Why raw data doesn't support analysis of violence

This morning I got a query from a journalist asking for our data from the report we published yesterday. The journalist was hoping to create an interactive infographic to track the number of deaths in the Syrian conflict over time. Our data would not support an analysis like the one proposed, so I wrote this reply. We can't send you these data because they would be misleading—seriously misleading—for the purpose you describe. Here's why: What we have is a list of documented deaths, in essence, a highly non-random sample, though a very big one. We like bigger samples ...

Read More


Counting Casualties in Syria

Today the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) released a report prepared by me and my colleagues describing the current state of reported killings in the Syrian Arab Republic from the beginning of the conflict in March 2011 through April 2013.  (UN news release here.) This report is an update of work we published in January 2013.  This updated analysis includes records from eight data sources documenting a total of 92,901 reported killings. Our analysis begins with 263,055 total records reported by the eight data sources that ...

Read More


HRDAG contributes to textbook Counting Civilian Casualties

Next week, on June 11, Oxford University Press officially puts Counting Civilian Casualties: An Introduction to Recording and Estimating Nonmilitary Deaths in Conflict on the market. This textbook, edited by Taylor B. Seybolt, Jay D. Aronson, and Baruch Fischhoff, responds to the increasing concern for civilians in conflict and aims to promote scientific dialogue by highlighting the strengths and weaknesses of the most commonly used casualty recording and estimation techniques. HRDAG is very well represented here, as our colleagues have co-authored four chapters, and ...

Read More


Hat-Tip from Guatemala Judges on HRDAG Evidence

We welcome the verdict of a week ago by Judges Barrios, Bustamante, and Xitumul in the conviction of General Efraín Ríos Montt for genocide and crimes against humanity. Their 718-page written opinion contains many compelling arguments, findings, and conclusions. But the section we at HRDAG are most interested in is the one on page 245 (see original, below), where Patrick's testimony is referred to. (more…)

Read More


Historic verdict in Guatemala—Gen.Efraín Ríos Montt found guilty

I've been working with various projects in Guatemala to document mass violence since 1993, so in 2011, when Claudia Paz y Paz asked me to revisit the analysis I did for the Commission for Historical Clarification examining the differential mortality rates due to homicide for indigenous and non-indigenous people in the Ixil region, I was delighted. We have far better data processing and statistical methods than we had in 1998, plus much more data. I think the resulting analysis is a conservative lower bound on total homicides of indigenous people. (more…)

Read More


How we go about estimating casualties in Syria—Part 1

I spent the two weeks over Easter working with Patrick and Megan in San Francisco, trying to figure out a strategy of how best to estimate the number of casualties the Syrian civil war has claimed in the past two years. In January, HRDAG published a report on the number of fully identified casualties reported in the Syrian Arab Republic between March 2011 and November 2012. The number of de-duplicated records of killings for this period was 59,648, a number that is likely to be an undercount since we know that many incidences of lethal violence in conflict go unreported, ...

Read More


Trips to and from Guatemala

HRDAG has been working with the Historic Archive of the National Police in Guatemala (hereafter, the Archive) for the past seven years.  The Archive contains a treasure trove of data recorded and kept by the Guatemalan National Police over the past century.  When the Archive was first discovered in 2005, researchers there immediately recognized both the value and fragility of the tens of millions of documents.  As a result, they reached out to HRDAG, and we reached out to volunteers at Westat to devise a plan to estimate the contents of the entire Archive as quickly ...

Read More


HRDAG and the Trial of José Efraín Ríos Montt

At some point in the next week, HRDAG's executive director, Patrick Ball, will be providing expert testimony in the trial of General José Efraín Ríos Montt, the de-facto president of Guatemala in 1982-1983. Gen. Ríos is being tried on charges of genocide and crimes against humanity. (His military intelligence director, Gen. Mauricio Rodríguez Sánchez is also on trial.) Patrick will testify on approximately April 15-18, 2013, and he may begin as early as this Friday, April 12. The trial opened on March 20, 2013, in the Supreme Court building in Guatemala City. ...

Read More


Convenience Samples: What they are, and what they should (and should not) be used for

As noted on our Core Concepts page, we spend a lot of time worrying about the ways data are used to make claims about human rights violations.  This is because inaccurate statistics can damage the credibility of human rights claims.  Analyses of records of human rights violations are used to guide policy decisions, determine resource allocation for interventions, and inform transitional justice mechanisms.  It is vital that such analyses are accurate. Unfortunately, all too often these decisions are based, inappropriately, on analyses of a single convenience sample. ...

Read More


Multiple Systems Estimation: Does it Really Work?

<< Previous post, MSE: Stratification and Estimation Q15. Are there other MSE models one might use with human rights data? Q16. Is it possible to use MSE to model non-lethal human rights violations? Q17. I am concerned about using MSE with my data, because the datasets were gathered by opposing organizations. Victims who were reported to an NGO were very unlikely to be reported to state sources, but also very likely to be reported to religious organizations. Won't that cause the overlaps between the NGO list and the state list to be artificially low, and the ...

Read More


Multiple Systems Estimation: Stratification and Estimation

<< Previous post, MSE: The Matching Process Q10. What is stratification? Q11. [In depth] How do HRDAG analysts approach stratification, and why is it important? Q12. How does MSE find the total number of violations? Q13. [In depth] What are the assumptions of two-system MSE (capture-recapture)? Why are they not necessary with three or more systems? Q14. What statistical model(s) does HRDAG typically use to calculate MSE estimates? (more…)

Read More


Multiple Systems Estimation: The Matching Process

<<Previous post: Collection, Cleaning, and Canonicalization of Data Q8. What do you mean by "overlap," and why are overlaps important? Q9. [In depth] Why is automated matching so important, and what process do you use to match records?  Q8. What do you mean by "overlap," and why are overlaps important? MSE estimates the total number of violations by comparing the size of the overlap(s) between lists of human rights violations to the sizes of the lists themselves. By "overlap," we mean the set of incidents, such as deaths, that appear on more than one list of ...

Read More


Multiple Systems Estimation: Collection, Cleaning and Canonicalization of Data

<< Previous post: MSE: The Basics Q3. What are the steps in an MSE analysis? Q4. What does data collection look like in the human rights context? What kind of data do you collect? Q5. [In depth] Do you include unnamed or anonymous victims in the matching process? Q6. What do you mean by "cleaning" and "canonicalization?" Q7. [In depth] What are some of the challenges of canonicalization? (more…)

Read More


Multiple Systems Estimation: The Basics

Multiple systems estimation, or MSE, is a family of techniques for statistical inference. MSE uses the overlaps between several incomplete lists of human rights violations to determine the total number of violations. In this blogpost, and four more to follow, I’ll answer both conceptual and practical questions about this important method. (In posts to follow, questions that refer to specific statistical procedures or debates will be marked, "In depth.") (more…)

Read More


How we make sure that nobody is counted twice: A peek into HRDAG's record de-duplication

HRDAG is currently evaluating the quality and completeness of the Kosovo Memory Book of the Humanitarian Law Center (HLC) in Belgrade, Serbia. The objective of the Kosovo Memory Book (KMB) is to commemorate every single person who fell victim to armed conflict in Kosovo from 1998 to 2000, either through death or disappearance. While building and reviewing their database, one of the things that HLC has to do is “record linkage,” a process also known as “matching.” Matching determines whether two records are the same people (“a match”) or different people ...

Read More


Transitional Justice in Syria: Accountability and Reconciliation Conference

I spent last weekend in Istanbul at an excellent conference organized by the Syrian Center for Political and Strategic Studies (SCPSS). The conference included numerous non-governmental organizations (NGOs) from Syria as well as international human rights researchers and advocates. Families of victims told their stories, data collection groups discussed the challenges, and need, to document violations, transitional justice experts worried about infrastructure such as the police force and judicial system, and local leaders pledged to work together for peace. I was ...

Read More


Welcome!

As of today, the Human Rights Data Analysis Group (HRDAG) is an independent* non-profit! It's been a long time coming, and we're delighted to have gotten to this point. HRDAG is a non-profit, non-partisan organization that applies rigorous science to the analysis of human rights violations around the world; for more information, see our About Us page. Benetech has spun out the scientific and statistical part of the Human Rights Program to HRDAG. The spinout includes (as staff) me -- Patrick Ball -- and Dr Megan Price, as well as our many part-time scientific and field ...

Read More