WMD Cascades


The editors of the New York Times strutted down the runway at a hair-shirt fashion show yesterday, acknowledging that the paper's coverage of Iraq/WMD claims had been insufficiently skeptical. Both Slate's Jack Shafer and James C. Moore at Salon have instant reactions.

One thing illustrated here is a problem with information cascades. Scientists and academics know the phenomenon well: Some result or fact is one "everyone knows," it's cited in hundreds of journal articles and papers. But those hundreds all cite the same dozen papers as their basis for the claim, and those dozen are all based on the same flawed ur-paper. It sounds a lot like something similar was going on with pre-war WMD reporting. Chalabi passes the info to U.S. intelligence services, the U.S. shares that with foreign allies, and soon there's the impression of unanimity based on the same problematic original source.