Observing Many Researchers Using the Same Data and Hypothesis Reveals a Hidden Universe of Uncertainty

Paper by Nate Breznau et al: “This study explores how researchers’ analytical choices affect the reliability of scientific findings. Most discussions of reliability problems in science focus on systematic biases. We broaden the lens to include conscious and unconscious decisions that researchers make during data analysis and that may lead to diverging results. We coordinated 161 researchers in 73 research teams and observed their research decisions as they used the same data to independently test the same prominent social science hypothesis: that greater immigration reduces support for social policies among the public. In this typical case of research based on secondary data, we find that research teams reported widely diverging numerical findings and substantive conclusions despite identical start conditions. Researchers’ expertise, prior beliefs, and expectations barely predicted the wide variation in research outcomes. More than 90% of the total variance in numerical results remained unexplained even after accounting for research decisions identified via qualitative coding of each team’s workflow. This reveals a universe of uncertainty that is hidden when considering a single study in isolation. The idiosyncratic nature of how researchers’ results and conclusions varied is a new explanation for why many scientific hypotheses remain contested. It calls for greater humility and clarity in reporting scientific findings..(More)”.

Citizen science tackles plastics in Ghana

Interview with Dilek Fraisl and Omar Seidu by Stephanie Olen: “An estimated 8 million tonnes of plastic waste leaks into the ocean every year, and Ghana generates approximately 1.1 million tonnes of plastics per year. This is due to the substantial economic growth that Ghana has experienced in recent years, as well as the 2.2% population growth annually, which has urged the Ghanaian authorities to act. Ghana was the first African country to join the Global Plastic Action Partnership in 2019. Ghana also has a growing and active citizen science beach clean-up community including one of our project partners, the Smart Nature Freak Youth Volunteers Foundation (SNFYVF).

Before our work, Ghana had no official data available related to marine plastic litter. Based on the data collected through citizen science initiatives in the country and our project ‘Citizen Science for the SDGs in Ghana’ (CS4SDGs), we now know that in 2020 alone more than 152 million plastic items were found along the beaches in the country…

One of the key factors for the success of our project was due to Ghana’s progressive approach to the use of new sources of data for official statistics. For example, the Ghanaian Government passed the new Statistical Service Act in 2019, which mandates the GSS to coordinate statistical information across the whole government system, develop and raise awareness of codes of ethics and practices to produce data, and include new sources of data as a valid input for production of official statistics. This shows that the effective legal arrangements can prepare the groundwork for citizen science data to be used as official statistics and for SDG monitoring and reporting. Political commitment from the partners in Ghana also helped to achieve success. Ultimately, without the support of citizen science and action groups in the country that actually collected the litter and the data on the ground, this project would have never been successful. Since the start, citizen scientists have been willing to work with the government agencies and international partners, as well as other key stakeholders to support our project, which played a significant role in achieving our result…(More)”.

How citizen science can help realize the full potential of data

Blog by Haishan Fu, Craig Hammer, and Edward Anderson: “Citizen science, a critical pillar of Open Science, advocates for greater citizen involvement in knowledge generation, research goals, and outcomes. By engaging citizens directly in data collection, drone imaging, and crowdsourcing into project design, we provide policymakers and citizens with valuable data and information they need to make informed and effective decisions.   

Furthermore, abiding by the principles of citizen science, we can help communities establish a new social contract around data stewardship, grounded in the principles of value, trust, and equity, as proposed by the World Development Report 2021: Data for Better Lives. The report puts forward a vision of data governance that is multistakeholder and collaborative. It explicitly builds data production, protection, exchange, and use into planning and decision-making, and integrates participants from civil society, private sectors, and importantly, the public into the data life cycle and into the governance structures of the system. 

As the experience of the Resilience Academy shows, increasing our commitment to citizen science by inviting public engagement before, during, and after development projects can help engage a wider swath of the public with the Bank’s Open Data Initiative.   

The Tanzania-based project empowers students to adapt low-cost, low-complexity tools and open methods to collect and manage data from their changing environments. Resilience Academy students also participate in solving real-world challenges in their community, such as mapping flood- and rockfall-prone zones, surveying tourism and infrastructure needs, and other areas currently lacking critical data. 

This “learning by doing” approach equips young people with the long-term tools, knowledge, and skills they need to address the world’s most pressing urban challenges and ensure resilient urban development. This project is demonstrating the many co-benefits that come from hands-on learning, job creation, and data management-related skills. 

Incorporating citizen science into open data agendas and project design, however, will necessitate some changes to how the World Bank and other multilateral development agencies approach development projects….(More)”.

Tech-Fuelled Inequality Could Catalyze Populism 2.0

Article by Kyle Hiebert: “Geopolitical crises, looming climate chaos and the relentless expansion of surveillance capitalism are driving the development of the technologies of tomorrow — artificial intelligence (AI), semiconductors, green energy, big data, advanced robotics, virtual and augmented reality, nanotechnology, quantum computing, the Internet of Things and more.

Each of these tools holds tremendous potential to improve lives and help solve the world’s biggest problems. But technological change always produces winners and losers by giving rise to new concentrations of power and novel forms of inequality. For example, a study by the US National Bureau of Economic Research found that between 50 and 70 percent of lost wages in America from 1980 to 2016 stemmed from automation — far more than from aggressive offshoring or the withering of labour unions.

However, automation has brought about new occupations as well, evidenced by the absence of mass joblessness in the United States over the same period. Despite the lost wages, the US unemployment rate from 1993 to 2019 stayed around or below seven percent when excluding a four-year recovery following the exogenous shock of the 2008 financial crisis. Productivity has also increased by nearly 62 percent since 1979. But the wages of American workers have failed to keep pace, rising only 17.5 percent, signalling a deep disconnect in recent history between new technologies being adopted and the average worker being better off as a result.

Similar circumstances across the democratic world have provoked severe political consequences over the past decade. Disaffected populations caught on the wrong side of economic transformations and alienated by the accompanying social changes spurred by globalization have aligned themselves with populists pitching simplistic solutions to complex problems. Polarization has skyrocketed; international cooperation has frayed.

As the so-called Fourth Industrial Revolution accelerates in coming years, upending how economies and societies operate, a new form of populism rooted in tech-fuelled disparities may eventually consume democratic nations. To avoid this outcome, governments must get serious about harnessing new technologies to make the democratic process more agile and responsive to voters’ frustrations…(More)”

Who rules the deliberative party? Examining the Agora case in Belgium

Paper by Nino Junius and Joke Matthieu: “In recent years, pessimism about plebiscitary intra-party democracy has been challenged by assembly-based models of intra-party democracy. However, research has yet to explore the emergence of new power dynamics in parties originating from the implementation of deliberative practices in their intra-party democracy. We investigate how deliberative democratization reshuffles power relations within political parties through a case study of Agora, an internally deliberative movement party in Belgium. Employing a process-tracing approach using original interview and participant observation data, we argue that while plebiscitary intra-party democracy shifts power towards passive members prone to elite domination, our case suggests that deliberative intra-party democracy shifts power towards active members that are more likely to be critical of elites…(More)”

The Law As a Conversation among Equals

Book by Roberto Gargarella: “In a time of disenchantment with democracy, massive social protests and the ‘erosion’ of the system of checks and balances, this book proposes to reflect upon the main problems of our constitutional democracies from a particular regulative ideal: that of the conversation among equals. It examines the structural character of the current democratic crisis, and the way in which, from its origins, constitutions were built around a ‘discomfort with democracy’. In this sense, the book critically explores the creation of different restraints upon majority rule and collective debate: constitutional rights that are presented as limits to (and not, fundamentally, as a product of) democratic debate; an elitist system of judicial review; a checks and balances scheme that discourages, rather than promotes, dialogue between the different branches of power; etc. Finally, the book proposes a dignified constitutional democracy aimed at enabling fraternal conversation within the framework of a community of equals…(More)”.

Citizens’ Assemblies Are Upgrading Democracy: Fair Algorithms Are Part of the Program

Essay by Ariel Procaccia: “In 1983 the Eighth Amendment to the Irish constitution enshrined an abortion ban that had prevailed in the nation for more than a century. Public opinion on the issue shifted in the new millennium, however, and by 2016 it was clear that a real debate could no longer be avoided. But even relatively progressive politicians had long steered clear of the controversy rather than risk alienating voters. Who would be trustworthy and persuasive enough to break the deadlock?

The answer was a bunch of ordinary people. Seriously. The Irish Parliament convened a citizens’ assembly, whose 99 members were chosen at random. The selection process ensured that the group’s composition represented the Irish population along dimensions such as age, gender and geography. Over several months in 2016 and 2017, the assembly heard expert opinions and held extensive discussions regarding the legalization of abortion. Its recommendation, supported by a significant majority of members, was to allow abortions in all circumstances, subject to limits on the length of pregnancy. These conclusions set the stage for a 2018 referendum in which 66 percent of Ireland’s voters chose to repeal the Eighth Amendment, enabling abortion to be legalized. Such an outcome had been almost inconceivable a few years earlier.

The Irish citizens’ assembly is just one example of a widespread phenomenon. In recent years hundreds of such groups have convened around the world, their members randomly selected from the concerned population and given time and information to aid their deliberations. Citizens’ assemblies in France, Germany, the U.K., Washington State and elsewhere have charted pathways for reducing carbon emissions. An assembly in Canada sought methods of mitigating hate speech and fake news; another in Australia recommended ethical approaches to human genome editing; and yet another in Oregon identified policies for COVID pandemic recovery. Taken together, these assemblies have demonstrated an impressive capacity to uncover the will of the people and build consensus.

The effectiveness of citizens’ assemblies isn’t surprising. Have you ever noticed how politicians grow a spine the moment they decide not to run for reelection? Well, a citizens’ assembly is a bit like a legislature whose members make a pact barring them from seeking another term in office. The randomly selected members are not beholden to party machinations or outside interests; they are free to speak their mind and vote their conscience…(More)”.

Connected in Isolation: Digital Privilege in Unsettled Times

Book By Eszter Hargittai: “The vast majority of people in wealthy, highly connected, or digitally privileged societies may have crossed the digital divide, but being online does not mean that everyone is equally connected—and digital inequality reflects experience both online and off. In Connected in Isolation Eszter Hargittai looks at how this digital disparity played out during the unprecedented isolation imposed in the early days of the coronavirus pandemic.

During initial COVID-19 lockdowns the Internet, for many, became a lifeline, as everything from family get-togethers to doctor’s visits moved online. Using survey data collected in April and May of 2020 in the United States, Italy, and Switzerland, Hargittai explores how people from varied backgrounds and differing skill levels were able to take advantage of digital media to find the crucial information they needed—to help loved ones, procure necessities, understand rules and risks. Her study reveals the extent to which long-standing social and digital inequalities played a critical role in this move toward computer-mediated communication—and were often exacerbated in the process. However, Hargittai notes, context matters: her findings reveal that some populations traditionally disadvantaged with technology, such as older people, actually did better than others, in part because of the continuing importance of traditional media, television in particular.

The pandemic has permanently shifted how reliant we are upon online information, and the implications of Hargittai’s groundbreaking comparative research go far beyond the pandemic. Connected in Isolation informs and expands our understanding of digital media, including how they might mitigate or worsen existing social disparities; whom they empower or disenfranchise; and how we can identify and expand the skills people bring to them…(More)”.

Collective Intelligence in Action – Using Machine Data and Insights to Improve UNDP Sensemaking

UNDP Report: “At its heart, sensemaking is a strategic process designed to extract insights from current projects to generate actionable intelligence for UNDP Country Offices (CO) and other stakeholders. Also, the approach has the potential to increase coherency amongst portfolios of projects, surface common patterns, identify connections, gaps and future perspectives, and determine strategic actions to accelerate the impact of their work.

 By adopting a data-driven approach and looking into structured and semi-structured data from https://open.undp.org/ as well as unstructured data from Open UNDP, project documents and annual progress reports of selected projects, this endeavor aims to extract useful insights for the CO colleagues to better understand where their portfolio is working and identify entry points for breaking silos between teams and spurring collaboration. It is designed to help improve Sensemaking, support better strategy and improve management decisions…(More)”.

A Philosophy for Future Generations

Book by Tiziana Andina: “If societies, like institutions, are built to endure, then the bond that exists between generations must be considered. Constructing a framework to establish a philosophy of future generations, Tiziana Andina explores the factors that make it possible for a society to reproduce over time.

Andina’s study of the diachronic structure of societies considers the never-ending passage of generations, as each new generation comes to form a part of the new social fabric and political model.

Her model draws on the anthropologies offered by classical political philosophies such as Hobbes and Machiavelli and the philosophies of power as discussed by Nietzsche. She confronts the ethics and function of this fundamental relationship, examines the role of transgenerationality in the formation and endurance of Western democracies and recognizes an often overlooked problem: each new generation must form part of social and political arrangements designed for them by the generations that came before…(More)”.