Stephen Fienberg 1942-2016

croppedFeinbergbookWe are saddened by the passing of Steve Fienberg yesterday in Pittsburgh, at the age of 74. He is perhaps best known around the world for bringing statistics to science and public policy and was a beloved professor at Carnegie Mellon University. At HRDAG we are in awe of and grateful for the work Steve did formalizing multiple systems estimation. His work on that front blazed a trail and essentially enabled all of our most important analytical work at the intersection of human rights and statistical science.

If we are to reduce the amount of human violence in the world, the first task is to determine the scope of the violence, to know how much of it there is. Research director Patrick Ball says, “No one in the human rights field really understood how to do that until we re-read—very closely—Chapter 6 of Bishop, Fienberg, and Holland.

Feinbergchapter6“Of course, people knew how to estimate hard-to-reach populations before then,” says Patrick. “Nonetheless, it is the principled approach explained in Chapter 6 that gave us the tools to make the estimates in a truly rigorous way.”

In the international human rights movement, we remember the dead. And by remembering the known dead, methods that Steve put in our hands allow us to remember the unknown dead. From Guatemala to Colombia to East Timor to Perú to Kosovo, work based on Steve’s thinking has helped move the world a little closer to justice.

Thank you, Steve, for making our work possible. We will remember you.


Our work has been used by truth commissions, international criminal tribunals, and non-governmental human rights organizations. We have worked with partners on projects on five continents.