then."


  1. D.Bruce Merrifield

  2. DI.Professor of Management Emeritus,

Wharton School of Business

Former US Undersecretary of Commerce for Technology and Economic Affairs


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"How to Analyze Information – A Step-by-Step Guide to Life’s Most  Vital Skill” is one of the first in the generation of what I hope will be number of short, affordable, and incredibly direct books focusing on specific topics of interest to those of us in intelligence, whether governmental, political, military, or competitive. Nothing less should be expected from its author. Herb Meyer, a journalist by background, served as a Special Assistant to the Director of Central Intelligence and Vice Chair- man of the CIA’s National Intelligence Council   helping those in the intelligence community to communicate what they had found. He is credited with being the first U.S. Government official to  forecast  the  Soviet  Union’s  collapse -- a forecast for which he later was awarded the U.S. National Intelligence Distinguished Service Medal.


He then took his experiences back into the private sector. In addition to writing the incredibly popular How to Write, Herb wrote one of the pioneering books in competitive intelligence, Real- World Intelligence, which is happily still in print. If you have not read this book, I suggest getting a copy of this little gem.


Anyway, back to How to Analyze Information. This book is basically like listening to Herb as he tells you how to do analysis - the  right  way. Its strength lies in Herb’s gift for communication, that is, it is clear, simple and direct, communicating its points with easy-to-understand analogies. What is important is that Herb identifies some of the major barriers to conducting sound analysis. This book is divided into clear, deceptively simple points. Among them, the first two, which I will not repeat here because you owe the author the consideration of buying this, are the most important, and often overlooked.


If you are training someone to be an analyst, or you are teaching a class about the basics of intelligence analysis, or you know someone who is in college and needs to understand how to research and do analysis, I commend this book without reservation."


John J. McGonagle

Managing Partner, The Helicon Group

and author of "Proactive Intelligence"

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“If you are training someone to be an analyst, or you are teaching a class about the basics of intelligence analysis, or you know someone who is in college and needs to understand how to research and do analysis, I commend this book without reservation.”  (Full review below)

John J. McGonagle

Managing Partner, The Helicon Group and author of "Proactive Intelligence"

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How to Analyze Information, a deceptively simple eleven-page pamphlet by

Herbert E. Meyer.


Herb Meyer knows a thing or two about analyzing information. In the 1980s, his analyses of data about the Soviet Union gave his boss, CIA director William Casey, the evidence he needed to tell his boss, Ronald Reagan, that the conventional wisdom about Soviet strength and stability was wrong. Presidents before Reagan had thought America had to settle for holding the line against Stalin’s heirs; they didn’t think any of us would live to see the whole Soviet structure come tumbling down. President Reagan dreamed of a Cold War victory from the start, but, unlike Left-elite dreamers, then and now, he was also a solidly grounded realist. That’s why he chose a tough, smart realist like Bill Casey to head the CIA, and tasked him with analyzing the data anew in order to give him a realistic assessment of Soviet economic strengths and weaknesses, and of the effects they had on the Soviet people and on the Kremlin’s ability to control them. Casey handpicked Meyer to assist him, and their analysis said, in essence, “The Soviets are weak and vulnerable enough to defeat, if enough American pressure is applied at the right points.” And President Reagan, to his everlasting credit, proceeded to do just that.


Meyer makes no mention of any of this in How to Analyze Information. In this short essay, he ignores politics, mostly, using instead homely, everyday-life examples to illustrate seven key steps we need to take in order to gather and analyze information in ways that will let us find the most accurate and relevant answers to our questions.


His seven steps are deceptively simple, too, and his examples more so, making them almost as clear to kids as young as 13 or 14 as they are to college students. In fact, they’re so simple that some critics disparage the whole essay as simple-minded. What these critics miss, I think, is the fact that most basic truths are simple and obvious — after the fact. They seem that way because when we apply them, they make sense of our experience, making whole groups of happenings fall into place so clearly that we can’t imagine we didn’t see the connections and patterns and grasp their implications before.


Meyer’s first step is my favorite: “You cannot make sense of information unless you know where you are when you look at it.” He follows this with two examples, a concrete geographical one, then one about placing yourself, accurately, in relation to others, academically and personally, at high-school graduation time. He concludes with this:


Until you know “where you are” you cannot make good use of the available information. That’s because you cannot know what specific information you’ll need next, or what the information you’ll be looking at when you get it will mean. So take the time to figure out “where you are” — literally or metaphorically — before moving on to the next step.


This is good advice. Kids who learn to see themselves and their own situations honestly and accurately will see other people and situations more clearly too. They will anchor themselves in reality in ways that make it harder for propagandists on any side to overwhelm them. Small wonder, then, that Left-elite propagandists usually skip this step entirely, or try to sell our kids a version of it that invents flattering facts and ignores inconvenient ones.


Barbara Lerner

National Review Online