A Way Forward: Governing in an Age of Emergence

Paper by UNDP: “…This paper seeks to go beyond mere analysis of the spectrum of problems and risks we face, identifying a portfolio of possibilities (POPs) and articulating a new framework for governance and government. The purpose of these POPs is not to define the future but to challenge, to innovate, to expand the range of politically acceptable policies, and to establish a foundation for the statecraft in the age of risk and uncertainties.

As its name suggests, we recognise that the A Way Forward is and must be one of many pathways to explore the future of governance. It is the beginning of a journey; one on which you are invited to join us to help evolve the provocations into new paradigms and policy options that seek to chart an alternative pathway to governance and statecraft.

A Way Forward is a petition for seeding new transnational alliances based on shared interests and vulnerability. We believe the future will be built across a new constellation of governmental alliances, where innovation in statecraft and governance is achieved collaboratively. Our key objective is to establish a platform to host these transnational discussions, and move us towards the new capabilities that are necessary for statecraft in the age of risk and uncertainty….(More)”.

Mapping Mobility Functional Areas (MFA) using Mobile Positioning Data to Inform COVID-19 Policies

EU Science Hub: “This work introduces the concept of data-driven Mobility Functional Areas (MFAs) as geographic zones with a high degree of intra-mobility exchanges. Such information, calculated at European regional scale thanks to mobile data, can be useful to inform targeted re-escalation policy responses in cases of future COVID-19 outbreaks (avoiding large-area or even national lockdowns). In such events, the geographic distribution of MFAs would define territorial areas to which lockdown interventions could be limited, with the result of minimizing socio-economic consequences of such policies. The analysis of the time evolution of MFAs can also be thought of as a measure of how human mobility changes not only in intensity but also in patterns, providing innovative insights into the impact of mobility containment measures. This work presents a first analysis for 15 European countries (14 EU Member States and Norway)….(More)”.

Hammer or nudge? New brief on international policy options for COVID-19

Paper by Luc Soete: “…But over time the scientific comments given on TV and radio in my two home countries, the Netherlands and Belgium, as well as neighbouring Germany and France, became dominated by each country’s own, national virology and epidemiological experts explaining how their country’s approach to ‘flattening the curve’ and bringing down the reproduction rate was best, it became clear, even to a non-expert in the field like myself, that many of the science-based policies used to contain COVID-19 were first and foremost based on ‘hypotheses’. With the exception of Germany, not really on facts. And as Anthony Fauci, Director of the US National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease, probably the world’s most respected virologist once put it: “Data is real. The model is hypothesis.”

So at the risk of being an ultracrepidarian – an old word which has suddenly risen in popularity – it seemed appropriate to have a closer, more critical look at the science-based policy advice during this COVID-19 pandemic. For virologists and epidemiologists, the logical approach to a new, unknown but highly infectious virus such as SARS-CoV-2, spreading globally at pandemic speed, is ‘the hammer’: the tool to crush down quickly and radically through extreme measures (social distancing, confinement, lockdown, travel restrictions) the spread of the virus and get the transmission rate’s value as far as possible below. The stricter the confinement measures, the better.

For a social scientist and social science-based policy adviser, a hammer represents anything but a useful tool to approach society or the economy with. Her or his preference will rather go to measures, such as ‘nudges’ which alter people’s behaviour in a predictable way without coercion. Actually, the first COVID-19 measure was based on a typical ‘nudge’: improving hand hygiene among healthcare workers which was now enlarged to the whole population. ‘Nudging’ in the face of a new virus such as SARS-CoV-2 will consist of making sure incremental policy measures build up to a societal behavioural change, starting from hand hygiene, social distancing, to confinement and various forms of lockdown. It will be crucial to measure the additional, marginal impact of each measure in its contribution to the overall reduction in the transmission of the virus. Introducing all measures at once, as in the case of the ‘hammer’ strategy, subsequently provides little useful information on the effectiveness of each measure ( on the contrary, in fact). In a period of deconfinement, one now has little information on which measures are likely to be the most effective. From a nudge perspective, achieving a change in social behaviour with respect to physical distancing: the so-called one-and-a-half metre society, will be an essential variable and measuring its impact on the spreading of the virus crucial. One of the reasons is that full adoption of such physical distancing automatically and without the need of coercion, will prevent the occurrence of large or smaller social gatherings without authorities having to specify the rules. This is implicit in the principle of nudging: it will be the providers, the entrepreneurs of personal service sectors who will have to come up with organisational innovations enabling physical distancing in the safe delivery of such services.

Most noteworthy, however, is the purely national setting within which most virology and epidemiological science-based policy advice is currently framed. This contrasts sharply with the actual scientific research in the field which is today purely global, based on shared data and open access. For years now, epidemiological studies have taken individual countries as ‘containers’ for data collection and data analysis. It is also the national setting that provides the framework for estimating the capacity of medical facilities, especially the total number of available intensive care units needed to handle COVID-19 patients in each country. In the case of Europe and as a result, it has led to the reintroduction of internal borders which had ‘disappeared’ 25 years ago for fear of cross-border contamination. Doing so, COVID-19 has undermined the notion of European values. This policy brief is my attempt to clarify the situation….(More)”.

The Data Delusion: Protecting Individual Data is Not Enough When the Harm is Collective

Essay by Martin Tisné: “On March 17, 2018, questions about data privacy exploded with the scandal of the previously unknown consulting company Cambridge Analytica. Lawmakers are still grappling with updating laws to counter the harms of big data and AI. In the Spring of 2020, the Covid-19 pandemic brought questions about sufficient legal protections back to the public debate, with urgent warnings about the privacy implications of contact tracing apps. But the surveillance consequences of the pandemic’s aftermath are much bigger than any app: transport, education, health
systems and offices are being turned into vast surveillance networks. If we only consider individual trade-offs between privacy sacrifices and alleged health benefits, we will miss the point. The collective nature of big data means people are more impacted by other people’s data than by data about them. Like climate change, the threat is societal and personal.

In the era of big data and AI, people can suffer because of how the sum of individual data is analysed and sorted into groups by algorithms. Novel forms of collective data-driven harms are appearing as a result: online housing, job and credit ads discriminating on the basis of race and gender, women disqualified from jobs on the basis of gender and foreign actors targeting light-right groups, pulling them to the far-right.2 Our public debate, governments, and laws are ill-equipped to deal with these collective, as opposed to individual, harms….(More)”.

Science Fictions: Exposing Fraud, Bias, Negligence and Hype in Science

Book by Stuart Ritchie: “So much relies on science. But what if science itself can’t be relied on?

Medicine, education, psychology, health, parenting – wherever it really matters, we look to science for guidance. Science Fictions reveals the disturbing flaws that undermine our understanding of all of these fields and more.

While the scientific method will always be our best and only way of knowing about the world, in reality the current system of funding and publishing science not only fails to safeguard against scientists’ inescapable biases and foibles, it actively encourages them. Many widely accepted and highly influential theories and claims – about ‘priming’ and ‘growth mindset’, sleep and nutrition, genes and the microbiome, as well as a host of drugs, allergies and therapies – turn out to be based on unreliable, exaggerated and even fraudulent papers. We can trace their influence in everything from austerity economics to the anti-vaccination movement, and occasionally count the cost of them in human lives….(More)”.

Emancipation cannot be programmed: blind spots of algorithmic facilitation in online deliberation

Paper by Nardine Alnemr: “Challenges in attaining deliberative democratic ideals – such as inclusion, authenticity and consequentiality – in wider political systems have driven the development of artificially-designed citizen deliberation. These designed deliberations, however, are expert-driven. Whereas they may achieve ‘deliberativeness’, their design and implementation are undemocratic and limit deliberative democracy’s emancipatory goals. This is relevant in respect to the role of facilitation. In online deliberation, algorithms and artificial actors replace the central role of human facilitators. The detachment of such designed settings from wider contexts is particularly troubling from a democratic perspective. Digital technologies in online deliberation are not developed in a manner consistent with democratic ideals and are not being amenable to scrutiny by citizens. I discuss the theoretical and the practical blind spots of algorithmic facilitation. Based on these, I present recommendations to democratise the design and implementation of online deliberation with a focus on chatbots as facilitators….(More)”.

New mathematical idea reins in AI bias towards making unethical and costly commercial choices

The University of Warwick: “Researchers from the University of Warwick, Imperial College London, EPFL (Lausanne) and Sciteb Ltd have found a mathematical means of helping regulators and business manage and police Artificial Intelligence systems’ biases towards making unethical, and potentially very costly and damaging commercial choices—an ethical eye on AI.

Artificial intelligence (AI) is increasingly deployed in commercial situations. Consider for example using AI to set prices of insurance products to be sold to a particular customer. There are legitimate reasons for setting different prices for different people, but it may also be profitable to ‘game’ their psychology or willingness to shop around.

The AI has a vast number of potential strategies to choose from, but some are unethical and will incur not just moral cost but a significant potential economic penalty as stakeholders will apply some penalty if they find that such a strategy has been used—regulators may levy significant fines of billions of Dollars, Pounds or Euros and customers may boycott you—or both.

So in an environment in which decisions are increasingly made without human intervention, there is therefore a very strong incentive to know under what circumstances AI systems might adopt an unethical strategy and reduce that risk or eliminate entirely if possible.

Mathematicians and statisticians from University of Warwick, Imperial, EPFL and Sciteb Ltd have come together to help business and regulators creating a new “Unethical Optimization Principle” and provide a simple formula to estimate its impact. They have laid out the full details in a paper bearing the name “An unethical optimization principle“, published in Royal Society Open Science on Wednesday 1st July 2020….(More)”.

Regulating Electronic Means to Fight the Spread of COVID-19

In Custodia Legis Library of Congress: “It appears that COVID-19 will not go away any time soon. As there is currently no known cure or vaccine against it, countries have to find other ways to prevent and mitigate the spread of this infectious disease. Many countries have turned to electronic measures to provide general information and advice on COVID-19, allow people to check symptoms, trace contacts and alert people who have been in proximity to an infected person, identify “hot spots,” and track compliance with confinement measures and stay-at-home orders.

The Global Legal Research Directorate (GLRD) of the Law Library of Congress recently completed research on the kind of electronic measures countries around the globe are employing to fight the spread of COVID-19 and their potential privacy and data protection implications. We are excited to share with you the report that resulted from this research, Regulating Electronic Means to Fight the Spread of COVID-19. The report covers 23 selected jurisdictions, namely ArgentinaAustraliaBrazilChinaEnglandFranceIcelandIndiaIranIsraelItalyJapanMexicoNorwayPortugalthe Russian FederationSouth AfricaSouth KoreaSpainTaiwanTurkeythe United Arab Emirates, and the European Union (EU).

The surveys found that dedicated coronavirus apps that are downloaded to an individual’s mobile phone (particularly contact tracing apps), the use of anonymized mobility data, and creating electronic databases were the most common electronic measures. Whereas the EU recommends the use of voluntary apps because of the “high degree of intrusiveness” of mandatory apps, some countries take a different approach and require installing an app for people who enter the country from abroad, people who return to work, or people who are ordered to quarantine.

However, these electronic measures also raise privacy and data protection concerns, in particular as they relate to sensitive health data. The surveys discuss the different approaches countries have taken to ensure compliance with privacy and data protection regulations, such as conducting rights impact assessments before the measures were deployed or having data protection agencies conduct an assessment after deployment.

The map below shows which jurisdictions have adopted COVID-19 contact tracing apps and the technologies they use.

Map shows COVID-19 contact tracing apps in selected jurisdictions. Created by Susan Taylor, Law Library of Congress, based on surveys in “Regulating Electronic Means to Fight the Spread of COVID-19” (Law Library of Congress, June 2020). This map does not cover other COVID-19 apps that use GPS/geolocation….(More)”.

Data Journeys in the Sciences

Book edited by Sabina Leonelli and Niccolò Tempini: “This groundbreaking, open access volume analyses and compares data practices across several fields through the analysis of specific cases of data journeys. It brings together leading scholars in the philosophy, history and social studies of science to achieve two goals: tracking the travel of data across different spaces, times and domains of research practice; and documenting how such journeys affect the use of data as evidence and the knowledge being produced. 

The volume captures the opportunities, challenges and concerns involved in making data move from the sites in which they are originally produced to sites where they can be integrated with other data, analysed and re-used for a variety of purposes. The in-depth study of data journeys provides the necessary ground to examine disciplinary, geographical and historical differences and similarities in data management, processing and interpretation, thus identifying the key conditions of possibility for the widespread data sharing associated with Big and Open Data. 

The chapters are ordered in sections that broadly correspond to different stages of the journeys of data, from their generation to the legitimisation of their use for specific purposes. Additionally, the preface to the volume provides a variety of alternative “roadmaps” aimed to serve the different interests and entry points of readers; and the introduction provides a substantive overview of what data journeys can teach about the methods and epistemology of research….(More)”.

Are Food Labels Good?

Paper by Cass Sunstein: “Do people from benefit from food labels? When? By how much? Public officials face persistent challenges in answering these questions. In various nations, they use four different approaches: they refuse to do so on the ground that quantification is not feasible; they engage in breakeven analysis; they project end-states, such as economic savings or health outcomes; and they estimate willingness-to-pay for the relevant information. Each of these approaches runs into strong objections. In principle, the willingness-to-pay question has important advantages. But for those who has that question, there is a serious problem. In practice, people often lack enough information to give a sensible answer to the question how much they would be willing to pay for (more) information. People might also suffer from behavioral biases (including present bias and optimistic bias). And when preferences are labile or endogenous, even an informed and unbiased answer to the willingness to pay question may fail to capture the welfare consequences, because people may develop new tastes and values as a result of information….(More)”.