It’s Not An Art, It’s A Science

I’ll admit it, I have an annoying pet peeve about the security field being described as an art rather than a science.

The sentiment in question is that security, protection, intelligence, surveillance detection, etc., can’t be reduced to formulas, equations and lab experiments. There are some general principles, but there aren’t any one-size-fits-all solutions. It must therefore be artfully applied with case-by-case nuance and sensitivity.

The first problem with this line of reasoning is that it mistakes science for some of its tools. Science is merely a process for figuring out what’s objectively going on. We can then take these conclusions and develop strategies and tactics that have a high likelihood of giving us what we’re looking for. Security might not be an exact science, but it’s a science nonetheless—a social science.

Art, on the other hand, is a subjective expression that is meant to evoke subjective feelings.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m a huge advocate of art (being both a consumer and producer of it). It’s not a contest between art and science. It all comes down to what you’re trying to get out of it and whether the outcomes you’re looking for can be objectively verified.

The difference between an attack on a protected asset and no attack on a protected asset is an objective one. As is the difference between someone collecting intelligence or not. The fact that we can’t always detect and verify everything doesn’t make the issues in question any less objective.

Science is a way of thinking, not a conclusion. And as long as what you’re thinking about admits of objective answers, looking for answers is more of a science than an art.

I know many people prefer to think of the human factor in the security industry as more of an art. It tends to spice things up with a bit of charm, mystery and romance. I won’t deny that there’s quite a bit of nuance and sensitivity that goes into detecting things like nervousness, hostility and deception. But that just puts things firmly in the corner of behavioral psychology rather than art.

It’s often the case that when people call something an art, they merely lack the ability to better explain the subject in question. It works much the same way with the overused recommendation to “trust your instincts”. Yes, absolutely trust your instincts and absolutely use your sensitivity and subjective perceptions. But don’t stop there—keep going!

There’s nothing magical or untouchable about instincts and subjective feelings—they’re perceptions that are caused by a blend of intakes you sense on a subliminal level. You’re just more conscious of the perception than you are of its subliminal causes, which is why an instinct feels more like a cause than an effect.

Rather than treat feelings and instincts as some untouchable, artistic sixth sense, you can actually get to the bottom of what’s causing them. By bringing these subtle sensory intakes out of their subliminal realm, you can sharpen your detection and analytical skills and attain even better results.

I know what you’re thinking: OK, but so what? Who cares what you call it anyway?

Well, it matters because words and definitions often lead to actions. Defining something as an art means that anyone’s subjective feelings about it are as valid as anyone else’s. In art, a person has the freedom to simply like or dislike something and that’s the end of the conversation. Art has no objective or verifiable measurements of success. There’s nothing to research or verify. That’s what makes art so great. But it can only be great on a personal, subjective level. 

In the security industry, on the other hand, we absolutely have objectives, which we strive to meet through strategies, tactics and actions. We’ll want to incorporate all the tools in our toolbox, which include instincts, feelings, a sense of aesthetics and taste. But we also must include reason, evidence and probability. And since all of this has an objectively verifiable goal—to create and maintain safety and security—it is a science, not an art.

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One thought on “It’s Not An Art, It’s A Science

  1. […] my last article, I discussed how security professionals should treat security as a science rather than an art. This is because our goals should be objectively verifiable and should therefore be based on […]

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