Digital Echoes: Understanding Patterns of Mass Violence with Data and Statistics
How to Use Human Rights DataVoices
Please join Patrick Ball, executive director of the Human Rights Data Analysis Group, for a conversation about data, rights, and justice. Data can seem to offer insights into patterns: Is mass violence getting better, or worse, over time? Is violence directed more against men or women? However, in human rights data collection, we (usually) don’t know what we don’t know—and worse, what we don’t know may be systematically different from what we think we do know.
In transitional justice contexts, statistics are critical for establishing an accurate assessment of patterns of violence, clarifying historical memory, apportioning reparations, and determining which parties were most responsible for violence. Particularly in criminal trials for war crimes, it is crucial that human rights arguments be factually correct. This is as true for statistical arguments as it is for for personal testimony, videos, or forensic evidence, but because raw data can be deeply misleading, making accurate statistical arguments related to human rights violations can be extremely difficult.
Statistical patterns in raw data tend to be quite different than patterns in the real world: patterns in data tend to reflect how the data was collected rather than changes in the real-world phenomena the data appears to represent. Using analysis of killings in Iraq, homicides committed by police in the United States, killings in the conflict in Syria, and homicides in Colombia, Ball will explore how biases in raw data can be corrected through estimation, and why understanding the accurate statistical patterns of violence is essential to the project of advancing rights and justice.