2016 Press room

Here is a collection of press coverage of the Human Rights Data Analysis Group.

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One Better

- LSA Magazine - Fall 2016

The University of Michigan College of Literature, Science and the Arts profiled Patrick Ball in its fall 2016 issue of the alumni magazine. Here’s an excerpt:

Ball believes doing this laborious, difficult work makes the world a more just place because it leads to accountability.

“My part is a specific, narrow piece, which just happens to fit with the skills I have,” he says. “I don’t think that what we do is in any way the best or most important part of human rights activism. Sometimes, we are just a footnote—but we are a really good footnote.”

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Weapons of Math Destruction

Cory Doctorow - Boing Boing - 6 September 2016

Weapons of Math Destruction: invisible, ubiquitous algorithms are ruining millions of lives. Excerpt:

As Patrick once explained to me, you can train an algorithm to predict someone’s height from their weight, but if your whole training set comes from a grade three class, and anyone who’s self-conscious about their weight is allowed to skip the exercise, your model will predict that most people are about four feet tall. The problem isn’t the algorithm, it’s the training data and the lack of correction when the model produces erroneous conclusions.

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Data-driven development needs both social and computer scientists

Catherine Cheney - DevEx - 29 July 2016


Data scientists are programmers who ignore probability but like pretty graphs, said Patrick Ball, a statistician and human rights advocate who cofounded the Human Rights Data Analysis Group.

“Data is broken,” Ball said. “Anyone who thinks they’re going to use big data to solve a problem is already on the path to fantasy land.”

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Using Data to Reveal Human Rights Abuses

- Community Partners - September 2016

Profile touching on HRDAG’s work on the trial and conviction of Hissène Habré, its US Policing Project, data integrity, data archaeology and more.

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Amnesty report damns Syrian government on prison abuse

- DW (Deutsche Welle) - 18 August 2016

100x100-dwnewsAn excerpt: The “It breaks the human” report released by the human rights group Amnesty International highlights new statistics from the Human Rights Data Analysis Group, or HRDAG, an organization that uses scientific approaches to analyze human rights violations.

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Inside Syria’s prisons, where an estimated 17,723 have died since 2011

Emanuella Grinberg - CNN - 18 August 2016

100x100-cnnExcerpt from the article: The estimate is based on reports from four organizations investigating deaths in Syria from March 15, 2011, to December, 31, 2015. From those cases, the Human Rights Data Analysis Group identified 12,270 cases with sufficient information to confirm the person was killed in detention. Using a statistical method to estimate how many victims they do not yet know about, the group came up with 17,723 cases.

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Predictive policing tools send cops to poor/black neighborhoods

Cory Doctorow - Boing Boing - 9 October 2016

100x100-boingboing-logoIn this post, Cory Doctorow writes about the Significance article co-authored by Kristian Lum and William Isaac.

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Can ‘predictive policing’ prevent crime before it happens?

Mara Hvistendahl - Science - 28 September 2016

100x100-sciencemagHRDAG analyst William Isaac is quoted in this article about so-called crime prediction. “They’re not predicting the future. What they’re actually predicting is where the next recorded police observations are going to occur.”

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PredPol amplifies racially biased policing

Jack Smith IV - Mic - 9 October 2016

100x100-micHRDAG associate William Isaac is quoted in this article about how predictive policing algorithms such as PredPol exacerbate the problem of racial bias in policing.

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Download: Megan Price

Kate Murphy - The New York Times - 10 September 2016

nyt_square_logoExecutive director Megan Price is interviewed in The New York Times’ Sunday Review, as part of a series known as “Download,” which features a biosketch of “Influencers and their interests.”

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Recognising Uncertainty in Statistics

Responsible Data Forum - The Engine Room - March 2016

100x100-the-engine-roomIn Responsible Data Reflection Story #7—from the Responsible Data Forum—work by HRDAG affiliates Anita Gohdes and Brian Root is cited extensively to make the point about how quantitative data are the result of numerous subjective human decisions. An excerpt: “The Human Rights Data Analysis Group are pioneering the way in collecting and analysing figures of killings in conflict in a responsible way, using multiple systems estimation.”

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Calculating US police killings using methodologies from war-crimes trials

Cory Doctorow - Boing Boing - 6 March 2016

100x100-boingboing-logoCory Doctorow of Boing Boing writes about HRDAG director of research Patrick Ball’s article “Violence in Blue,” published March 4 in Granta. From the post: “In a must-read article in Granta, Ball explains the fundamentals of statistical estimation, and then applies these techniques to US police killings, merging data-sets from the police and the press to arrive at an estimate of the knowable US police homicides (about 1,250/year) and the true total (about 1,500/year). That means that of all the killings by strangers in the USA, one third are committed by the police.”

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