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Boston Civic Media Consortium: Teaching Climate, Inspiring Action

March 24, 2017 - 5:30pm

 

Boston Civic Media Consortium: Teaching Climate, Inspiring Action

Friday 24th March 2017

Organized by the Boston Civic Media Consortium with Sara Wylie and Sharon Harlan of Northeastern University's Social Science Environmental Health Research Institute (SSEHRI), the event on Teaching Climate, Inspiring Action bought together academics, students, community groups, journalists, artists, members of government, and many more, to discuss how we can partner effectively across the Greater Boston area to mobilise climate action.

 

 

 

Lightning Talks:

 

David Abel, Environmental Reporter, The Boston Globe

David begins with quotes from emails he has received over the past few weeks in response to stories he has written for the Globe on the environment. Some are from climate denier companies, others from readers. As a journalist contesting such deliberately misleading assertions can be challenging. David argues that as the science of global warming has become more definitive, we now have to ask what constitutes fair balance in the journalism industry.

When faced with mounting evidence that smoking causes cancer, journalists moved away from quoting scientists arguing the opposite and creating false equivalences. Speaking to the EPA, David has heard that the science of climate change is more robust than the science correlating smoking with cancer. As such, journalism needs to move away from making false equivalences with climate change.

As such, David tries to respond to denialism with facts. He recently responded to prominent climate change denier, Robert Lindzen. Where Lindzen argued that the melting ice is just natural variation, David used recent figures that show the depletion of arctic sea ice has peaked in recent years. David also noted that Linzen has received money from fossil fuel companies.

Today David is off to D.C. to screen one of his films. David has begun making films to document the real effects of climate change that are already happening. He shows us the trailer to Sacred Cod, which documents the effects of climate change on the gulf of Maine, which has warmed faster than nearly any other body of water on the planet.

As Environmental Reporter at The Boston Globe, David is constantly writing about climate change. He states that his films also attempt to lay out the facts and invite the audience to make decisions.

 

Roseann Bongiovanni, Associate Executive Director, Chelsea Collaborative

Roseann begins by telling us about Chelsea, MA, which often gets overlooked when we think about the Greater Boston area. Chelsea has over 40,000 residents within 1.4 sq miles due to city zoning limits. Roseann explains the aerial photo she is displaying shows lots of grey infrastructure, surrounded by water on three sides. 100% of Logan Airport’s jet-fuel is stored in Chelsea with road salt for 350 towns stored on the banks of the creek. 24% of Chelsea’s population lives under poverty level and 72% identify as an ethnic minority.

The most densely populated, most ethnically diverse neighbourhoods are surrounded by industry due to the entirety of Chelsea being designated as a port area, which means industry has city planning permissions to property along the waterfront. Chelsea experiences high rates of cancer and cardiovascular conditions. Not only are there issues with industry but predictions of flooding in 2070 show much of the city submerged underwater, rendering much of the population homeless.

Roseann works with Green Roots Chelsea, ensuring that the residents of Chelsea, including those who are the hardest to reach, are heard. The group speaks on a neighbourhood level to strive for environmental justice. Green Roots Chelsea works with businesses to ensure industry is working for climate protections in the interest of the residents, as well as taking action to sue companies like Exxon who are denying climate change. Environmental Chelsea Organisers is a youth led organisation that works on environmental justice.

Roseann finished by inviting us to the clean-up run by ECO on Earth Day, April 22nd. She provided the groups website, greenrootschelsea.org, and said that if people want to take action right now they should donate, because money is not coming from the federal government any more and that impact is real.

 

 

James DeCunzo, Organizer, All Campus Divestment Collaborative

James introduces himself as a member of DivestNU. James tells us that the divestment campaign at Northeastern begun in 2014, when 75% of the student body voted in favour of divestment. A recent Social Impact Council Report released by the DivestNU group in Spring 2016 recommended full divestment, however Northeastern did not divest and created a sustainability fund, which although a success for the group is still a half-measure on the road to divestment.

James explains that the creation of a Faculty Working group saw a power dynamic shift within DivestNU and helped the group accumulate important gains in staff support by overriding different concerns including those surrounding nontenured positions.

The All Campus Divestment Collaboration (ACDC) was an effort to share resources and show solidarity across the Greater Boston area. One of the key tools was a shared calendar along with other tools which enabled the different divestment groups to expand their network.

James recalls some of the challenges DivestNU have faced. The issue of reliable communication with professors as well as within the group is central, as well as redundancy issues across different groups trying to share work and find new strategies.

To conclude James points to some of the actions the ACDC has taken including teach-ins, direct support of campaigns, and reaching out to work with community organisations. He mentions that Professor Jennie Stephen’s teamed with ACDC to increase collaborative skill-sharing and transfer experience from older members to newer students. Following this, James leaves us with the question of how we can affect change by promoting allyship and skill-sharing.

 

Paula Garcia, Energy Analyst, Union of Concerned Scientists

Paula explains that the Union of Concerned Scientists was formed in 1969 by scientists and students from MIT. The groups focuses on a range of issues including nuclear weapons and power; climate and energy; and science and democracy.

Paula says that one of the solutions to climate change we have is reducing emissions and as the US is one of the countries that pollutes most in the world it has a particularly important role in this. Renewable energy is a viable alternative for the US and the Union of Concerned Scientists helps create models to inform policy decision-making in this area.

For Massachusetts, the Union found that the state could produce electricity in a sustainable way without building any more pipelines. Instead, deploying offshore wind energy could decrease bills and reduce emissions, as well as the state's reliance on natural gas. After a recent intervention the group helped achieve a state commitment to renewable energy.

Paula invites the audience to join the Union of Concerned Scientists, saying the group provides training and development opportunities. She also invites everyone to join the Union for the People’s Climate March in D.C. April 29th, urging people to RSVP at: wwww.ucsusa.org/pcm

 

Jane Marsching, Artist, Professor and Sustainability Fellow at Massachusetts College of Art and Design

Jane talks about embedding sustainability in art and design practices in higher education institutions, from class curriculums, to student clubs, to the financial structuring of educational institutions. Jane talks about the incubation package she has been working on at Massachusetts College of Art and Design. Some of the big aims of the project included:

-Creating interdisciplinary opportunities for a school where departments are often defined by mediums

-Identifying deep themes to introduce sustainability as “everything”

-Unpacking the college’s aims to make practitioners “citizens”

The incubation program begun with the UN definition of sustainable practice as “that which meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their needs.” However a year into the incubator program the group decided that the UN definition of sustainability was not working for what they were trying to achieve. Jane tells us that The Sustainable MassArt Initiative defines “MassArt as an ecosystem in which everything we do is part of an interconnected web of economic, environmental, and human resources. The Sustainable MassArt Initiative works to define, develop, support, and communicate visionary work in the field of sustainable art and design by students, faculty, and staff. The primary goal of the Sustainable MassArt Initiative is to foster and support sustainable curriculum throughout the college.”

Jane tells us that she strove to make the classroom or laboratory the teacher with DIY products, tea stations, and other aspects which morphed over the course of the semester to allow anyone who entered the room to reorient themselves. She poses the question of how to create a strategy of knowledge and focus when many are uninterested to the group, and cites one-off classes by professors on an aspect of sustainability in their subject which were free and open to the public as a way to engage a broader range of people beyond the student body.

This year Jane tells us that the program is focusing on not creating a top-down series of events. Instead they have asked faculty to design from the ground up. She reminds us how important and necessary this type of work is when so much is judged on profits and quantitative metrics these days.To end, Jane urges us to work together to create systemic discontinuity with business as usual across all institutions of higher education.

 

Dr. Atiya Martin, Chief Resilience Officer, City of Boston

Atiya introduces us to Boston’s Resilience Strategy, providing a brief overview of the cities approach to resilience and the links between racial equity and social justice.

The Resilient City project was funded by the 100 Resilient Cities scheme by the Rockefeller Foundation. The project defines resilience as the ability of cities and individuals within cities to survive, adapt, and grow after emergencies. Atiya explains that anything from high unemployment to environmental justice issues can be considered emergencies, and that it includes racism as well as acute shocks like terrorism and natural disasters. The concept of resilience has helped the emergency management world to re-assess the impacts of issues like climate change within the different problems localities face every day.

Atiya tells us that the Mayor’s Office of Resilience had over 100 folks from different sectors attend two events to help us frame resilience in the City of Boston. The events asks what the vision for resilience in Boston is, what goals we need to achieve to get there, and what initiatives will help that happen. The two collaborative sessions created a Boston’s Blueprint for Resilience Strategy which includes the group's focus on racial equity. Overview of vision areas includes: Reflective city, stronger people; collaborative, proactive governance; equitable economic development; and connected adaptive city.

Atiya says that we should conceive of the event or experience as the tip of the iceberg, whilst beneath there are patterns of behaviour and thought that derive from the historical and social context we are in which themselves are part of ingrained cultural and institutional values. Atiya reminds us we all embody these values, sometimes in ways that we cannot recognise any more.

To prove this Atiya concludes with a demonstration of unconscious bias, having us read the colour of the word on the screen. Our unconscious brain wanted to read the word instead of looking at the colour of the word. Atiya says that we all have blind spots and we need to address them by expanding our networks, learning social and historical context, creating space in our personal and professional lives, and taking responsibility within our practices and policies.


 

Q&A with Dr. Atiya Martin, Jane Marsching, Paula Garcia, James DeCunzo, Roseann Bongiovanni.

Q: Can we work with fossil fuel companies from the inside?

JDC: Looking at the history of companies where that has happened I would say no. EXXON mobil has had shareholders and legal fights pushing for its transition to renewable energy from the inside. How can you work through those institutions when they are so resistant? As opposed to trying to work with these unjust companies we should depower them, and try to limit the power they hold in our institutions.

 

Q: Boston has the most poorly grounded racial justice lens of any group in the 100 Resilient Cities?

AM: All the Chief Resilience Officers meet, and each equity issue is different across cities. Initiatives tended to fall short of addressing the equity statement identified at the beginning. We are in close contact with Melbourne, who also have a large immigrant population and are seeing rising discrimination, particularly against muslims. We aim to share what we’re learning and what it means for government to address inequity.

 

Q: What are the primary obstacles for building a broader climate justice movement, and what are the important lessons we can build on?

AM: Climate justice has been predominantly white, where people of colour have been in the grassroots but separated from these movements. We can join the intersections around race by asking who disproportionately gets the burden of climate justice issues?

Communities Labour United joined communities and unions to develop a report on climate justice and how we can work together. It is important to ask how to connect the grassroots to broader movements, bringing climate justice into social justice beyond our comfort zones.

PG: Solar equity is a big movement across states like California and New York, where the benefits of solar reach lower income communities. It is important to invite lower-income communities to the table where these decisions are being made.

 

Q: How do we do better at reaching people who are not currently “in the choir”?

RB: We need to bring them into the choir - these people benefit from the exploitation of others and people need to be made aware of their benefits being a burden on other people. Racism is still a prominent issue, where people believe it is out of sight and out of mind, but we need to readdress the distribution of benefits and burdens.

AM: We need to focus on the larger group through “like me” mentality.

JM: It is important to have the opportunity to re-create our formulaic responses to an issue like climate change.

Community announcements:

Brookline Interactive are organising a 3 day hackathon. For more information visit: http://vrecohack.com/
Groups are welcomed to submit events to http://bit.ly/EWB2017-event or contact earthweekboston@gmail.com  to join a coalition of groups in Greater Boston for Earth Day 2017.
ACDC highlight events for divestment at Harvard and Tufts over the coming weeks.
Physicians for Social Responsibility offer their partnership to interested parties.
Quincy Climate Action Network share their South Shore Science Festival event on Earth Day.
And Emerson’s Engagement Lab advise applications to their MA in Civic Media: Art and Practice are still open.
 

Moderated Small Group Discussions:

How do we teach climate change through action? and How do we take action on climate change through teaching?

Small break-out groups discussed the two questions above thinking of creative responses and case-studies that illuminate potential outcomes.

 

Group 1: It is important to finding scaleable projects and embed students within the community

 

Group 2: The group came up with several ideas to teach climate and take action through action. Use local library as resource to showcase climate change media; visit state or federal legislature to teach students how to lobby; map knowledge of what people do and don’t know about climate change, and be able to sum up basic climate change science in an accessible way; have ways for people to get involved in smaller ways; document history of work within movements; link student organisations to staff or national organisations

 

Group 3: This group discussed that it is important to not adding to people’s workloads, and promoted the idea of dovetailing rather than adding, i.e. partnering with urban farming groups where there is common interest. Useful examples for teaching climate include heatmapping local areas and using comic book to share information. The group recommended Public Lab for tools for teachers to download

 

Group 4: The group asked the question “where does teaching happen?” The focus of the group was on tone, as they said it was important with an issue like climate change to open opportunities for discourses of hope and imagination. The group noted that values matter and we should find the spaces of common values are and teach towards those. Network building (Climate College, BCM) and finding points of commonality and common language are especially important, particularly building them locally

 

Group 5: The group looked at moving the learning experiences outside the classroom, from collaborative class projects to teachers from different departments providing expertise within a class for a richer learning experience. Getting students out of school to do work in the world was seen as a good way to drive engagement, including using initiatives like The Beautiful Stuff Project and other recycling centers that have free materials for students to work with

 

Group 6: Meeting people where they’re at and understanding that people have different experiences of the environment and what climate change means to them was the key takeaway from Group 6. Enabling community partners with mutually beneficial research was central to teaching action and learning from action. The group pointed to ISeeChange.org and other uses of data which increases community investment and the quality of academic data. The group's closing through was that outside of the classroom we are all experts and we are all students.

 

 

climate change; action; activism; teaching; pedagogy; global warming; journalism; art; government; Boston; youth; environmental justice; racial equity'Civic media
Categories: Blog

The Civic State of the Union

March 7, 2017 - 4:36pm

The is a liveblog of the “The Civic State of the Union” panel on March 7, 2017, part of the Tisch College Distinguished Speaker Series at Tufts University. The livestream is here. Note: this is not a transcript, any errors are all mine.

Panelists
* Robert D. Putnam, Harvard University
* Shirley Sagawa, Service Year Alliance
* Peter Levine, Tufts University
* Mara Liasson, NPR (moderator)

Is the Civic State of the Union strong and if not how do we go about strengthening it?

Mara Liasson (ML): If Donald Trump is a stress test for democratic institutions, how are those democratic institutions doing? Tonight we are talking about our citizens. We’ve seen depressing indicators about civic engagement for years. However, people are filling town halls, many are promising to run for office, and well-attended demonstrations are proliferating. Citizens are getting a real education about what democracy is and isn’t in this moment.

Talk about what has happened since the late 1990s, since Bowling Alone, since Americorps launched, and since CIRCLE was founded? Where are we now?

Robert D. Putnam (RDP): The basic descriptions of trends in secular civics and associational life is down as of 2017. This makes Putnam a secular pessimist. Second, the internet real caught on after Bowling Alone and parts of it are really good and some are really bad. What we need to find are alloyed networks that are partly online and party face-to-face. Tahrir Square during the Egypt Revolution included three groups—and the folks that were only connected online did not have the network necessary to take power despite their best intentions. The Muslim Brotherhood did.

Putnam is not impressed with protest marches or tweetstorms. What really matters is people working together in close collaboration as civil society. There is much more face to face organizing going on around the country than is currently being reported.

Allegheny County, where Putnam’s daughter is a professor and is organizing people in response to Trump. This is hard territory, lots of Trump supporters. But how are they going to be connected to the Democratic Party? Because that is necessary to take back the reins of power.

Right now, it’s hard to capture all the interest in political engagement. But all of this makes Putnam optimistic about civic renewal in America.

Shirley Sagawa (SS): This was maybe the first election where people decided not to vote and that was a form of civic engagement. And that makes Sagawa really sad. When Sagawa first started work on national service, there was a lot of anxiety about young people not voting. The first Americorps cohort in 1994 was about “getting things done.” This was how it was sold to Congress as a way to get America’s problems solved efficiently. But the time we got to the Serve America Act, Sagawa and her collaborators changed their frame about what youth get out of service. That was where young people are at. It needs to not be a set back in one’s career.

On Service Year Alliance’s board is General Stanley McCrystal and he and others in the military are very worried civics in the country and see national service as a key response to it, in the same way military services binds people to a service and civic lifestyle.

When Sagawa was growing up in the 1980s, people’s lives were bifurcated: there was work and family and then there was service. These were separate. But the market research, Service Year Alliance does to understand what motivates young people into service find that everything in life is political, such as what you buy.

Peter Levine (PL): First off, Putnam was right. The last twenty years have shown that what he found was right in terms of a hallowing out of democratic institutions. Two things that didn’t come up. The class divide is important because we see much bigger civic engagement gaps affecting lower classes. Second, there has been a turn to greater levels of choice in every part of life. For instance, news is not about the same newspaper everyone gets but which paragraph you forward to someone online.

Echo filters are one problem facing young people, but there is also the people that are completely turning away from politics. And this helps explain the voting patterns, including so-called protest votes among young people.

 

ML: How do we get more connected?

RDP: Putnam is a fan of national service (sits on the board of Service Year Alliance). We need to be more precise about where the problem is. Research for book Our Kids showed that working class kids are increasingly disconnected from everything: their parents, their schools, sports and other expensive extracurriculars, and their neighbors. Those kids are pissed.

One subject had parents who aren’t working, she had been in prison, she is eighteen with several kids of her own, she is a white women without a high school diploma. And she voted for Trump. If you combined two things: great economic disadvantage and social isolation this is what created the space for authoritarian demagogues in post-WWI Europe. Putnam wrote this warning before Trump was on the radar. It’s true: educated coastal elites have completely forgot about the middle of the country.

ML: So, the conspiracy theory about the DC pizza place might have been snuffed out if you went to your Bowling League and share it with your buddies who told you “you’re crazy!” (RDP: That’s right!)

SS: The Twitter algorithm change this week suggests this will make things worse. They are now ranking things based on what they think you will like. This is part of the large set of things that enable people to be isolated, including segregated schools. This is why we need well-implemented national service.

 

ML: The Tea Party did create some of this civic infrastructure, and it was successful. What will this look like on the Left, that is what everyone is asking or wondering.

My father used to go to workman parties for snacks, but he probably also gained some civic education while he was there.

RDP: There was a great period of creative organizing, that came after the earlier social capital creation of barnraising, and this missing now.

 

Audience: What do you think about the trends toward authoritarianism both in the United States and elsewhere? What should we be doing to change this course?

PL: I remember asking RDP about whether his next project would be international and comparative. A few years ago, I started working in Ukraine and that it was going one way in terms of democratic ideas, but now it feels like we are in similar places. If you look at the powerful male figures with macho agendas, representing a unified idea of the country without dissent… we haven’t seen anything like this since the 1930s.

ML: There is a global movement against globalization and all the ways it has not paid off for people. Both parties concede that they haven’t paid enough attention to these people and their problems.

RDP: It turns out social capital does predict support for Trump: the least connected voted for him. But these are aggregate phenomenon in depressed regions; the people here feel that the rest of the world pays no attention to them.

PL: These are all sociological explanations. I also think there is an ideas gap. There has not been a vision articulated by any party that bridges this divide.

 

Audience: What about the issue of our economy being digitized and yet America is still struggling with a digital divide? What is going to be the young generation’s role in taking digital experience and mixing it with service to address these problems locally and nationally?

SS: I think this is important growth area for service. Digital divide’s policy issues will not be addressed by service, but the ability to use technology is great starting point for young people to bring into service. SS is interested by disruptive innovation as articulated by Clay Christenson. Technology offers remote access and learning but you need someone there to still serve as a mentor. If you can’t access these tools, then you can’t access these great services. This could create opportunities for providing professional services like lawyers remotely who are facilitated locally by a smart person: offer better access to these services for everyone.

RDP: The digital divide gaps are closing quickly. The poor kids Putnam studies have smartphones. The difference is whether there is someone that can help show you how to use these tools effectively to achieve personal and civic goals. It’s not just about software, it’s about peopleware, who can tell us how to use it well. It’s not about access to technology, it’s about access to people. Putnam is worried about the techno-optimism that works who are already rich socially and economically.

 

Audience: Earlier we spoke about the recent surge in activism and where it will go. How do we maintain that activism and civic engagement (it seems it is already waning)?

ML: So many women stayed with ML in DC for the women’s march, and they wanted to know what to do next. Talking to people I know that do this work, there is a real need for infrastructure for getting people in. Also, there is a need to make it routine—every day or week a few calls. It is up to you (speaking to audience member) to organize yourself?

RDP: Don’t just think about the politics: it’s about building real connections with real people. It’s also about leisure. People aren’t going to show up every week just to lick envelopes. It’s got to be fun. Good organizers are cognizant about this.

PL: What you need is SPUD: scale, pluralism, unity, and depth. You need a lot of people. You need different people, including have different ideas and strategies. You need to all come together to do something. You need the ability to transform each other deep down. The Civil Rights Movement achievement SPUD for ten years.

 

Audience: I spend a lot of my time thinking about building a tech company, wondering how do we find a hybrid of human and social capital with technology? As a City Year alum, with the rising costs of urban development, how do you see national service as an option that is accessible to everyone? How do we inspire marginalized young people to civic engagement? Last, what about the issue of supporting capitalism in spite of these problems?

SS: A whole bill was drafted to take care of living allowance and other costs for national service members. There is also an emerging opportunity for corporate sponsorship for service members. The government doesn’t just pay for service but needs to leverage and honor the service that is being offered by young people.

RDP: People in marginalized communities have real strengths, especially to survive in their situations, but often they are doing everything they can to survive. Politics was often furthest from their minds; they saw no connection between their daily lives and politics.

 

Audience: It’s hard to focus on civics, when we as Millennials see everything as connected. Chance the Rapper made that connection for young people mobilizing them to vote.

ML: It seems like Chance the Rapper is following the principle of doing work as close as you can to your community and making that connection.

PL: YouthBuild is a social enterprise that takes in young people who are predominately working class and people of color and offers a path to GEDs and jobs. Once you are in the program, youth are embraced by adult mentors with love and provided with civil and leadership training.

 

Audience: How can the young generation be better than previous generations that have proven so divisive? How can we be more open even if we disagree?

ML: Getting out of your information silo is one thing. Talk to people in real life, rather than arguing in person.

RDP: The larger picture is that the young generation is coming age after 30–40 years of class segregation, which is new. This affects whom you go to school with and whom you marry. It’s party being an intelligent consumer of news, but it means the younger generation needs to work harder to break out of your milieu—it’s harder for you to socialize with people that are different from you. That is the plight this generation is in that didn’t affect earlier generations.

civic engagement
Categories: Blog

Research Ethics in Social Computing: A Discussion

February 28, 2017 - 11:28am

This is a liveblog of the town hall discussion "CSCW Research Ethics Town Hall: Working Towards Community Norms" at CSCW 2017.

Panelists from the SIGCHI Ethics Committee

The SIGCHI Ethics Committee is charged with helping facilitate community conversations—helping social norms emerge from the community. This should help refine ACM’s policies and procedures. The Committee does not make decisions about what is ethical. Bruckman also sits on ACM COPE which works on ACM’s Code of Conduct (which was written before the Web existed).

Bruckman and Feisler start the town hall off by reflecting on how traditional human subjects rules were written for medical research. This is often a poor fit for social science, internet environment, methods that involve stakeholders as full partners, and interventions in public places.

Common open questions in research ethics across computer science communities include how we develop ethical standards that work cross-nationally and cross-disciplinarily. Serious issues involve data privacy and legality with respect to “public” data and platform terms of service, and how to secure truly informed consent. The following are the questions and comments discussed during the town hall.

How do we protect research subjects, especially from marginalized groups, that can be discovered through reverse-lookup of social media platforms?
  • Bruckman brings up the case of Bob Kraut’s study quoting directly from breast cancer forum posts that anyone could join the forum and find the personal contact information of subjects.
  • Kraut notes that research ethics in medical studies talk about protecting reasonable expectations of privacy but not unreasonable expectations of privacy. And these are often baked into warnings on such forums. He does attempt to massage the language somewhat so it’s not very easy to find but there are limits to that.
  • This brings up ethical questions about the research and authenticity of the data. Bruckman tells a story about being Sherry Turkle’s research assistant on Life on the Screen in which she changed the medical condition a child was suffering from which changed the severity of his condition and perhaps other’s interpretation of his behavior but it helped protect his privacy. There is a trade-off and it needs to be considered.
  • A key question is whether doing the research elevate the publicity of research subjects and putting them in harm’s way when that wouldn’t have otherwise occurred even in public spaces.
  • Thinking to the future: we also can’t anticipate all the new ways research advances will allow anyone to be identified based on what scant trace data is revealed.
  • From the disciplinary perspective of media studies, there is a tradition of assuming that any data you can get that was published—microfiche, etc.—was fair game for research and there isn’t a reasonable risk. But is this no longer true: does public still mean public?
What is our responsibility to identify reviewers of papers that represent the marginalized communities in a part—how essentiallizing or insulting is that to the marginalized population?
  • Bruckman notes that postmodern ethnography (Ronaldo, Culture and Truth) argues that we are ethically required to report back to our populations and let them respond to them.
  • One research project mentioned by an audience member discussed a study of ageism among bloggers and they made sure to return to the research subjects and ask them whether they would want to change any of the quotes about them and be clear about what the implications would be for them and for the research.
  • Hancock brings up the case of CSCW paper reviews. He wants to see more diverse review panels (and implicitly a more diverse community of scholars) to help shepherd papers that look at particular populations.
  • What do you do if people want to change the representation in the research?
  • Kraut expands on Hancock’s note that too often the feedback comes post-hoc at reviewing stage and should also be a part the research project design stage. This isn’t just about ethical research but it also stops good research at the review stage because a reviewer is sensitive to a particular issue that has already based ethical review earlier.
  • Bruckman responds to Kraut by noting that Institute Review Board’s are often asleep at the wheel. How do we deal with getting through IRB, yet the true ethical quality of the research design is still murky. 
  • Hancock says that we have a responsibility to review the IRB.
  • Munteanu puts this in the perspective IRB and research ethics around the world: where sometimes we as researchers have a choice of how strict of an ethical policy we want to follow: European privacy laws, Canadian detailed research ethics, U.S.’s looser strictures?
How do we handle visual data about research subjects, especially marginalized groups—sometimes we can synthesize approximations of that visual data to show what we mean but not submitting them to harmful publicity?
  IRB research ethics is all about protecting the people that are studied. Journalistic ethics differ by protecting the people’s right to know. Corporate ethics include an obligation to their stakeholders. In doing corporate research as an employee or contractor, then you are responsible to your employer. This complicates the research ethics question in the space of CSCW and we need to be aware that IRB is only one frame.
  • Should we talk about both positive and negative research ethics? Negative ethics required by IRB upfront to handle harms is different than the positive ethics of doing something that helps people. In public health research, there is often a need to approve studies quickly to help as many people as possible. But when these include methodologies like ethnography of stories of struggle can be hard to get through an IRB because the focus is on protecting subjects rather than on the positive outcomes from it.
  • Brown notes that we can have excellence in ethics that are divorced from specific regulations.
  • Munteanu notes that Canadian research ethics put duty to science as the top responsibility with a respect for subjects (not a do no harm principle).
Blogs written by parents of autistic children is an example of a sensitive dataset where clustering quotes creates serious ramifications for the population because it falls under medical definitions of autism that can change the medical treatment this people receive.
  • Hancock cites Solon Barocas: we can computationally infer things about a population that they did not give consent to collect information about.
What do we do about the misrepresentations of our work in the public?
  • Are there examples of CSCW proceedings articles that have been misrepresented?
  • See John Vines’s study on HCI papers misrepresentation in the media. 
  • One study author included in John Vines piece talks about his project in which liberal and conservative press framed research about what people threw away in the trash using a camera inside as solutionist surveillance to solve bad garbage behaviors, which was not the point of the paper. He says the problem is that really you can’t control the public.
What should happen when the paper is sent to the reviewers, what should we do?
  • Peter Kraft mentions his research using bots as virtual confederates in online field research in which they pose as humans, which may be deceptive (against the ACM Code of Conduct), but is also an important emerging area in CSCW.
  • Different communities have different ethics around deception. The Communication discipline widely uses deception but also has clear processes for how to handle it, especially for post-study debriefs. There are real research cases that require deception and we need to think carefully about that. 
  • Hancock notes that IRB does have a lot of experience in deception research.
  • Of course, industry cannot rely on IRB for addressing deception practices.
  • Another audience member notes that debriefing in online communities is really hard. We need best practices for how to do post-deception debrief well in these cases?
  • Munteanu says in Canadian research ethics deception and research value can be balanced against harm or respect for subjects.
Some of the papers submitted to CSCW have never gone under ethical review: what should the program committee do about these papers?
  • In a similar case, a cross-institutional research study had received positive IRB reviews from several institutions, but do we feel like we have the authority as a program committee to overrule ethical reviews of institutions if we disagree that they should have been given.
  • Cliff Lampe worries that we might be performing a kind of cultural hegemony if we as a community start overruling other communities and their ethical review boards.
  • Example of SIGCOM paper about Friendster: program committee choose to append a prominent box above the title on the paper that said they had ethical concerns about the paper even though they published it. This was a kind of Scarlet Letter approach.
  • Ideally, these things should happen in public rather than in private program committee rooms. 
  • A dangerous line of thinking is that the “harm has already been done” by the research, so what additional harm do we do by publishing?
  • Another consideration for researchers about online research is that we are crossing many localities when do our work. We don’t know how to think about this. Do we have an absolute standard as a community? Which locales should take precedence? Should it be the strictest ones?
  • Munteanu provides the example of a research study in which he was grilled by an expert ethics panel for hours to get to a multi-page decision. If he had received the Scarlet Letter on that paper it would suggest that the program committee’s opinion was better than the panel of ethics experts, which doesn’t seem right.
Why can’t we make room for ethical consideration sections within papers or otherwise publish the outcomes of ethical reviews?
  • Fiesler argues that we should make room for them and they should be part of the methods sections, and we need to work through the logistics of paper length that suggests we can’t.
  • Mako Hill notes that when he submits papers to general science venues they do require a section on ethics. He doesn’t see why we in CSCW can’t do this as well? We can start in places that don’t have strict page limits and start encouraging people and in some cases requiring them?
  • Kraut discusses the analog issue of replicability of research. He does a lot of work with Facebook data that other people can’t get. Replicability should be part of the ethical considerations. And some scientific agencies require data to be released so that science can benefit more generally. This presents a conundrum?
  • Bruckman extends this with a question: What is the cost of platforms controlling what is said about them?
  • Should funding bodies make that requirement rather than publication venues and research communities? In one audience member's experience, he has found that the answer is ‘no’ arguing that Facebook should bear the cost with respect to the value to science. Descriptive statistics can sometimes enable people to create synthetic datasets—there is more nuance to this question of public data.
  • Hancock replies that public and private data really exist on a spectrum. For instance, archaeologists only allow trained experts to handle artifacts. We could come up with processes that allow for limited publicity to handle some of these issues.
What about ethical review of software creation that is an intervention, not just research? What should ACM’s Code of Conduct say about the ethics of software development?
  • Bruckman notes that it was in the old Code of Conduct and it is improved in the new version. This is the time to send feedback on revision for this year to ACM COPE: http://ethics.acm.org/code-of-ethics/code-2018/.
  • The new code will be finished in the next fourteen months and there will be lots of opportunities for public input. Researchers are only a part of the Code. And IEEE has similar reviews ongoing.

 

research ethics
Categories: Blog

Social Justice and Design panel at CSCW 2017

February 27, 2017 - 6:19pm

This is a liveblog of the Social Justice and Design panel at the CSCW 2017 conference.

Panelists:

Accidental Activists Or: Why I Burst Into Tears during a Research Interview
Shaowen Bardzell

How do we consider CSCW research and activist through personal stories? Bardzell wove her own personal story as a researcher with one of the online activists she studied.

In 2011, Bardzell’s research subject Peggy from Taipei had to take care of her father after a medical emergency in Vietnam and was quickly overwhelmed. Before meeting Peggy, Bardzell, from 1992 to 2008, left Taiwan went to the United States for graduate school and fell in love with it. But most importantly and personally, she was fleeing a difficult domestic situation.

Peggy struggled between 2011 and 2014 and chose to document her struggles through a blog. Her blog attempted to share health-related information to others and advocate for policy changes on the issues. The popularity of website climbed, and she was invited to give public talks on the topic.

In 2014, the Sunflower Student Protests occurred in Taiwan. Bardzell calls them a “protest of enfranchisement” for young people. And the subversive hacker collective g0v.tw supported the protests by creating alternative information infrastructures. Peggy joined g0v.tw in 2014 with the hope that it would amplify the reach of her own work.

Back in 2009, Bardzell was starting to prepare her tenure portfolio connecting topics of affective computing, domestic interaction, tech-mediated sexuality, and research through design. The common thread she found between concerns for gender, activism, and women she knew was: feminism. This wasn’t something she had considered before in her work and wrote the Feminist HCI paper to reflect on this question. What should/could feminism mean for the researcher and activist?

Last year, Bardzell visited Peggy in Taiwan where she is now in the Taiwan federal government. She is helping design join.gov.tw as a new open democracy platform that offers opportunities for citizens to engage in policymaking and leverage open data. So how did Peggy end up in government after participating in a subversive hacker collective: the other g0v.tw organizers saw her talent for explaining difficult health information and wanted that to be part of a future government.

Bardzell saw two parts of herself in Peggy. They both worked hard, but struggled as young Taiwanese women, and both aspired to better more effective version of themselves. They are both accidental activists. To Bardzell this is suggests a power in “utopic hope,” whereby critique leads to labor, which can effect community-building and direct action.

HCI/CSCW research for social good needs to tell stories of hope and point to and motivate efficacious labor. Labors and stories of hope serve an epistemological purpose. Researchers need to understand / teach / strengthen / reward the epistemology of hope.

Hope drives and orients our actions. Bardzell urges us to not just critique, and acknowledge the drive of hope as a kind of labor. And we need to think about how to craft invitations so that others can be fellow travelers in the effort of social justice.

Reconfiguring Crowdsourcing: Starting from Interruption, towards a Horizon of Justice
Lilly Irani

In this talk, Irani wants us to think about Lucy Suchman’s idea of “reconfiguring”: how do we transform the world into what we want together rather than relying on a master planner to design the intervention?

Charting a course from the beginning of her graduate studies, Irani notes that she was looking at crowdsourcing and her frustrations with Amazon Mechanical Turk arose from classic feminist CSCW questions.

Turkopticon started off as a class project, reflecting on the growing popularity of crowdsourcing with little regard for no minimum wage and other worker rights. Her initial research showed that workers complained that they had no agency in the system. She and Six Silberman created the tool Turkopticon as not a solution for the problems of crowdsourcing but a temporary collaboration with workers in solidarity with them. At the time they weren’t sure it was HCI research but at least it was useful.

What they learned was that their attempt to learn about these issues was twisted by journalists into an activist cause in which technologists saved duped micro-workers. After feeling bad about the coverage, Irani and colleagues worked to reframe the issue to put worker voices and interests at the front and only worked with journalists that would interview them first if interested in the topic.

We as a design community need to think about how we are positioned as privileged entities that allows to do certain work and get press for it. This is part of the same system devaluing Mechanical Turk Workers as commoditized and robotic while the technologists design the platforms on which they work.

Dynamo takes the next step to think about this as movement-building. Evidence of this transforming practice is in how Six Silberman has gone on to work with a labor organization in Germany to develop systems that honor crowdsourced labor.

Irani implores us: don’t just critique but work on ways that we can reconfigure systems that redistribute the power toward labor.

Computer scientists like to build fast and dream big but that isn’t exactly how organizing works. How do we recognize the cultural power of the rhetoric we use like innovation. How should CSCW think about the distribution of financial value that our systems create?

In Q&A, Cliff Lampe notes that CSCW has often been on the side of management as opposed to workers, and wonders whether we are inextricably linked to that or can we subvert it? Irani responds that social justice projects like Turkopticon often don't look like a CHI paper or a CSCW paper, and she questioned her work because of that: We should examine our doubt and ask why aren’t they papers at these conferences?

#GetGayCSCW: Understanding how power through location has been designed into contemporary technology for queer men
Jean Hardy

There is a history of the homosocial practice of “cruising” documented as early as 1700 in the Old Bailey Courthouse Proceedings. The practices are associated with particular locations—so context matters when you make a look at someone or say something specific. The art of this exchange is passed by word of mouth and by accident.

Queer locations were not just ephemeral but permanent gay business and neighborhoods. This is important because location (as a form of information/knowledge) is power.

Location-based social networks (LBSN) arising from GPS-capable phones. Grindr was possibly the first LBSN in 2009 to solve the problem of gay men finding each other and solving the location problem. This creates a network of people grouped by location, empowering them as a community.

There is a strong value in qualitative work but also putting that in a historical context. Queer HCI (Hardy and Lindtner 2017) is about accounting for the many ways in which experiences of queer subjectivity through technology happens at the intersection of design decisions and use.” Hardy wants to use more participatory and ethnographic approaches to understanding how designs are situated. This important because often design is pitched as universal and thus can apply to intersectional spaces. We need ways to respond to this argument.

Deeping Commonalities in Two-sided Struggles
Jill Dimond

Philosopher Grace Lee Boggs and the Detroit social justice efforts inspires Dimond’s work. In her work, she takes on two-sided struggles in two ways. First, she wants to say “no to existing power struggles.” This is how Dimond thinks about her work in street harassment. She built tools (Hollaback!) with activists to collect stories of street harassment. The goal was to tell stories in a way that can illustrate this is a serious, global problem, whereas it’s often dismissed or ignored.

Dimond also wanted to create a similar system that allowed for sharing stories of online harassment. HeartMob not only allows you to share the story but tap into a network of other Heartmobbers for peer support. Users can take action by: documenting abuse, notifying platforms, and sending supportive messages.

The next evolution of fighting in two-sided struggles is to “embrace the power within each of us to create the world anew.” So Dimond founded Sassafras Tech Collective as a worker-owned tech consultancy. It’s a democratic workplace with flat hierarchy. They use Loomio for consensus-based decision making. They are researching tools for healthy conflict, peer evaluation, and accountability. And they need to think about how soft power arises, exhibiting the “tyranny of structurelessness”.

Dimond also lives in a co-housing arrangement in Ann Arbor: 50 people live in a shared, interdependent community. Sassafras developed Gather to help the co-housing community organize themselves democratically. The ask for CSCW is to think about platform cooperatism and how users can have ownership in the governance of their online spaces.

social justicedesign
Categories: Blog

Lessons from Fighting Swiss Right-Wing Populism: Flavia Kleiner and Operation Libero

February 27, 2017 - 2:50pm

In early 2016, Operation Libero, an anti-populist movement cofounded by history student Flavia Kleiner, 26, successfully defeated an anti-immigrant Swiss ballot initiative. The "enforcement" initiative, sponsored by the nationalist Swiss People’s Party (SVP), would have ordered the deportation of immigrants in Switzerland for any criminal offense, no matter how minor. Often, initiative sponsors like the SVP frame such issues in terms of Swiss values and innocuous outcomes for citizens to control the narrative and reduce the potential for negative response. In this case, the SVP initiative followed a long and bruising federal election, and their usual political opponents were exhausted and out of funds to fight the initiative. So Kleiner and friends built a grassroots movement and coalition for "No" on the enforcement initiative to re-frame the issue, reclaim Swiss values, and drive attention to the anti-immigrant initiative. The successful effort has since blossomed into a suite of campaigns under Operation Libero to oppose populist and illiberal rhetoric more broadly.

At the beginning, rather than starting with the big Swiss newspapers of record, Kleiner gave her first interviews criticizing the enforcement initiative to the free daily newspapers distributed around public transportation and read widely by average citizens. By being one of the only smart, vocal critics reaching out to the press, she was able to get front page news in these journals.

Operation Libero also took to the internet to generate easy ways to engage in the campaign and share relevant information across social networks. They aggressively fact-checked claims by the SVP about the initiative and their country's need for it. They created press releases debunking the claims and made it easy for journalists to write critical stories. Operation Libero also designed compelling and humorous visual memes that could be easily used as Facebook profile images or shared, mocking the SVP’s own imagery.

Operation Libero’s reframing of the issue—defending the rights of immigrants was equivalent to defending core Swiss values—was widely distributed online and offline and overwhelmed the SVP, which had not expected such opposition. A key indicator of success was the fact that SVP paid handsomely for leaflets delivered to every Swiss home that tried to make an argument for the initiative. Kleiner says the expensive measure was an act of desperation, and the misleading claims in the leaflets were quickly debunked by Operation Libero and sympathetic journalists.

Kleiner has made a set of careful and deliberate decisions about how to structure and present Operation Libero. They are a nonprofit and are not aligned with any particular political party. In interviews, she has been careful not to favor a particular party, while still representing her commitment to Swiss liberalism. As a result, MPs from several parties are “members” of the movement. Kleiner is frank that her own background and personal appearance also helps her cause. She is from a self-described bourgeois, rural Swiss-German family, and has a stereotypical blonde-haired Swiss look—she looks native to her home district, which votes heavily for SVP. Her heritage and dress signals a possible affinity with conservative lawmakers, aiding her in presenting as politically centrist and making her case directly to lawmakers.

Operation Libero has supporters from the Left in Switzerland, but they are not building formal coalitions in their movement and avoid affiliation with disruptive politics or a broader radical agenda. Instead, Kleiner says that their appeal is always in terms of traditional Swiss values, which seeks to marginalize the SVP and its nationalist rhetoric as anti-Swiss. This helps them connect with average citizens and own the language of the debate.

Now that Kleiner is seen as a political threat by the SVP, the party and its online supporters have started attacking her personally. With additional nationalist ballot initiatives coming up over the next year or so, she will have to deflect negative associations imposed by the other side and Operation Libero will need to find new, innovative ways to campaign. It will be a test of their model for an anti-nationalist movement. They expect the SVP will be more prepared and the types of memes and media campaigns they used before might have diminishing returns this time around. A danger for Operation Libero, as for all innovative movements, is that the best weapon in political campaigning is surprise, which is very difficult to reproduce.

Beyond Switzerland, Kleiner has been approached by organizers in other European countries struggling to fight the rise of nationalist parties and policies. When she met with us at the MIT Center for Civic Media, she was in the United States on a State Department tour for female political leaders and meeting with American academics and political organizers. It’s unclear if Operation Libero's values-driven, centrist approach could work outside of Switzerland. In the United States, the radical Left is visibly leading the resistance against nationalistic policies under President Trump. Kleiner’s analysis is that the identity politics of American progressives sometimes get in the way of their own strategies—and they should make sure to be working through internal politics—playing the centrist—as much as external, oppositional politics. Of course, the political landscape and history is different in the U.S., especially because of legacies of racial oppression. Furthermore the two-party presidential system offers more ideologically centralized power over certain executive functions than the pluralist parliamentary system in Switzerland. That said, the battle for hearts and minds and the rise of populist politics is currently an international phenomena, and those in opposition will need to learn from innovators like Flavia Kleiner and Operation Libero.

Flavia Kleiner visited the MIT Center for Civic Media on February 21, 2017. Thanks to Ethan Zuckerman for edits on this article. This piece is cross-posted on Civicist.

switzerlandpopulismmemessocial movementsCivic media
Categories: Blog

New DataBasic Tool Lets You “Connect the Dots” in Data

February 8, 2017 - 2:41pm

Catherine D'Ignazio and I have launched a new DataBasic tool and activity, Connect the Dots, aimed at helping students and educators see how their data is connected with a visual network diagram.

By showing the relationships between things, networks are useful for finding answers that aren’t readily apparent through spreadsheet data alone. To that end, we’ve built Connect the Dots to help teach how analyzing the connections between the “dots” in data is a fundamentally different approach to understanding it.

The new tool gives users a network diagram to reveal links as well as a high level report about what the network looks like. Using network analysis helped Google revolutionize search technology and was used by journalists who investigated the connections between people and banks during the Panama Papers Leak.

Connect the Dots is the fourth and most recent addition to DataBasic, a growing suite of easy-to-use web tools designed to make data analysis and storytelling more accessible to a general and non-technical audience launched last year.

As with the previous three tools released in the DataBasic suite, Connect the Dots was designed so that its lessons can be easily planned to help students learn how to use data to tell a story. Connect the Dots comes with a learning guide and introductory video made for classes and workshops for participants from middle school through higher education. The learning guide has a 45-minute activity that walks people through an exercise in naming their favorite local restaurants and seeking patterns in the networks that result. To get started using the tool, sample data sets such as Donald Trump’s inside connections and characters from the play Les Miserables have also been included to help introduce users to vocabulary terms and the algorithms at work behind the scenes. Like the other DataBasic tools, Connect the Dots is available in English, Portuguese, and Spanish.

Learn more about Connect the Dots and all the DataBasic tools here.

Have you used DataBasic tools in your classroom, organization, or personal projects? If so, we’d love to hear your story! Write to help@databasic.io and tell us about your experience.

Categories: Blog

New DataBasic Tool Lets You “Connect the Dots” in Data

February 8, 2017 - 2:41pm

Catherine D'Ignazio and I have launched a new DataBasic tool and activity, Connect the Dots, aimed at helping students and educators see how their data is connected with a visual network diagram.

By showing the relationships between things, networks are useful for finding answers that aren’t readily apparent through spreadsheet data alone. To that end, we’ve built Connect the Dots to help teach how analyzing the connections between the “dots” in data is a fundamentally different approach to understanding it.

The new tool gives users a network diagram to reveal links as well as a high level report about what the network looks like. Using network analysis helped Google revolutionize search technology and was used by journalists who investigated the connections between people and banks during the Panama Papers Leak.

Connect the Dots is the fourth and most recent addition to DataBasic, a growing suite of easy-to-use web tools designed to make data analysis and storytelling more accessible to a general and non-technical audience launched last year.

As with the previous three tools released in the DataBasic suite, Connect the Dots was designed so that its lessons can be easily planned to help students learn how to use data to tell a story. Connect the Dots comes with a learning guide and introductory video made for classes and workshops for participants from middle school through higher education. The learning guide has a 45-minute activity that walks people through an exercise in naming their favorite local restaurants and seeking patterns in the networks that result. To get started using the tool, sample data sets such as Donald Trump’s inside connections and characters from the play Les Miserables have also been included to help introduce users to vocabulary terms and the algorithms at work behind the scenes. Like the other DataBasic tools, Connect the Dots is available in English, Portuguese, and Spanish.

Learn more about Connect the Dots and all the DataBasic tools here.

Have you used DataBasic tools in your classroom, organization, or personal projects? If so, we’d love to hear your story! Write to help@databasic.io and tell us about your experience.

Categories: Blog

Creating Ethical Algorithms - Data on Purpose Live Blog

February 8, 2017 - 11:50am

This is a live-blog from the Data on Purpose / Do Good Data "From Possibilities to Responsibilities” event. This is a summary of what the speakers at the talked about, captured by Rahul Bhargava and Catherine D'Ignazio. Any omissions or errors are likely my fault.

Human-Centered Data Science for Good: Creating Ethical Algorithms

Zarah Rahman works at both Data & Society and the Engine Room, where she helps co-ordinate the Responsible Data Forum series of events. Jake Porway founded and runs DataKind.

Jake notes this is the buzzkill session about algorithms. He wants us all to walk away being able to critically assess algorithms.

How do Algorithms Touch our Lives?

They invite the audience to sketch out their interactions with digital technologies over the last 24 hours on a piece of paper. Stick figures and word totally ok. One participant drew a clock, noting happy and sad moments with little faces. Uber and AirBnb got happy faces next to them. Trying to connect to the internet in the venue got a sad face.  Here's my drawing.

Next they ask where people were influenced by algorithms. One participant shares the flood warning we all received on our phones. Another mentioned a bot in their Slack channel that queued up a task. Someone else mentions how news that happened yesterday filtered down to him; for instance Hans Rosling’s death made it to him via social channels much more quickly than via technology channels. Someone else mentioned how their heating had turned on automatically based on the temperature.

What is an Algorithm?

Jake shares that the wikipedia-esque definition is pretty boring. “A set of rules that precisely deinfes a sequence of operations”. These examples we just heard demonstrate the reality of this. These are automated and do things on their own, like Netflix’s recommendation algorithm. The goal is to break down how these operate, and figure out how to intervene in what drives these thinking machines. Zarah reminds us that even if you see the source code, that doesn’t help really understand it. We usually just see the output.

Algorithms have some kind of goal they are trying to get to. It takes actions to get there. For Netflix, the algorithm is trying to get you to watch more movies; while the actions are about showing you movies you are likely to want to watch. It tries to show you movies you might like; there is no incentive to show you a movie that might challenge you.

Algorithms use data to inform their decisions. In Netflix, the data input is what you have watched before, and what other people have been watching. There is also a feedback loop, based on how it is doing. It needs some way to figure out it is doing a good thing - did you click the movie, how much of it did you watch, how many star did you give it. We can speculate about what those measurements are, but we have no way of knowing their metrics.

A participant asks about how Netflix is probably also nudging her towards content they have produced, since that is cheaper for them. The underlying business model can drive these algorithms. Zarah responds that this idea that the algorithm operates “for your benefit” is very subjective. Jake notes that we can be very critical about their goal state.

Another participant notes that there are civic benefits; in how Facebook can influence how many people are voting.

The definition is tricky, notes someone else, because anything that runs automatically could be called an algorithm. Jake and Zarah are focused in on data-driven algorithms. They use information about you and learning to correct themselves. The purest definition and how the word is used in media are very different. Data science, machine learning, artificial intelligence - these are all squishy terms that are evolving.

Critiquing Algorithms

They suggest looking at Twitter's "Who to follow" feature. Participants break into small groups for 10 minutes to ask questions about this algorithm. Here are the questions and some responses that groups shared after chatting:

  • What is the algorithm trying to get you to do?
    • They want to grow their user base, and then shifted to growing ad dollars
    • Showing global coverage, to show they are the network to be in
    • People name some unintended consequences like political polarization
  • What activities does it use to do that?
  • What data drives these decisions?
    • Can you pay for these positions? There could be an agreement based on what you are looking at and what Twitter recommends
  • What data does it use to evaluate if it is successful?
    • It can track your hovers, clicks, etc. both on the recommendation and adds later on
    • If you don't click to follow somewhere that could be just as much signal
    • They might track the life of your relationship with this person (who you follow later because you followed their recommendation, etc)
  • Who has the power to influence these answers?

A participant notes that there were lots of secondary outcomes, which affected other people's products based on their data. Folks note that the API opens up possibilities for democratic use and use for social good. Others note that Twitter data is highly expensive and not accessible to non-profits. Jake notes problems with doing research with Twitter data obtained through strange and mutant methods. Another participant notes they talked about discovering books to read and other things via Twitter. These reinforced their world views. Zarah notes that these algorithms reinforce the voices that we hear (by gender, etc). Jake notes that Filter Bubble argument, that these algorithms reinforce our views. Most of the features they bake in are positive ones, not negative.

But who has the power the change these things? Not just on twitter, but health-care recommendations, Google, etc. One participant notes that in human interactions they are honest and open, but online he lies constantly. He doesn't trust the medium, so he feeds it garbage on purpose. This matches his experiences in impoverished communities, where destruction is a key/only power. Someone else notes that the user can take action.

A participant asks what the legal or ethical standards should be. Someone responds that in non-profits the regulation comes from self-regulation and collective pressure. Zarah notes that Twitter is worth nothing without it's users.

Conclusion

Jake notes that we didn't talk about it directly, but the ethical issues come up in relation to all these questions. These systems aren't neutral.

Categories: Blog

Creating Ethical Algorithms - Data on Purpose Live Blog

February 8, 2017 - 11:50am

This is a live-blog from the Data on Purpose / Do Good Data "From Possibilities to Responsibilities” event. This is a summary of what the speakers at the talked about, captured by Rahul Bhargava and Catherine D'Ignazio. Any omissions or errors are likely my fault.

Human-Centered Data Science for Good: Creating Ethical Algorithms

Zarah Rahman works at both Data & Society and the Engine Room, where she helps co-ordinate the Responsible Data Forum series of events. Jake Porway founded and runs DataKind.

Jake notes this is the buzzkill session about algorithms. He wants us all to walk away being able to critically assess algorithms.

How do Algorithms Touch our Lives?

They invite the audience to sketch out their interactions with digital technologies over the last 24 hours on a piece of paper. Stick figures and word totally ok. One participant drew a clock, noting happy and sad moments with little faces. Uber and AirBnb got happy faces next to them. Trying to connect to the internet in the venue got a sad face.  Here's my drawing.

Next they ask where people were influenced by algorithms. One participant shares the flood warning we all received on our phones. Another mentioned a bot in their Slack channel that queued up a task. Someone else mentions how news that happened yesterday filtered down to him; for instance Hans Rosling’s death made it to him via social channels much more quickly than via technology channels. Someone else mentioned how their heating had turned on automatically based on the temperature.

What is an Algorithm?

Jake shares that the wikipedia-esque definition is pretty boring. “A set of rules that precisely deinfes a sequence of operations”. These examples we just heard demonstrate the reality of this. These are automated and do things on their own, like Netflix’s recommendation algorithm. The goal is to break down how these operate, and figure out how to intervene in what drives these thinking machines. Zarah reminds us that even if you see the source code, that doesn’t help really understand it. We usually just see the output.

Algorithms have some kind of goal they are trying to get to. It takes actions to get there. For Netflix, the algorithm is trying to get you to watch more movies; while the actions are about showing you movies you are likely to want to watch. It tries to show you movies you might like; there is no incentive to show you a movie that might challenge you.

Algorithms use data to inform their decisions. In Netflix, the data input is what you have watched before, and what other people have been watching. There is also a feedback loop, based on how it is doing. It needs some way to figure out it is doing a good thing - did you click the movie, how much of it did you watch, how many star did you give it. We can speculate about what those measurements are, but we have no way of knowing their metrics.

A participant asks about how Netflix is probably also nudging her towards content they have produced, since that is cheaper for them. The underlying business model can drive these algorithms. Zarah responds that this idea that the algorithm operates “for your benefit” is very subjective. Jake notes that we can be very critical about their goal state.

Another participant notes that there are civic benefits; in how Facebook can influence how many people are voting.

The definition is tricky, notes someone else, because anything that runs automatically could be called an algorithm. Jake and Zarah are focused in on data-driven algorithms. They use information about you and learning to correct themselves. The purest definition and how the word is used in media are very different. Data science, machine learning, artificial intelligence - these are all squishy terms that are evolving.

Critiquing Algorithms

They suggest looking at Twitter's "Who to follow" feature. Participants break into small groups for 10 minutes to ask questions about this algorithm. Here are the questions and some responses that groups shared after chatting:

  • What is the algorithm trying to get you to do?
    • They want to grow their user base, and then shifted to growing ad dollars
    • Showing global coverage, to show they are the network to be in
    • People name some unintended consequences like political polarization
  • What activities does it use to do that?
  • What data drives these decisions?
    • Can you pay for these positions? There could be an agreement based on what you are looking at and what Twitter recommends
  • What data does it use to evaluate if it is successful?
    • It can track your hovers, clicks, etc. both on the recommendation and adds later on
    • If you don't click to follow somewhere that could be just as much signal
    • They might track the life of your relationship with this person (who you follow later because you followed their recommendation, etc)
  • Who has the power to influence these answers?

A participant notes that there were lots of secondary outcomes, which affected other people's products based on their data. Folks note that the API opens up possibilities for democratic use and use for social good. Others note that Twitter data is highly expensive and not accessible to non-profits. Jake notes problems with doing research with Twitter data obtained through strange and mutant methods. Another participant notes they talked about discovering books to read and other things via Twitter. These reinforced their world views. Zarah notes that these algorithms reinforce the voices that we hear (by gender, etc). Jake notes that Filter Bubble argument, that these algorithms reinforce our views. Most of the features they bake in are positive ones, not negative.

But who has the power the change these things? Not just on twitter, but health-care recommendations, Google, etc. One participant notes that in human interactions they are honest and open, but online he lies constantly. He doesn't trust the medium, so he feeds it garbage on purpose. This matches his experiences in impoverished communities, where destruction is a key/only power. Someone else notes that the user can take action.

A participant asks what the legal or ethical standards should be. Someone responds that in non-profits the regulation comes from self-regulation and collective pressure. Zarah notes that Twitter is worth nothing without it's users.

Conclusion

Jake notes that we didn't talk about it directly, but the ethical issues come up in relation to all these questions. These systems aren't neutral.

Categories: Blog

UN World Data Forum Summary

February 3, 2017 - 1:03pm

I'm just back from the first UN World Data Forum in Cape Town, South Africa. I presented there on my creative, hands-on approach to building empowerment through data literacy.

I liveblogged a number of sessions while I was there.  Read some of these to get a sense of how non-profits, official statisticians, and journalists are thinking about data.  There was a particular focus on support the Sustainable Development Goals, but many of the comments and case studies shared have impacts for anyone working with data-driven decision making.

data
Categories: Blog

UN World Data Forum Summary

February 3, 2017 - 1:03pm

I'm just back from the first UN World Data Forum in Cape Town, South Africa. I presented there on my creative, hands-on approach to building empowerment through data literacy.

I liveblogged a number of sessions while I was there.  Read some of these to get a sense of how non-profits, official statisticians, and journalists are thinking about data.  There was a particular focus on support the Sustainable Development Goals, but many of the comments and case studies shared have impacts for anyone working with data-driven decision making.

data
Categories: Blog

Women Rising

January 24, 2017 - 4:40pm

(This is not my post; it's a group effort with contributions from Catherine, Cindy, Emilie, Jing, Natalie, Nicole and Willow)

Some of the best lessons in technology, media and civics come from shared offline experiences in that intersection, and the weekend of January 19-21, 2016, brought plenty of that for some of us at the Center for Civic Media. In particular, our experiences in the Women's March (in different cities) gave us food for thought that we want to remember as time passes, and that's why we are keeping track of them here.

Here are some postcards and reflections shared by women in the Civic community:

Catherine's postcards from the Boston march:

 

From Cindy, reporting on the DC march:

"Planned Parrot-hood". I gazed at this family fondly thinking that they are here to protest like me. Then I read their sign. #democracy #differencesofopinion

My experience in DC, marching alongside my mother and sister, was remarkable and will certainly go down as one of the most meaningful experiences I have had. So many people flew in from all over the country. There was an openness to striking up conversation wherever/whenever -- whether on the train, at the rally, the march, then after at a restaurant, the next day and so on. This was likely partially because you could tell who was/had been protesting by footwear -- sneakers and clear backpacks all over the place, and certainly the pink hats! Remarks like “I’ve never been politically active in my life!” seemed to abound.   While there were many white women, I thought there was good representation of ethnicities, differing perspectives, and men as well. Sadly, one of the pro-life contingents chose to yell over the rally speakers, which made it more difficult to foster mutual respect. Also, a group of indigenous women felt objectified/mis-appropriated as a group, as noted on Twitter.   We drove down on Inauguration day. I found the subway traffic light and as such it was to hop the train on the Metro, and many people were wearing the red “Make American Great Again” hats. One elderly woman was wearing a red-blue-and-white outfit. She seemed so happy, and the cognitive dissonance I experienced given her demeanor and its significance was challenging and interesting. If I had more time than those 3 minutes on the train, would I ask her why she was so happy? Would I be able to engage in an objective and kind way?     We are here because “we never thought we would have to fight for our rights. We are mothers and daughters and we are not happy that our reproductive choices are at stake. We are also protecting the future of our children. Trump’s appointees are atrocious.” Texas and Seattle representing.     From Emilie, reporting on the Santa Fe march:    

Just received this from Santa Fe and it's got my vote for best sign. "My taco is nacho business"

 

From Jing, reporting on the Boston march:

  The characters in the poster are written in the dialect of northern China. It means "children who behaved like little bastards, get out of our way." The other side has Bruce Lee kicking somebody's ass.   We want Trump out of the White House!  

From Mariel and Natalie, reporting on the Boston march:

(Mariel) As we walked on the Longfellow bridge, surrounded by families who chose to do the same, the T (the Boston subway, that runs over the ground and over the river in this segment) slowed down and started honking the horn at us. The trains were packed, and signs were raised and pushed against the windows. 

In absolute terms, I have been in protests as large as the Boston Women's March; but, then again, I guess that is not particularly special for a Mexico City resident. In terms of proportion, I knew as I witnessed this incident that it was the first time I got to live something this big.

Lots can be and has been said about the creativity seen in the different marches, from seas of pink hats to clever chants, but the stories of effort behind sign-making stuck with us:

- Mary is a quilter; "cutting out bits and pieces comes naturally". She has been attending peace gatherings for the last 15 years. 

- Alicyn on the right is a former hairdresser, and she said this is the first time she feels bad enough to march. She is excited about the 100-day plan.

- Ellen and Mandy are the students behind the MIT sign-making session. They realized that there were probably many students, especially undergrads, that had never attended a protest in their life; and so they plotted to make a welcoming space where they could get fed, inspired to make signs and find marching buddies to stay safe during the march.

Jessica works at one of the major tech employers in Boston. Being from Singapore, she said she had never experienced an event like this, and we don't think she was just talking about the scale of it. It was an honor to get to share this experience with her.

(Mariel) The funny thing about the Women's March in Boston is that we didn't march. The largest public space and the planned route literally could not fit all the people who attended. And so, after an hour and a half of waiting to march, we gave up -- like many others. Point for protesting in Latin America: first we march, then we meet.

Rather than end, however, it would seem that the march filled up the restaurants nearby, Chinatown, and, eventually, the T stations -- full of signs and pink hats. On my journey back, a group of girls wearing pink hats, accompanied by two dads, caught my eye. They turned out to be the youngest daughters of a group of five mothers of 9th graders, all of whom went together to the march in DC. In their hat-making session, they made enough hats for the youngest ones who would stay in the city and attend this march instead.

When you lose faith in democracy, a ten-year-old on the subway might talk you back into it.

 

From Nicole, reporting from the march in DC:

I have so many photos from the DC March. The rally / march / protest was inspiring and peaceful. The only problem was with some Trump supporters trying taunt the crowd but we didn’t take the bait (I have video). I did notice very little direction from the organizers and almost no security. I don’t think they were prepared for this size crowd. We also didn’t get to hear all the speakers due to technical issues and they ran 2 hours longer than planned.  

A few of my favorite photos (more on Flickr) --

 

From Willow, reporting from the march in Seattle:

”If you knew anything about my uterus, you wouldn’t keep picking fights with it!”   The Seattle march was massive (135k last estimate I read), 25-40% bigger than anticipated. I really liked that the leadership and first speakers at our starting location made two main points: we are on occupied territory, and First Nations people will lead our march and to not get in front of them; and to have patience and space for others so we can take care of ourselves and each other on the march. It was also a “silent march,” meaning they encouraged people to not do chants. There were a few designated folk with megaphones who were “designated,” and who sang songs and had speeches along the way. This made it seem less adversarial somehow?   The only thing that really stood out to me as needing improvement is that there was no closure at the end. No talks, booths, or bands or anything, so it just kind of… fizzled.       Techie bonus:   A datasheet with attendance estimates from the different Women's Marches.  

 

  genderactivism
Categories: Blog

Women Rising

January 24, 2017 - 4:40pm

(This is not my post; it's a group effort with contributions from Catherine, Cindy, Emilie, Natalie, Nicole and Willow)

Some of the best lessons in technology, media and civics come from shared offline experiences in that intersection, and the weekend of January 19-21, 2016, brought plenty of that for some of us at the Center for Civic Media. In particular, our experiences in the Women's March (in different cities) gave us food for thought that we want to remember as time passes, and that's why we are keeping track of them here.

Here are some postcards and reflections shared by women in the Civic community:

Catherine's postcards from the Boston march:

 

From Cindy, reporting on the DC march:

"Planned Parrot-hood". I gazed at this family fondly thinking that they are here to protest like me. Then I read their sign. #democracy #differencesofopinion

My experience in DC, marching alongside my mother and sister, was remarkable and will certainly go down as one of the most meaningful experiences I have had. So many people flew in from all over the country. There was an openness to striking up conversation wherever/whenever -- whether on the train, at the rally, the march, then after at a restaurant, the next day and so on. This was likely partially because you could tell who was/had been protesting by footwear -- sneakers and clear backpacks all over the place, and certainly the pink hats! Remarks like “I’ve never been politically active in my life!” seemed to abound.   While there were many white women, I thought there was good representation of ethnicities, differing perspectives, and men as well. Sadly, one of the pro-life contingents chose to yell over the rally speakers, which made it more difficult to foster mutual respect. Also, a group of indigenous women felt objectified/mis-appropriated as a group, as noted on Twitter.   We drove down on Inauguration day. I found the subway traffic light and as such it was to hop the train on the Metro, and many people were wearing the red “Make American Great Again” hats. One elderly woman was wearing a red-blue-and-white outfit. She seemed so happy, and the cognitive dissonance I experienced given her demeanor and its significance was challenging and interesting. If I had more time than those 3 minutes on the train, would I ask her why she was so happy? Would I be able to engage in an objective and kind way?     We are here because “we never thought we would have to fight for our rights. We are mothers and daughters and we are not happy that our reproductive choices are at stake. We are also protecting the future of our children. Trump’s appointees are atrocious.” Texas and Seattle representing.     From Emilie, reporting on the Santa Fe march:    

Just received this from Santa Fe and it's got my vote for best sign. "My taco is nacho business"

 

From Mariel and Natalie, reporting on the Boston march:

(Mariel) As we walked on the Longfellow bridge, surrounded by families who chose to do the same, the T (the Boston subway, that runs over the ground and over the river in this segment) slowed down and started honking the horn at us. The trains were packed, and signs were raised and pushed against the windows. 

In absolute terms, I have been in protests as large as the Boston Women's March; but, then again, I guess that is not particularly special for a Mexico City resident. In terms of proportion, I knew as I witnessed this incident that it was the first time I got to live something this big.

Lots can be and has been said about the creativity seen in the different marches, from seas of pink hats to clever chants, but the stories of effort behind sign-making stuck with us:

- Mary is a quilter; "cutting out bits and pieces comes naturally". She has been attending peace gatherings for the last 15 years. 

- Alicyn on the right is a former hairdresser, and she said this is the first time she feels bad enough to march. She is excited about the 100-day plan.

- Ellen and Mandy are the students behind the MIT sign-making session. They realized that there were probably many students, especially undergrads, that had never attended a protest in their life; and so they plotted to make a welcoming space where they could get fed, inspired to make signs and find marching buddies to stay safe during the march.

Jessica works at one of the major tech employers in Boston. Being from Singapore, she said she had never experienced an event like this, and we don't think she was just talking about the scale of it. It was an honor to get to share this experience with her.

(Mariel) The funny thing about the Women's March in Boston is that we didn't march. The largest public space and the planned route literally could not fit all the people who attended. And so, after an hour and a half of waiting to march, we gave up -- like many others. Point for protesting in Latin America: first we march, then we meet.

Rather than end, however, it would seem that the march filled up the restaurants nearby, Chinatown, and, eventually, the T stations -- full of signs and pink hats. On my journey back, a group of girls wearing pink hats, accompanied by two dads, caught my eye. They turned out to be the youngest daughters of a group of five mothers of 9th graders, all of whom went together to the march in DC. In their hat-making session, they made enough hats for the youngest ones who would stay in the city and attend this march instead.

When you lose faith in democracy, a ten-year-old on the subway might talk you back into it.

 

From Nicole, reporting from the march in DC:

I have so many photos from the DC March. The rally / march / protest was inspiring and peaceful. The only problem was with some Trump supporters trying taunt the crowd but we didn’t take the bait (I have video). I did notice very little direction from the organizers and almost no security. I don’t think they were prepared for this size crowd. We also didn’t get to hear all the speakers due to technical issues and they ran 2 hours longer than planned.  

A few of my favorite photos (more on Flickr) --

 

From Willow, reporting from the march in Seattle:

”If you knew anything about my uterus, you wouldn’t keep picking fights with it!”   The Seattle march was massive (135k last estimate I read), 25-40% bigger than anticipated. I really liked that the leadership and first speakers at our starting location made two main points: we are on occupied territory, and First Nations people will lead our march and to not get in front of them; and to have patience and space for others so we can take care of ourselves and each other on the march. It was also a “silent march,” meaning they encouraged people to not do chants. There were a few designated folk with megaphones who were “designated,” and who sang songs and had speeches along the way. This made it seem less adversarial somehow?   The only thing that really stood out to me as needing improvement is that there was no closure at the end. No talks, booths, or bands or anything, so it just kind of… fizzled.     And a final submission from the Civic community:     The Chinese characters in the poster represents a Chinese dilate; means "chiding children, get out of my way." “President Trump is committed to eliminating harmful and unnecessary policies such as the Climate Action Plan and the Waters of the US rule. Lifting these restrictions will greatly help American workers, increasing wages by more than $30 billion over the next 7 years."    We should get him out of the White House!      Techie bonus:   A datasheet with attendance estimates from the different Women's Marches.  

 

  genderactivism
Categories: Blog

UN Data Forum - Data Literacy: What, Why and How? (Live Blog)

January 16, 2017 - 5:06am

This is a liveblog written by Rahul Bhargava at the 2017 UN World Data Forum.  This serves as a summary of what the speakers spoke about, not an exact recording.  With that in mind, any errors or omissions are likely my fault, not the speakers. 

  This panel has four speakers on the topic of data literacy, with an emphasis on front-line, practical things.   Empowering Future Users through Data Literacy - Professor Delia North   Dean and Head of Math, Statistics and Computer Science in Universty of Kwazulu-Natal Durban.  She wants to spread the message of empowering people (a theme for this session).  Prof North, teaching over 30 years, works on curriculum design for school level teacher training.  She has a passion for statics and youth, at the national level in addition to within her university.   The need to maintain a competitive economy drives the need for statistical literacy from basic operations, to the PhD level.  All citizens need basic statistical literacy, for basic citizenship; best to accomplish this while they are in school. Professionals need competence to use statistics effectively in the workplace. Specialists need to continually improve their practice.  University tends to think everyone is on the path to becoming a mathematical statistician, but this is an old-fashioned approach.  This isn’t developing them as “consumers” of statistics.   Statistics is often introduced as “hidden” inside of mathematics, so this is what people in South Africa think about.  That doesn’t identify it as a job opportunity to learners. In addition, statisticians are poor at marketing their discipline. It is viewed as difficult, boring and confusing.  There is a shortage of skills, and an overestimation of ability.  The best statisticians go to industry, so universities are left understaffed.  There are “too few enablers” of statistical literacy.   Data used to be scarce, but now it is everywhere.  This requires a rethink of the way we introduce statistics. This involves bringing in more data, and teaching with new methods.  Students need to be actively involved with working with large datasets.  This is an opportunity, not a threat. The questions we ask on our assessments are calculator-driven, not focused on analytical thinking.    Data literacy is an essential part of statical literacy.  Decisions based on data should be part of the statistical literacy training. Statistics should be an applied mathematics applied within another discipline.  For example, they collected rubbish with children and had them track the amount and graph it. You can’t keep it trapped in mathematics classes.  You have to make learning these concepts fun!  Engaging workshops can radically change how empowered a group of teachers feels to introduce statistics.  They want to learn new teaching methods.  You have to teach them at the beginning to introduce things in the right way.   Empowering Users in Situ - Dr. Sati Naidu      Executive Manager for Staekholder Relations for Statistics South Africa.  Stats SA has moved away from selling the data to helping people use the data for making evidence-making decisions. In 1996 South Africa did its first census. The first CD they produced cost 100,000 USD.  Now data collection is scattered across all the departments.  That should all be available on one platform to drive decision making.  They set up CRUISE, to merge a course for statistics, GIS, planning, and economics all together.  Dr. Naidu attended this course and learned much about a geographic approach to statistics.  Mapping can reveal patterns that are otherwise hidden in traditional analytical means.  This is demonstrated with a powerful set of maps that show the incidence of HIV/AIDS over time across Africa.   Now Stats SA creates GIS to create a platform to combine geometry, shape-files, and more. This lets them create thematic maps very easily. They offer trainings on these tools throughout South Africa.   Another example is looking at piped water over time, to see an increase.  With the map you can see which areas improved, and look for patterns in those with low or high services.  You can run hotspot analysis to look at unemployment data. You can do geospatial analysis to look for outliers and then look for causes.   When data is non-stationary you can’t just use traditional statistical analysis. For instance new houses are much more expensive than old houses in most of Cape Town. But in one area, new houses are very cheap because of the location.  So in one part of town there is a positive correlation, and in another there is a negative one.  You can find this with geographically weighted regression (GWR), while it would be hidden in a traditional regression.   Stats SA has all the official data.  Now they want to engage with private providers to make their data available.  We need to change from Big Data to Open Data, to go from its size to how it is used.   Data Literacy for Capacity Building - Dr. Blandina Kilama     Dr. Kilama works for REPOA on Poverty Research in Tanzania. REPOA is a think-thank in Tanzania that undertakes policy research.  She also teaches statistics part-time, and will share some of her learnings from there.   The stakeholders vary form Policy Makers, to Academia, to Media, to CSOs. Tanzania, has agriculture, This matters when politicians and others often conflate things like employment and productivity when talking about growth. Most African countries are seeing growth from productivity, not from labor.  For instance, agriculture, industry and services contribute roughly equally in terms of the economy.  However, more than 70% of the labour force works in agriculture.     This capacity causes problems sometimes.  For instance REPOA produced some poverty maps that were used by policy makers, leading to reactions of surprise and accusations.  Spatial analysis helped them explain this better, but showing how districts next o cities experience growth, while districts next to refugee camps showed lack of growth.   For media, REPOA builds in flexibility. They do half-day trainings, and make topics relevant for their current work.  These fit the media workers schedules, between their morning checkins and afternoon deadlines.   The challenges include weak numerical literacy, a shift in policies, and a lack of time. In Tanzania there is a common saying “we are all scared of numbers.”  This attitude is a real social challenge to conquer; the stakeholders have a deep fear of numbers. Policies need to shift to include the idea that people providing the data are protected, and experience benefits from it.    Data and Statistics: the sciences, the literacies and collaboration - Professor Helen MacGillivray     Dr. MacGillivray is a high-level mathematical statistician, and heavily involved with teacher training. Works in Australia, but is the incoming President of International Statistics Institute.  This is a big topic, and the challenges reflect that.   In Australia, the people involved in teaching are the ones thinking about what is data literacy, and what is data science. There are valuable lessons in the decades of work on building statistical literacy.  The include work within the other disciples.  Some tidbits include the idea that descriptions are better than definitions, and that discussion is essential, but diagrammatic representations are not.   Statistical literacy focusing on understanding, consuming information, and interpreting and critically thinking about. This differs at grade levels. The curricula has an aim of helping you look behind the data, ask why it is presented, and what questions can be asked.   With data literacy there aren’t many definitions around. The ones that exist vary. Some split this between information literacy and data management.   Why is this important?  It is for everyone to the extent appropriate for their level of education, training, and work. This is very contextual, so it is a constant learning.    How do you do this?  Models at the governmental level are actually decades old.  The emphasis is on the problems, the plan, getting the data, analyzing, and then discussions and interpretation.  Dr. MacGillivray, in her workshops with teachers, encourages them to not think about the problem and the answer.  This work is much wider than that.   At the professional level, current approaches lead statisticians to think that they should NOT be involved with the collection of data; that somehow that gets their hands dirty.  They think it is a waste of a statisticians valuable time.  Nothing could be further form the truth!   In terms of penetration, there is lots of practice, but current teaching methods are still buried in old practices. They need to use complex, many-variabled datasets.  This leads to impediments for data literacy and data science.  Instead of a misplaced focus on calculation as in staticialy literacy education, in data science education there is a misplaced focus on coding.   Q & A   How about grassroots data literacy - what school do I send my students to?  can students analyze air quality?  Part of data literacy is knowing data is important for decisions making.   Prof North responds about the import of sourcing of data, what it is, where it came from, why it was collected is critical. Now we try to use household data that is from the world of the student.  You can use larger datasets, but still from the world of the student.   In terms of data availability, is there a way to asses the data literacy levels of different countries? How can we do better outreach?   Prof Naidu responds that, In terms of dissemination, now Stats SA takes the data to the people.  They have huge publicity campaigns to argue for collection; and then takes the results back to the people.   The SDGs combine social, economic, and environmental measurements. The average person on the street that is the target for behavior change, needs to understand the links between the three.  Where does scientific literacy come into this?   Prof MacGillivray reminds us that this is an old question, because these literacies operate within context in other fields.  We have to work with other disciplines and their educations.  Prof North adds that at her university they implemented practices that try to involve the other disciplines.  So if a student came in for help from another department, they involved the supervisor.  Dr. Kilama adds that in her country collecting the environmental data collection is the challenge they face.   Using data literacy as a means to protect poeple from fake statistics.  VIsualization can make bad statistics very acceptable.  We need to educate people about how to differentiate between good data and good-looking data.   This is the focus of the critical approaches.    
Categories: Blog

UN Data Forum - Data Literacy: What, Why and How? (Live Blog)

January 16, 2017 - 5:06am

This is a liveblog written by Rahul Bhargava at the 2017 UN World Data Forum.  This serves as a summary of what the speakers spoke about, not an exact recording.  With that in mind, any errors or omissions are likely my fault, not the speakers. 

  This panel has four speakers on the topic of data literacy, with an emphasis on front-line, practical things.   Empowering Future Users through Data Literacy - Professor Delia North   Dean and Head of Math, Statistics and Computer Science in Universty of Kwazulu-Natal Durban.  She wants to spread the message of empowering people (a theme for this session).  Prof North, teaching over 30 years, works on curriculum design for school level teacher training.  She has a passion for statics and youth, at the national level in addition to within her university.   The need to maintain a competitive economy drives the need for statistical literacy from basic operations, to the PhD level.  All citizens need basic statistical literacy, for basic citizenship; best to accomplish this while they are in school. Professionals need competence to use statistics effectively in the workplace. Specialists need to continually improve their practice.  University tends to think everyone is on the path to becoming a mathematical statistician, but this is an old-fashioned approach.  This isn’t developing them as “consumers” of statistics.   Statistics is often introduced as “hidden” inside of mathematics, so this is what people in South Africa think about.  That doesn’t identify it as a job opportunity to learners. In addition, statisticians are poor at marketing their discipline. It is viewed as difficult, boring and confusing.  There is a shortage of skills, and an overestimation of ability.  The best statisticians go to industry, so universities are left understaffed.  There are “too few enablers” of statistical literacy.   Data used to be scarce, but now it is everywhere.  This requires a rethink of the way we introduce statistics. This involves bringing in more data, and teaching with new methods.  Students need to be actively involved with working with large datasets.  This is an opportunity, not a threat. The questions we ask on our assessments are calculator-driven, not focused on analytical thinking.    Data literacy is an essential part of statical literacy.  Decisions based on data should be part of the statistical literacy training. Statistics should be an applied mathematics applied within another discipline.  For example, they collected rubbish with children and had them track the amount and graph it. You can’t keep it trapped in mathematics classes.  You have to make learning these concepts fun!  Engaging workshops can radically change how empowered a group of teachers feels to introduce statistics.  They want to learn new teaching methods.  You have to teach them at the beginning to introduce things in the right way.   Empowering Users in Situ - Dr. Sati Naidu      Executive Manager for Staekholder Relations for Statistics South Africa.  Stats SA has moved away from selling the data to helping people use the data for making evidence-making decisions. In 1996 South Africa did its first census. The first CD they produced cost 100,000 USD.  Now data collection is scattered across all the departments.  That should all be available on one platform to drive decision making.  They set up CRUISE, to merge a course for statistics, GIS, planning, and economics all together.  Dr. Naidu attended this course and learned much about a geographic approach to statistics.  Mapping can reveal patterns that are otherwise hidden in traditional analytical means.  This is demonstrated with a powerful set of maps that show the incidence of HIV/AIDS over time across Africa.   Now Stats SA creates GIS to create a platform to combine geometry, shape-files, and more. This lets them create thematic maps very easily. They offer trainings on these tools throughout South Africa.   Another example is looking at piped water over time, to see an increase.  With the map you can see which areas improved, and look for patterns in those with low or high services.  You can run hotspot analysis to look at unemployment data. You can do geospatial analysis to look for outliers and then look for causes.   When data is non-stationary you can’t just use traditional statistical analysis. For instance new houses are much more expensive than old houses in most of Cape Town. But in one area, new houses are very cheap because of the location.  So in one part of town there is a positive correlation, and in another there is a negative one.  You can find this with geographically weighted regression (GWR), while it would be hidden in a traditional regression.   Stats SA has all the official data.  Now they want to engage with private providers to make their data available.  We need to change from Big Data to Open Data, to go from its size to how it is used.   Data Literacy for Capacity Building - Dr. Blandina Kilama     Dr. Kilama works for REPOA on Poverty Research in Tanzania. REPOA is a think-thank in Tanzania that undertakes policy research.  She also teaches statistics part-time, and will share some of her learnings from there.   The stakeholders vary form Policy Makers, to Academia, to Media, to CSOs. Tanzania, has agriculture, This matters when politicians and others often conflate things like employment and productivity when talking about growth. Most African countries are seeing growth from productivity, not from labor.  For instance, agriculture, industry and services contribute roughly equally in terms of the economy.  However, more than 70% of the labour force works in agriculture.     This capacity causes problems sometimes.  For instance REPOA produced some poverty maps that were used by policy makers, leading to reactions of surprise and accusations.  Spatial analysis helped them explain this better, but showing how districts next o cities experience growth, while districts next to refugee camps showed lack of growth.   For media, REPOA builds in flexibility. They do half-day trainings, and make topics relevant for their current work.  These fit the media workers schedules, between their morning checkins and afternoon deadlines.   The challenges include weak numerical literacy, a shift in policies, and a lack of time. In Tanzania there is a common saying “we are all scared of numbers.”  This attitude is a real social challenge to conquer; the stakeholders have a deep fear of numbers. Policies need to shift to include the idea that people providing the data are protected, and experience benefits from it.    Data and Statistics: the sciences, the literacies and collaboration - Professor Helen MacGillivray     Dr. MacGillivray is a high-level mathematical statistician, and heavily involved with teacher training. Works in Australia, but is the incoming President of International Statistics Institute.  This is a big topic, and the challenges reflect that.   In Australia, the people involved in teaching are the ones thinking about what is data literacy, and what is data science. There are valuable lessons in the decades of work on building statistical literacy.  The include work within the other disciples.  Some tidbits include the idea that descriptions are better than definitions, and that discussion is essential, but diagrammatic representations are not.   Statistical literacy focusing on understanding, consuming information, and interpreting and critically thinking about. This differs at grade levels. The curricula has an aim of helping you look behind the data, ask why it is presented, and what questions can be asked.   With data literacy there aren’t many definitions around. The ones that exist vary. Some split this between information literacy and data management.   Why is this important?  It is for everyone to the extent appropriate for their level of education, training, and work. This is very contextual, so it is a constant learning.    How do you do this?  Models at the governmental level are actually decades old.  The emphasis is on the problems, the plan, getting the data, analyzing, and then discussions and interpretation.  Dr. MacGillivray, in her workshops with teachers, encourages them to not think about the problem and the answer.  This work is much wider than that.   At the professional level, current approaches lead statisticians to think that they should NOT be involved with the collection of data; that somehow that gets their hands dirty.  They think it is a waste of a statisticians valuable time.  Nothing could be further form the truth!   In terms of penetration, there is lots of practice, but current teaching methods are still buried in old practices. They need to use complex, many-variabled datasets.  This leads to impediments for data literacy and data science.  Instead of a misplaced focus on calculation as in staticialy literacy education, in data science education there is a misplaced focus on coding.   Q & A   How about grassroots data literacy - what school do I send my students to?  can students analyze air quality?  Part of data literacy is knowing data is important for decisions making.   Prof North responds about the import of sourcing of data, what it is, where it came from, why it was collected is critical. Now we try to use household data that is from the world of the student.  You can use larger datasets, but still from the world of the student.   In terms of data availability, is there a way to asses the data literacy levels of different countries? How can we do better outreach?   Prof Naidu responds that, In terms of dissemination, now Stats SA takes the data to the people.  They have huge publicity campaigns to argue for collection; and then takes the results back to the people.   The SDGs combine social, economic, and environmental measurements. The average person on the street that is the target for behavior change, needs to understand the links between the three.  Where does scientific literacy come into this?   Prof MacGillivray reminds us that this is an old question, because these literacies operate within context in other fields.  We have to work with other disciplines and their educations.  Prof North adds that at her university they implemented practices that try to involve the other disciplines.  So if a student came in for help from another department, they involved the supervisor.  Dr. Kilama adds that in her country collecting the environmental data collection is the challenge they face.   Using data literacy as a means to protect poeple from fake statistics.  VIsualization can make bad statistics very acceptable.  We need to educate people about how to differentiate between good data and good-looking data.   This is the focus of the critical approaches.    
Categories: Blog

So you want to build a tech tool which bridges political divides...

January 11, 2017 - 11:38am

I reached out to friends at Center for Civic Media about how much I've been hearing lately about folk wanting to "pop communication bubbles." A bunch of these (and Berkman) folk have been working on things like that for a long time, and have some excellent things to share in regards to our attempts, successes, failures. This is a near-exact transposition of their response to my prompt.

 

Platforms which already try to bridge political (or other) differences:

A review of these systems is in

https://unfold.com/ breaks news into simple statements, lets users vote their opinion

 

Things which indicate how great Amber is and that it should be used, but I bet were great when they led somewhere:

 

Cheers, and happy informed making!

governmentsocial networkstechnology solutions
Categories: Blog

So you want to build a tech tool which bridges political divides...

January 11, 2017 - 11:38am

I reached out to friends at Center for Civic Media about how much I've been hearing lately about folk wanting to "pop communication bubbles." A bunch of these (and Berkman) folk have been working on things like that for a long time, and have some excellent things to share in regards to our attempts, successes, failures. This is a near-exact transposition of their response to my prompt.

 

Platforms which already try to bridge political (or other) differences:

A review of these systems is in

https://unfold.com/ breaks news into simple statements, lets users vote their opinion

 

Things which indicate how great Amber is and that it should be used, but I bet were great when they led somewhere:

 

Cheers, and happy informed making!

governmentsocial networkstechnology solutions
Categories: Blog

Race, Fame, and Ability: untangling media coverage of NFL quarterbacks

December 24, 2016 - 7:23am

In the US, NFL football is more than a sport - it’s a stage on which broader national dramas play out. In the past years, the NFL has brought to national attention conversations about domestic violence, about cheating and fairness and about the ethics of loving a sport that is likely killing its players. With Colin Kapernick’s decision not to stand for the singing of the national anthem during a pre-season football game, starting a wave of similar protests by athletes, a national debate about endemic racism in the US has now become a debate about race, protest, politics and NFL football.

Some years ago, journalist and activist, the late Dori Maynard posed a question to the Media Cloud team: Does sports media use different language to talk about black and white athletes? The question, Dori told us, came from basketball player Isaiah Thomas, who had observed that journalists often described black athletes as physically talented but talked about the intelligence of white athletes. While both descriptions are laudatory, they focus on different aspects of a player's talents, and enforce long-standing racial stereotypes about intellect and physicality. Could Media Cloud, Dori wondered, put some numbers to these anecdotes?

This isn’t a new research question. Scholars have analyzed the language play-by-play announcers use and have seen the patterns in which white players are praised for intelligence and black players for physical attributes. (See also Rainville and McCormick, 1977 and Rada 1996) Media Cloud gives us the chance to analyze a different corpus, sports stories written after the game, and to examine this possible phenomenon on a different scale. We focused our study on the attention paid to and language used to discuss NFL quarterbacks, the most highly paid and most discussed players on the field.

So do we talk about white quarterbacks as intelligent and black quarterbacks as athletic? Well, like almost everything involving media and race, it's complicated.

First, we talk a great deal about football in the US media. We analyzed tens of thousands of  stories from 478 publications (including US sports websites like NFL.com as well as national and regional sources) over 4 months of NFL regular season coverage in 2015.Despite the prominence of stories like , the vast majority of writing about football discusses this week's results, next week's matchup and teams' strategies for success. As a result, the table of word frequencies when we talk about quarterbacks is heavy on two kinds of words: words that describe gameplay, and words that describe injuries.

We’ve classified each of the 53 quarterbacks who played in NFL games last season as white, black or hispanic (using data from the besttickets unofficial NFL player census, acknowledging that these categories are socially constructed, complex and overlapping.) We then examined what words are associated with coverage of white QBs and QBs of color. In general, white QBs were slightly more associated with action words - ran, threw, leapt - and non-white QBs with words about their health and bodies, their off-field lives and descriptive words, like “dominant” or “judgement”. (Our handcoding of the top 250 words associated with QBs, and synonyms for those words, is here.)

We further examined what words were disproportionately associated with white and non-white QBs. For instance, the words “Heisman” and “trophy” were more than three times as likely to appear in stories about black QBs than about white QBs, likely because Heisman winning black QBs Marcus Mariota and Jameis Winston played more last year than white Heisman winner Johnny Manziel. Some of those terms do suggest a focus on the physicality of black QBs:

Word used more with black QBs Usage note “Mobile” 2.48x   “Threat” 2.46x (aka: “dual threat” to run or pass) “Legs” 2.03x   “Runner” 2.00x   “Scrambling” 1.97x   “Rushing” 1.92x   “Sliding” 1.87x   “Speed” 1.84x   “Balance” 1.84x (may refer to a “balanced offense” as well as to the physical characteristic)

Words disproportionately associated with white quarterbacks tend to characterize specific scandals and controversies. In most cases, these words describe only one or two quarterbacks, whereas the words disproportionately associated with black QBs often describe multiple players:

Word used more with white QBs Note “Deflated” only associated with Tom Brady “Charter” only associated with Ryan Mallett missing a charter flight “Court”   “Hormone”   “HGH”   “Jazeera” An Al Jazeera story about possible use of human growth hormone in the NFL

Words associated with both white and black quarterbacks, but disproportionately with white QBs also include “domestic” (ie., domestic violence) and partying.

Before concluding that US media is somehow biased against white QBs and their scandals, it’s worth keeping in mind that these terms disproportionately associated with white QBs are highly idiosyncratic - they’re more the portrait of a single player’s struggles than the way a whole group of players are characterized. Moving down in the frequency table to words that appear 1.5x to 5x more with white QBs than black QBs, we find some evidence to support the “white brains, black bodies” hypothesis, but less than we expected.

Word used more with white QBs Usage Note “Slipped” 4.3x   “Slow” 4.2x   “Prepared” 2.3x   “Practice” 2.1x   “Caller” 1.9x (“signal caller”) “Steady” 1.7x  

If there’s no racial smoking gun in looking at word frequencies, it may be because, as John Caravalho put it, “No broadcaster or sportswriter this side of Rush Limbaugh is so self-destructive as to blatantly muse on the suitability of a black quarterback.” Reporters may be increasingly sensitive to issues of word choice. But the amount of attention paid to white versus black QBs tells a somewhat different story.

We analyzed how much media attention each of the 53 quarterbacks in our study received. To adjust for the fact that some quarterbacks in our set played very few minutes, we calculated words per minute played, a statistic that ranged from 25.5 words/minute for Titans backup Zack Mettenberger, to 471.4 words/minute for the Cowboys Tony Romo, who suffered a shoulder injury and missed most of the season, to the great dismay of the Dallas press. While Romo is the largest outlier in the set, five other quarterbacks - all white - received unusually high words per minute scores: Brandon Weeden, Johnny Manziel, Landry Jones, Peyton Manning and Tom Brady. The first three - Weeden, Manziel and Jones - played very few games - Jones was a substitute in a single game, while Weeden and Manziel started fewer than 3 games in a 16 game season - skewing these counts. Manning and Brady are "name-brand" quarterbacks, who received additional attention in 2015, Brady for the ongoing "Deflategate" saga and Manning for winning the Super Bowl and retiring.

Comparing a quarterback's passer rating to his words of coverage suggests that "name brand" quarterbacks are at a distinct advantage in terms of media attention. Six quarterbacks - five white, one black - appear as outliers in this chart. (Romo, who we code as "Hispanic", didn't play enough minutes in 2015-16 to have a QB rating.) Peyton Manning, Aaron Rodgers and Tom Brady are all elite quarterbacks who are also recognizable public figures, endorsing products and commanding media attention. (All receive more than $6m in endorsements per year, and rank #1, #4 and #5 in the list of QBs ranked by endorsement money in 2015.) Manziel's disproportionate attention springs from notoriety - he was benched after videos surfaced of him partying during a bye week - while Andrew Luck had an injury-plagued season that was both poor and widely discussed. The only black quarterback who is an outlier in this set is Marcus Mariota, who outperformed expectations for the Titans, and generated widespread hand-wringing in Tennessee when he was injured late in the season. Notably, the year's best-rated quarterback - the Seattle Seahawks' Russell Wilson - is black, and received significantly less attention than worse-rated "brand name" quarterbacks, though average attention for his rating as predicted by our model. Like Manning, Rodgers and Brady, Wilson makes more than $6m a year in endorsements, but his financial success doesn’t lead to disproportionate coverage. Nor does it lead to overcoverage of Drew Brees and Eli Manning, white QBs who were #2 and #3 on the endorsement list in 2015.

Given the messy relationship between performance and attention, we asked whether a naive hypothesis - that sportswriting coverage tracked actual performance - might help answer Dori and Isiah's question. If black quarterbacks tend to be described as "athletic", might it be in part because their athleticism is more impressive than that of white quarterbacks?

We looked at two statistics to try to calculate "athleticism": the 40 yard dash and rushing yards gained by the quarterback. White quarterbacks averaged a little over 4.8 seconds on the 40 yard dash, while black quarterbacks averaged a little below 4.6 seconds. In the NFL, that .25 second gap is an eternity - black quarterbacks, on average, run nearly as fast as receivers, the fastest players on the field, while white quarterbacks are closer to linebackers. That speed apparently matters, as black quarterbacks averaged a little over 200 rushing yards in a season, while white quarterbacks generally had fewer than 50.

This finding about differences in athletic ability by race is obviously heavily loaded, given the long history of racist speech that portrays blacks as fundamentally physically different than whites.  We note that the system that results in the presence of more athletic black quarterbacks than white quarterbacks in the NFL is a highly complex one that is deeply embedded in the racial mores of our society.  This piece on how modern NFL quarterbacks are made finds that the top 15 quarterback prospects in the 2016 draft overwhelmingly: started playing quarterback by age 9, came from stable families in homes worth at least the median home value, had outside coaching starting in high school, and participated in year round formal 7v7 programs.  This kind of intense, adult driven athletic experience is much more common in suburban communities than urban communities.  For one example, his piece on the "Hidden Demographics of Youth Sports" lists the five states with the lowest rate of high school sports participation, and four of those five are among the states with the most black households.  All of this is to say that this data on the athletic advantage of black over white quarterbacks may or may not say anything about inherent athleticism of black people but almost certainly says something about the deeply racially infused cultural systems that produce modern professional athletes.

Given all of the above, there's an argument that black quarterbacks are genuinely more athletic - at least in terms of foot speed - than white quarterbacks, and the differences we see in language about quarterbacks may correlate to their performance. That may run counter to suspicions that led Dori to ask her question. But we did find a way in which there's an apparent racial disparity in coverage: sheer attention.

Only eight quarterbacks broke the 40,000 word barrier in our set, two black, one hispanic, five white. Set the bar at 50,000 and we're down to four white QBs and Tony Romo. At the highest levels of attention, four "name-brand" quarterbacks (Rodgers, Brady, Manning, Romo) and one screw-up (Manziel) dominate discussion of football in 2015-6. Elite black QBs - Russell Wilson, Marcus Mariotta, Cam Newton - received more attention than mediocre quarterbacks, but less than name brand, endorsement laden white QBs, despite in Wilson's case, significantly superior performance.

Is there a racial bias in sportswriting about the NFL? Probably.That bias may be related to which NFL players gain endorsement contracts and widespread celebrity, and which ones fall short of expectations to reach that elite level. It’s difficult to entangle causality, though - all but one of these “name brand” QBs are white, and we may pay attention to them because of their celebrity, which correlates only partially to their superior athletic performance, and may correlate more closely to their race.

We will be updating our study at the close of the 2016-7 NFL season, and are looking forward to seeing whether Kapernick’s protest challenged the attention patterns we saw in the previous season.

This post was written by Ethan Zuckerman in collaboration with Allan Ko, Rahul Bhargava, and Hal Roberts. Allan Ko produced the graphics and conducted the quantitative research.

media
Categories: Blog

Race, Fame, and Ability: untangling media coverage of NFL quarterbacks

December 24, 2016 - 7:23am

In the US, NFL football is more than a sport - it’s a stage on which broader national dramas play out. In the past years, the NFL has brought to national attention conversations about domestic violence, about cheating and fairness and about the ethics of loving a sport that is likely killing its players. With Colin Kapernick’s decision not to stand for the singing of the national anthem during a pre-season football game, starting a wave of similar protests by athletes, a national debate about endemic racism in the US has now become a debate about race, protest, politics and NFL football.

Some years ago, journalist and activist, the late Dori Maynard posed a question to the Media Cloud team: Does sports media use different language to talk about black and white athletes? The question, Dori told us, came from basketball player Isaiah Thomas, who had observed that journalists often described black athletes as physically talented but talked about the intelligence of white athletes. While both descriptions are laudatory, they focus on different aspects of a player's talents, and enforce long-standing racial stereotypes about intellect and physicality. Could Media Cloud, Dori wondered, put some numbers to these anecdotes?

This isn’t a new research question. Scholars have analyzed the language play-by-play announcers use and have seen the patterns in which white players are praised for intelligence and black players for physical attributes. (See also Rainville and McCormick, 1977 and Rada 1996) Media Cloud gives us the chance to analyze a different corpus, sports stories written after the game, and to examine this possible phenomenon on a different scale. We focused our study on the attention paid to and language used to discuss NFL quarterbacks, the most highly paid and most discussed players on the field.

So do we talk about white quarterbacks as intelligent and black quarterbacks as athletic? Well, like almost everything involving media and race, it's complicated.

First, we talk a great deal about football in the US media. We analyzed tens of thousands of  stories from 478 publications (including US sports websites like NFL.com as well as national and regional sources) over 4 months of NFL regular season coverage in 2015.Despite the prominence of stories like , the vast majority of writing about football discusses this week's results, next week's matchup and teams' strategies for success. As a result, the table of word frequencies when we talk about quarterbacks is heavy on two kinds of words: words that describe gameplay, and words that describe injuries.

We’ve classified each of the 53 quarterbacks who played in NFL games last season as white, black or hispanic (using data from the besttickets unofficial NFL player census, acknowledging that these categories are socially constructed, complex and overlapping.) We then examined what words are associated with coverage of white QBs and QBs of color. In general, white QBs were slightly more associated with action words - ran, threw, leapt - and non-white QBs with words about their health and bodies, their off-field lives and descriptive words, like “dominant” or “judgement”. (Our handcoding of the top 250 words associated with QBs, and synonyms for those words, is here.)

We further examined what words were disproportionately associated with white and non-white QBs. For instance, the words “Heisman” and “trophy” were more than three times as likely to appear in stories about black QBs than about white QBs, likely because Heisman winning black QBs Marcus Mariota and Jameis Winston played more last year than white Heisman winner Johnny Manziel. Some of those terms do suggest a focus on the physicality of black QBs:

Word used more with black QBs Usage note “Mobile” 2.48x   “Threat” 2.46x (aka: “dual threat” to run or pass) “Legs” 2.03x   “Runner” 2.00x   “Scrambling” 1.97x   “Rushing” 1.92x   “Sliding” 1.87x   “Speed” 1.84x   “Balance” 1.84x (may refer to a “balanced offense” as well as to the physical characteristic)

Words disproportionately associated with white quarterbacks tend to characterize specific scandals and controversies. In most cases, these words describe only one or two quarterbacks, whereas the words disproportionately associated with black QBs often describe multiple players:

Word used more with white QBs Note “Deflated” only associated with Tom Brady “Charter” only associated with Ryan Mallett missing a charter flight “Court”   “Hormone”   “HGH”   “Jazeera” An Al Jazeera story about possible use of human growth hormone in the NFL

Words associated with both white and black quarterbacks, but disproportionately with white QBs also include “domestic” (ie., domestic violence) and partying.

Before concluding that US media is somehow biased against white QBs and their scandals, it’s worth keeping in mind that these terms disproportionately associated with white QBs are highly idiosyncratic - they’re more the portrait of a single player’s struggles than the way a whole group of players are characterized. Moving down in the frequency table to words that appear 1.5x to 5x more with white QBs than black QBs, we find some evidence to support the “white brains, black bodies” hypothesis, but less than we expected.

Word used more with white QBs Usage Note “Slipped” 4.3x   “Slow” 4.2x   “Prepared” 2.3x   “Practice” 2.1x   “Caller” 1.9x (“signal caller”) “Steady” 1.7x  

If there’s no racial smoking gun in looking at word frequencies, it may be because, as John Caravalho put it, “No broadcaster or sportswriter this side of Rush Limbaugh is so self-destructive as to blatantly muse on the suitability of a black quarterback.” Reporters may be increasingly sensitive to issues of word choice. But the amount of attention paid to white versus black QBs tells a somewhat different story.

We analyzed how much media attention each of the 53 quarterbacks in our study received. To adjust for the fact that some quarterbacks in our set played very few minutes, we calculated words per minute played, a statistic that ranged from 25.5 words/minute for Titans backup Zack Mettenberger, to 471.4 words/minute for the Cowboys Tony Romo, who suffered a shoulder injury and missed most of the season, to the great dismay of the Dallas press. While Romo is the largest outlier in the set, five other quarterbacks - all white - received unusually high words per minute scores: Brandon Weeden, Johnny Manziel, Landry Jones, Peyton Manning and Tom Brady. The first three - Weeden, Manziel and Jones - played very few games - Jones was a substitute in a single game, while Weeden and Manziel started fewer than 3 games in a 16 game season - skewing these counts. Manning and Brady are "name-brand" quarterbacks, who received additional attention in 2015, Brady for the ongoing "Deflategate" saga and Manning for winning the Super Bowl and retiring.

Comparing a quarterback's passer rating to his words of coverage suggests that "name brand" quarterbacks are at a distinct advantage in terms of media attention. Six quarterbacks - five white, one black - appear as outliers in this chart. (Romo, who we code as "Hispanic", didn't play enough minutes in 2015-16 to have a QB rating.) Peyton Manning, Aaron Rodgers and Tom Brady are all elite quarterbacks who are also recognizable public figures, endorsing products and commanding media attention. (All receive more than $6m in endorsements per year, and rank #1, #4 and #5 in the list of QBs ranked by endorsement money in 2015.) Manziel's disproportionate attention springs from notoriety - he was benched after videos surfaced of him partying during a bye week - while Andrew Luck had an injury-plagued season that was both poor and widely discussed. The only black quarterback who is an outlier in this set is Marcus Mariota, who outperformed expectations for the Titans, and generated widespread hand-wringing in Tennessee when he was injured late in the season. Notably, the year's best-rated quarterback - the Seattle Seahawks' Russell Wilson - is black, and received significantly less attention than worse-rated "brand name" quarterbacks, though average attention for his rating as predicted by our model. Like Manning, Rodgers and Brady, Wilson makes more than $6m a year in endorsements, but his financial success doesn’t lead to disproportionate coverage. Nor does it lead to overcoverage of Drew Brees and Eli Manning, white QBs who were #2 and #3 on the endorsement list in 2015.

Given the messy relationship between performance and attention, we asked whether a naive hypothesis - that sportswriting coverage tracked actual performance - might help answer Dori and Isiah's question. If black quarterbacks tend to be described as "athletic", might it be in part because their athleticism is more impressive than that of white quarterbacks?

We looked at two statistics to try to calculate "athleticism": the 40 yard dash and rushing yards gained by the quarterback. White quarterbacks averaged a little over 4.8 seconds on the 40 yard dash, while black quarterbacks averaged a little below 4.6 seconds. In the NFL, that .25 second gap is an eternity - black quarterbacks, on average, run nearly as fast as receivers, the fastest players on the field, while white quarterbacks are closer to linebackers. That speed apparently matters, as black quarterbacks averaged a little over 200 rushing yards in a season, while white quarterbacks generally had fewer than 50.

This finding about differences in athletic ability by race is obviously heavily loaded, given the long history of racist speech that portrays blacks as fundamentally physically different than whites.  We note that the system that results in the presence of more athletic black quarterbacks than white quarterbacks in the NFL is a highly complex one that is deeply embedded in the racial mores of our society.  This piece on how modern NFL quarterbacks are made finds that the top 15 quarterback prospects in the 2016 draft overwhelmingly: started playing quarterback by age 9, came from stable families in homes worth at least the median home value, had outside coaching starting in high school, and participated in year round formal 7v7 programs.  This kind of intense, adult driven athletic experience is much more common in suburban communities than urban communities.  For one example, his piece on the "Hidden Demographics of Youth Sports" lists the five states with the lowest rate of high school sports participation, and four of those five are among the states with the most black households.  All of this is to say that this data on the athletic advantage of black over white quarterbacks may or may not say anything about inherent athleticism of black people but almost certainly says something about the deeply racially infused cultural systems that produce modern professional athletes.

Given all of the above, there's an argument that black quarterbacks are genuinely more athletic - at least in terms of foot speed - than white quarterbacks, and the differences we see in language about quarterbacks may correlate to their performance. That may run counter to suspicions that led Dori to ask her question. But we did find a way in which there's an apparent racial disparity in coverage: sheer attention.

Only eight quarterbacks broke the 40,000 word barrier in our set, two black, one hispanic, five white. Set the bar at 50,000 and we're down to four white QBs and Tony Romo. At the highest levels of attention, four "name-brand" quarterbacks (Rodgers, Brady, Manning, Romo) and one screw-up (Manziel) dominate discussion of football in 2015-6. Elite black QBs - Russell Wilson, Marcus Mariotta, Cam Newton - received more attention than mediocre quarterbacks, but less than name brand, endorsement laden white QBs, despite in Wilson's case, significantly superior performance.

Is there a racial bias in sportswriting about the NFL? Probably.That bias may be related to which NFL players gain endorsement contracts and widespread celebrity, and which ones fall short of expectations to reach that elite level. It’s difficult to entangle causality, though - all but one of these “name brand” QBs are white, and we may pay attention to them because of their celebrity, which correlates only partially to their superior athletic performance, and may correlate more closely to their race.

We will be updating our study at the close of the 2016-7 NFL season, and are looking forward to seeing whether Kapernick’s protest challenged the attention patterns we saw in the previous season.

This post was written by Ethan Zuckerman in collaboration with Allan Ko, Rahul Bhargava, and Hal Roberts. Allan Ko produced the graphics and conducted the quantitative research.

media
Categories: Blog

Attention and Atrocities

November 15, 2016 - 3:24pm

Every year, Canada's Médecins Sans Frontières (AKA Doctors Without Borders / MSF) meets for their Annual General Assembly. I know about this because two years ago their topic was "Is MSF missing the technology boat?" to which I was invited to speak about Geeks Without Bounds and community technology projects with the talk "Technology as a Means to Equality" (video broken because of issues with GWOB YouTube account, and with my apologies). I went back this year because my organizational crush on them maintains, and because Aspiration (my employer for teh past 2 years, a technology capacity building organization for nonprofits) has been working on an ecosystem map of the digital response space. The real-world and values-driven experience of MSF provided valuable insights and data points for that map, and so I went seeking their input. I spent the first day at their Logistics Day hearing about 3D printing for manufacturing and prosthetics, telemedicine, and use of smart phones. My second day was for the Annual General Assembly again, this time as an attendee. The first half of the day focused on how to deal with the bombings of hospitals in war zones, the second half on mental health for patients and for field practitioners. I'd like to speak to you here about the first half of that day, how it overlaps with things I've learned here at the Center for Civic Media, things I was reminded of during bunnie and Snowden's announcement at Forbidden Research, and things which have sadly continued to be relevant.

#NotATarget

There are certain things that humanity has learned we find untenable from past experience. Some of these lessons are most notably codified in the Geneva Conventions, ratified by the UN and its membership. Among other things, the Geneva Conventions cover how noncombatants should not be involved in conflict, the right to bring someone to trial for war crimes, and the right to access to medical treatment. This last is of most concern of MSF, namely in that more and more hospitals in war zones are being bombed. These bombings are happening without the external accountability which the Geneva Conventions and the UN Security Council claim to uphold (then again, 4 of the 5 permanent seats on the UN Security Council are held by countries linked to these bombings, so that's maybe a conflict of interest and integrity). So, maybe this is not a system of accountability we can necessarily depend on any longer. How can the bombings be stopped? Who can (and should) hold those doing the bombings accountable, if not the long-standing (albeit imperfect) Geneva Convertion mechanism? MSF has been maintaining a campaign for public visibility, hoping this will lead to some level of accountability via #NotATarget.

The question that I remembered during bunnie and Snowden's announcement at Forbidden Research was: are these individual blips of horror across many different countries, or is this a new norm? bunnie and Snowden were referring to the subtle but systemic targeting and killing of journalists. MSF panelists spoke of the picking off of hospitals in conflict zones, sometimes when nothing else around them has been attacked. There are two things at play here: a technological way to do the targeting, but also the acceptance of this happening. One speaker at MSF AGA, Marine Buissonniere, spoke to both of these points by indicating that we should be able to hold both highly contextual circumstances and overall trends in mind at the same time. Perhaps the bombing of one hospital happened in a silo of decision making for one military, but the fact that it is deemed acceptable by so many at the same time indicates a deeper shift in global cultural norms. She and the other panelists also spoke to how this is an ongoing attack on civic life, that hospitals are the last refuge in times of war, and to make them unsafe is to remove the provision of basic needs to entire regions. Whether a subtle cultural shift or a concerted effort to errode transparency, accountability, and safety; both the cases of hospital bombings and targeted journalist killings come from a similar place of disregard for human life and for accountability. It is our responsibility to hold those taking these actions accountable.

It can be difficult to understand what this sort of thing means. It is difficult to build empathy, a huge component in bringing sufficient public attention on those trampling human rights to hold them accountable. The panelists acknowledged "outrage fatigue" coupled with the failure to act from enforcement agencies and courts. When our attention wanes, so too do the mechanisms of accountability. Similar to the work already done around Media Cloud and Catherine's work on location of the news, a question emerged: would people have cared differently if these bombings were happening a part of the world other than the Middle East and North Africa? Regardless, those perpetrating these violences are benefiting from our outrage fatigue. How can we take care of ourselves and each other while balancing our areas of influence with our areas of concern? How do we choose which actions to take?

Journalism and Medicine

This is in part why I think MSF is so amazing. They act both to respond to a basic human need (access to medical care) in places often abandonded or never paid attention to begin with, and they speak truth about the circumstances in which they do so. To publicly statewhere a hospital is both puts them in immense danger and also protects them through public outcry against that danger... but only if those outcries continue to occur. To seek justice for infractions to human rights can be seen as non-neutral, which would then put MSF deeper in harm's way.

One way to navigate this might be divvying up parts of this ecosystem. Diederik Lohman from Human Rights Watched joined the panel to speak about documentation and accountability -- documentation which MSF practitioners are not trained to create, and the creation of which might jeapordize their status as neutral parties. If instead someone from Human Rights Watch were to document, could MSF better maintain their role as a humanitarian, and therefore neutral, party?

Truth is the first casualty of war

Many of the atrocities associated with #NotATarget remain unaccounted for due to politics. But some have to do with a lack of visibility of the incidents and others of the context of the incidents. MSF often doesn't disclose the nationalities of their clinicians as a way to emphasize that all tragedy is human tragedy, rather than allowing countries to cherry-pick reporting based on what seems connected to them. But they're also not great at indicating how many different demographics across civilians and combattants they've served on a given day. The impartial nature of their service delivery is invisible to both local and international crowds. What would documentation look like which helped MSF do its job, made disruptions of that work visible in a trusted way, and wouldn't add to the reach of the surveillance state?

I came away from both of these sessions with more questions than I arrived with, but also greater trust and awareness of the others doing work in these spaces. All my best, in solidarity and hypoallergenic kittens, for all that you do.

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