In the last three days of the Sri Lankan civil war, as thousands of people surrendered to government authorities, hundreds of people were put on buses driven by Army officers. Many were never seen again.
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Today is the Fifth Annual Aaron Swartz Day and International Hackathon Weekend, and for the first time, the speakers will be webcast, starting at 1PM Pacific:
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A guide to the charities we support in our own annual giving.
At the Human Rights Data Analysis Group, we’ve been holding heads of state accountable for human rights violations for a quarter century. And now we're prepared to do the same in the United States.
Our work is cut out for us: we’re showing how data is misused to reinforce racial discrimination in policing, in criminal justice determinations-—work that is more relevant and necessary than ever.
We’ve provided critical evidence in the prosecution of dictators like Slobodan Milosevic for ethnic cleansing in Kosovo, Efraín Ríos Montt for genocide in Guatemala, Hissène Habré for crimes against humanity in Chad. And we are providing the most accurate counts of killings in Colombia and Syria, and homicides by police in the US. This evidence will be ready when these societies come to terms with their past.
Facts do matter. And leaders need to be held to account. We need you to help us get this message out and support our work. Will you consider us in your end-of-year giving? Read the rest
Researchers from the Human Rights Data Analysis Group (previously) reimplemented the algorithm Predpol predictive policing system that police departments around America have spent a fortune on in order to find out where to set their patrols, and fed it Oakland's 2010 arrest data, then asked it to predict where the crime would be in 2011. Read the rest
I've been writing about
the work of Cathy "Mathbabe
" O'Neil for years: she's a radical data-scientist with a Harvard PhD in mathematics, who coined the term "Weapons of Math Destruction" to describe the ways that sloppy statistical modeling is punishing millions of people every day, and in more and more cases, destroying lives. Today, O'Neil brings her argument to print, with a fantastic, plainspoken, call to arms called (what else?) Weapons of Math Destruction
Statistician Patrick Ball runs an NGO called the Human Rights Data Analysis Group, which uses extremely rigorous, well-documented statistical techniques to provide evidence of war crimes and genocides; HRDAG's work has been used in the official investigations of atrocities in Kosovo, Guatemala, Peru, Colombia, Syria and elsewhere. Read the rest
The Ford Foundation's Michael Brennan discusses the many studies showing how algorithms can magnify bias -- like the prevalence of police background check ads shown against searches for black names. Read the rest
Patrick Ball and the Human Rights Data Analysis Group applied the same statistical rigor that he uses in estimating the scale of atrocities and genocides for Truth and Reconciliation panels in countries like Syria and Guatemala to the problem of estimating killing by US cops, and came up with horrific conclusions. Read the rest
You are Not So Smart is hosted by David McRaney, a journalist and self-described psychology nerd. In each episode, David explores cognitive biases and delusions, and is often joined by a guest expert.
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The problem with sorting out failures and successes is that failures are often muted, destroyed, or somehow removed from sight while successes are left behind, weighting your decisions and perceptions, tilting your view of the world. That means to be successful you must learn how to seek out what is missing. You must learn what not to do. Unfortunately, survivorship bias stands between you and the epiphanies you seek. Read the rest
Between 1980 and 2000, a complicated war raged in Peru, pitting the country’s government against at least two political guerilla organizations, and forcing average people to band together into armed self-defense committees. The aftermath was a mess of death and confusion, where nobody knew exactly how many people had been murdered, how many had simply vanished, or who was to blame.
“The numbers had floated around between 20,000 and 30,000 people killed and disappeared,” says Daniel Manrique-Vallier. “But nobody knew what the composition was. Non-governmental organizations were estimating that 90% of the deaths were the responsibility of state agents.”
Manrique-Vallier, a post-doc in the Duke University department of statistical science, was part of a team that researched the deaths for Peru’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission. Their results were completely different from those early estimates. Published in 2003, the final report presented evidence for nearly 70,000 deaths, 30% of which could be attributed to the Peruvian government.
How do you find 40,000 extra dead bodies? How do you even start to determine which groups killed which people at a time when everybody with a gun seemed to be shooting civilians? The answers lie in statistics, data analysis, and an ongoing effort to use math to cut through the fog of war. Read the rest
In the fog of war, it's not easy to figure out how many people die. Even in the cleanest combat, accurate records are not really a common military priority. Worse, there are often incentives for one side or the other to play up the death counts (or play them down), alter the picture of who is doing the killing and who is dying, and provide evidence that a conflict is getting better (or worse).
All of that creates a mess for outside observers who want to see accurate patterns in the chaos — patterns that can help us understand whether an evenly matched war has turned into a bloodbath, or a genocide. The Human Rights Data Analysis Group is an organization that takes the messy, often conflicting, information about deaths in a warzone and tries to make sense of it. Today, they released an updated version of a January report on documented killings in the Syrian civil war.
They say that there were 92,901 documented deaths between March 2011 and April 2013. That number is extremely high, and tragic. But the number alone is maybe not the most important thing the data is telling us. Read the rest
Next Wednesday, as part of the festivities in Seattle's Computers, Freedom and Privacy confernece, EFF will host its Pioneer Awards, at 7PM at the Sci Fi Museum. Today, the org released the list of (very) distinguished winners for the year:
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Dr. Patrick Ball is a leading innovator in applying
scientific measurement to human rights. He directs the
Human Rights Data Analysis Group (HRDAG) at Benetech
(www.benetech.org), a nonprofit organization that combines
the impact of technological solutions with the social
entrepreneurship business model to help disadvantaged
communities. He served as the catalyst behind two open
source software tools for the human rights community,
"Martus" and "Analyzer," which aid in the secure storage
and analysis of data on human rights violations. He will be
accepting his award from East Timor.
Edward Felten is a professor of Computer Science at
Princeton University whose research interests include
computer security and technology law and policy. He brings
these scholarly interests to his work as an activist. In
2001, Felten and EFF sued the Recording Industry
Association of America (RIAA) and the Secure Digital Music
Initiative (SDMI) in a case challenging the
constitutionality of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act
(DMCA). Felten is also author of "Freedom to Tinker"
(www.freedom-to-tinker.com), a highly regarded weblog
exploring the ways government and industry attempt to limit
technological innovation and what activists can do about
Mitch Kapor is President and Chair of the Open Source
Applications Foundation (www.osafoundation.org), a
nonprofit organization he founded in 2001 to promote the
development and acceptance of high-quality application
software developed and distributed using open source
methods and licenses.