Center for Studies in Demography and Ecology

Digital Echoes: Understanding Patterns of Mass Violence with Data and Statistics (CSSS Seminar, 10/31/2018)

Posted: 10/26/2018 (Local Events)

Patrick Ball

Director of Research, Human Rights Data Analysis Group (HRDAg)

Data about mass violence can seem to offer insights into patterns: is violence getting better, or worse, over time? Is violence directed more against men or women? But in human rights data collection, we (usually) don’t know what we don’t know – and worse, what we don’t know is likely to be systematically different from what we do know.

This talk will explore the assumption that nearly every project using data must make: that the data are representative of reality in the world. We will explore how, contrary to the standard assumption, statistical patterns in raw data tend to be quite different than patterns in the world. Statistical patterns in data tend to reflect how the data were collected rather than changes in the real-world phenomena data purport to represent.

Using analysis of mortality in Chadian prisons in the 1980s, killings in Iraq 2005-2010, homicides committed by police in the US 2005-2011, killings in the conflict in Syria, and analysis of genocide in Guatemala in 1982-1983, and predicting the locations of hidden graves in Mexico since 2015, this talk will contrast patterns in raw data with estimates of total patterns of violence – where the estimates correct for heterogeneous underreporting. The talk will show how biases in raw data can — sometimes — be addressed through estimation. The examples will be grounded in their use in public debates and in expert testimony in criminal trials for genocide and war crimes.

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Date: 10/31/2018

Time: 12:30-1:30 PM

Location: Savery (SAV) 409