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Digital Echoes: Understanding Patterns of Mass Violence with Data and Statistics (Lecture)

  • University of Essex Colchester (map)

Patrick Ball, Director of Research, Human Rights Data Analysis Group (HRDAG)

Human Rights Centre

Time: 12:00
Venue: 5S.6.25 (HRC Seminar Room), Colchester Campus

Talk chaired by:  Professor Lorna McGregor, Director of Human Rights Centre, Co-Director of ESRC Human Rights, Big Data and Technology Project, Essex Law School and Human Rights Centre

Please book your ticket for this event via Eventbrite by 20 September, as a light lunch reception will be provided.

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 killings during Perú's civil war, homicides committed by police in the US, killings in the conflict in Syria, and homicides in Colombia, we 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 be addressed through estimation, and explain why it matters.

Patrick Ball has spent more than twenty years conducting quantitative analysis for truth commissions, non-governmental organizations, international criminal tribunals, and United Nations missions in El Salvador, Ethiopia, Guatemala, Haiti, South Africa, Chad, Sri Lanka, East Timor, Sierra Leone, South Africa, Kosovo, Liberia, Perú, Colombia, the Democratic Republic of Congo, and Syria. He has provided expert testimony in the trial of the former President of Chad, Hissène Habré, at the Extraordinary African Chambers; testimony in the trial of the former President of Serbia, Slobodan Milošević, at the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia; technical advice to the Special Court for Sierra Leone and the International Criminal Court; and expert testimony in the trial of General José Efraín Ríos Montt, the de-facto president of Guatemala in 1982-1983, at Guatemala’s Supreme Court.

Patrick has worked in several capacities in the Science and Human Rights Program at the American Association for the Advancement of Science, Benetech, and most recently, was Executive Director of HRDAG from 2013 through 2015, before becoming the Director of Research in December 2015. He is a Fellow at the American Statistical Association; a Fellow at the Human Rights Center at Berkeley Law of the University of California-Berkeley; a Fellow at the Human Rights Centre at the University of Essex; and a Research Fellow at Carnegie Mellon’s Center for Human Rights Science.

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