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Why Collecting Data In Conflict Zones Is Invaluable—And Nearly Impossible

HRDAG's work in Kosovo and in the Guatemalan trial of General José Efraín Ríos Montt is discussed in this article. Megan Price, HRDAG's director of research, is quoted. “There is a wide variety of things that could be considered data,” she says. From the story: Price’s main data analysis tool requires fitting a model to the data that ends up in her lap. That way, she can see whether there are gaps in the data and what more needs to be included. The method, called multiple systems estimation analysis, lets Price look at patterns across lists of data, for example, lists of victims. The resulting model reveals how much data is missing, to a ...

Syria: No word on four abducted activists

Razan Zatouneh is an esteemed colleague of ours, and we are one of 57 organizations demanding immediate release for her and the three other human rights defenders still missing. A year on, no information on Douma Four The prominent Syrian human rights defenders Razan Zaitouneh, Samira Khalil, Wa’el Hamada and Nazem Hamadi – the Douma Four—remain missing a year after their abduction, 57 organizations said today. The four were abducted in Duma, a city near Damascus under the control of armed opposition groups. They should be released immediately, the groups said. On 9 December 2013, at about 10:40 pm, a group of armed men stormed into the ...

Privacy Policy

Mailing List Subscription We use Mailchimp to help us keep track of community members who want to stay informed about what HRDAG is doing and thinking. If you self-subscribe to our list, we will never share your contact information. We will never subscribe anyone who does not explicitly agree to a subscription.  Over the course of a year, we mail quarterly letters and fundraising letters, as well as one or two updates as events demand. If, during the course of a fundraising campaign, you make a donation, we will do our best to remove you from the remainder of fundraising mailings that year. We may use your contact information to invite you to ...

Lessons at HRDAG: Making More Syrian Records Usable

If we could glean key missing information from those fields, we would be able to use more records.

Happy Hacking

From my first introduction to the HRDAG community at the annual retreat it was clear to me that mentorship is an organizational priority and that the contributions of interns are valued. Much of my first couple weeks as a summer intern at HRDAG were spent familiarizing myself with Patrick’s paradigm for principled data processing. At the same time, I was learning the skills and tricks (bash, make, vim, git) that promote an effortless programming workflow, a pursuit that Patrick calls “sharpening the saw” (just like in programming, you can cut down a tree with a dull blade, but your life will be much easier if you take the time to sharpen ...

Quantitative Research at the AHPN Guatemala

In early 2006 I joined the Historical Archive of the National Police (Archivo HistĂłrico de la PolicĂ­a Nacional, or AHPN) without knowing the impact it would have on my future. I started with cleaning, organizing and classifying documents—and learning, with other colleagues, what a historical archive is and how it works. By April of that year, parallel to these learning processes, I was selected along with 20 other people to begin work on the challenging Quantitative Research project. I started as a "coder," transferring key content from documents into a database. (more…)

Reflections: The G in HRDAG is the Real Fuel

It took me a while to realize I had become part of the HRDAG incubator—at least that’s what it felt like to me—for young data analysts who wanted to use statistical knowledge to make a real impact on human rights debates.

HRDAG Retreat 2016

What do you get when you bring seven statisticians, one quantitative political scientist, a writer, a computer scientist, and an administrator together for four days in a vacation rental on California’s Russian River? A lot of code, a technical paper and book chapter revised, another paper started, a great hike in the Redwoods, descriptions of food poisoning and crash landings in war zones, and a lot of talk about feelings. Did I mention feelings? On the first evening of the annual retreat of the Human Rights Data Analysis Group, executive director Megan Price asked us to go around the room and share how we were feeling on arrival. The request ...

In Pursuit of Excellent Data Processing

With help from HRDAG, Roman Rivera built the data backbone for the Invisible Institute's Citizens Police Data Project.

Covid-19 Research and Resources

HRDAG is identifying and interpreting the best science we can find to shed light on the global crisis brought on by the novel coronavirus, about which we still know so little. Right now, most of the data on the virus SARS-CoV-2 and Covid-19, the condition caused by the virus, are incomplete and unrepresentative, which means that there is a great deal of uncertainty. But making sense of imperfect datasets is what we do. HRDAG is contributing to a better understanding with explainers, essays, and original research, and we are highlighting trustworthy resources for those who want to dig deeper. Papers and articles by HRDAG .ugb-bbeb275 .ugb-blo...

What HBR Gets Wrong About Algorithms and Bias

“Kristian Lum… organized a workshop together with Elizabeth Bender, a staff attorney for the NY Legal Aid Society and former public defender, and Terrence Wilkerson, an innocent man who had been arrested and could not afford bail. Together, they shared first hand experience about the obstacles and inefficiencies that occur in the legal system, providing valuable context to the debate around COMPAS.”

Documents of war: Understanding the Syrian Conflict

Megan Price, Anita Gohdes, and Patrick Ball. 2015. Significance 12, no. 2 (April): 14–19. doi: 10.1111/j.1740-9713.2015.00811.x. © 2015 The Royal Statistical Society. All rights reserved. [online abstract]

Police Accountability in Chicago: from Data Dump to Usable Data

HRDAG is helping the Invisible Institute turn their windfall of raw data about police misconduct into data that can be analyzed.

The Atrocity Archives


Collecting and Protecting Human Rights Data in Guatemala (1991-2013) In 1996, a peace accord brokered by the United Nations ended 36 years of internal armed conflict in Guatemala. During the hostilities, non-governmental organizations asked for technical support from the scientific community in the project to gather the experiences of witnesses and victims in databases. From 1993 to 1999 Dr. Patrick Ball, then at the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), worked with the International Center for Human Rights Research in Guatemala (CIIDH) to collect and organize evidence of more than 43,000 human rights violations. The ...

Protecting the Privacy of Whistle-Blowers: The Staten Island Files

HRDAG built a machine-learning tool to strip the raw data of any potentially identifying information such as names and court case numbers. There was no "acceptable error rate."

Report on Measures of Fairness in NYC Risk Assessment Tool

The report tries to answer the question of whether a particular risk assessment model reinforces racial inequalities in the criminal justice system.

HRDAG Retreat 2014

Ten data nerds gathered in a large hilltop beach house to analyze counts of killings from several war-torn countries. The time was January 16-20, 2014, the place was near San Francisco, the agenda was packed, and I was excited to be there. Having defended my dissertation at Carnegie Mellon University just days before, I had often supposed that my thesis on a generalization of log-linear models for capture-recapture might serve little other purpose than to fill a line on my curriculum vitae. This perception faded after a mid-2013 discussion with Patrick convinced me that HRDAG's data challenges could easily be the best match to my research ...

HRDAG Retreat 2015

I look at the beach and then at the table surrounded by nerds, deep in thought and conversation about Dirichlet priors, matching algorithms, and armed conflicts. This peculiar (in the best way) environment catalyzes a moment of reflection: how did I get here? Four years ago, as a second-year statistics PhD student, I watched "Guatemala: The Secret Files" on PBS Frontline World. I listened to stories of family members who disappeared without answers or justice. Then the story shifted to the work being done by archivists and data experts at Guatemala's Historic Archive of the National Police. The scientists' pursuit of the truth energized me. I ...

Strong Crypto Safeguards Human Rights Data

Strong cryptography can safeguard critical human rights data from repressive governments that steal data in order to persecute citizens. When vulnerable citizens dare to bear witness by naming perpetrators, their crimes, and their victims, the sensitive identifying information about those witnesses must be protected. In the late 1990s, HRDAG’s Director of Research, Patrick Ball, began his work with encrypted data while documenting crimes committed by the Guatemalan national police—and strong cryptography has remained critical to all of HRDAG’s work. hr {border-width:20px;} .main-container p a{color:#f98d00 !important;} h2 {font-we...

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.