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Training Spotlight: Connor Gilroy, Adrian Raftery, and Emilio Zagheni Lead Workshops at International Population Conference

Posted: 11/14/2017 (CSDE Research)

At the 2017 International Population Conference (IPC)–held in Cape Town, South Africa, from October 29 to November 4–the IUSSP Scientific Panel on Big Data and Population Processes hosted three preconference workshops on demography and the Data Revolution. Of these, one was led by affiliate Adrian Raftery, and another by affiliate Emilio Zagheni and CSDE Fellow Connor Gilroy.

Raftery, Professor of Statistics and Sociology, led a two-day workshop on Bayesian Population Projections: Theory and Practice along with Hana Ševčíková, Senior Research Scientist at the Center for Statistics and Social Sciences. The workshop combined lectures on Bayesian statistics with hands-on lab activities using R packages such as bayesLife and bayesPop. These probabilistic methods have been officially adopted by the UN Population Division for population projections. Because of this, it is particularly significant that this workshop was convened in tandem with the first IPC to be held in sub-Saharan Africa, where the majority of the world’s population growth is projected to occur. Accordingly, African researchers, who may have had fewer opportunities to learn these cutting-edge methodologies previously, were well-represented among the participants.

Zagheni, Associate Professor of Sociology and CSDE Training Director, and Gilroy led a daylong workshop on Social Media, Big Data and Digital Demography. This workshop covered technical subjects such as web APIs and OAuth credentialing, as well as examples of current demographic research using digital methods. Over the course of the day, participants moved from retrieving conventional Census data with programmatic web methods, to using these same techniques to access streaming and search data from Twitter and advertising data from Facebook. Additional modules focused on transforming and visualizing the data thus obtained. Participants in this workshop were diverse, and their goals for using digital trace data for demography were equally so, from investigating women’s responses to domestic violence on Twitter in France, to observing reactions to the work of nonprofits on Facebook in India.

The code and lecture slides for the digital demography workshop are available in their entirety on GitHub, at This resource has already begun to circulate among demographers—via Twitter, naturally.

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