Event Information:

  • Tue

    [Talk] Patrick Ball - Digital Echoes: Understanding Patterns of Mass Violence with Data and Statistics

    11:30 amErhlicher Room(NQ 3100), 105 S. State St. Ann Arbor

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    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, 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.


    Patrick Ball has spent more than twenty-five 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. Patrick has provided expert testimony in several trials, including those of Slobodan Milošević, the former President of Serbia; José Efraín Ríos Montt, former de-facto president of Guatemala; and Hissène Habré, the former President of Chad.

    Patrick founded the Human Rights Data Analysis Group (HRDAG) in 1991, where he currently serves as Director of Research.

    In 2018, Patrick received the Karl E. Peace Award for Oustanding Statistical Contributions for the Betterment of Society; in 2015, the Claremont Graduate University awarded Patrick a Doctor of Science (honoris causa); in 2014, he was elected a Fellow of the American Statistical Association; in 2005, the Electronic Frontier Foundation gave him their Pioneer Award; and in 2003, the ACM gave him the  Eugene Lawler Award for Humanitarian Contributions within Computer Science and Informatics.

    Patrick is on the Advisory Council of Security Force Monitor, a project of the Columbia Law School Human Rights Institute; a Fellow at the Human Rights Center at Berkeley Law of the University of California-Berkeley; and a Research Fellow at Carnegie Mellon’s Center for Human Rights Science.

    Patrick received his bachelor of arts degree from Columbia University, and his doctorate from the University of Michigan.