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A human rights statistician


Juli pointed me to this article about statistician Patrick Ball:

Since 1988, Ball has been “hacking code” – writing software – to unlock secrets from numbers. He taught himself computer programming so he could get a job that would cover expenses not included in his undergraduate scholarship to Columbia University. . . . He took a leave of absence and went to El Salvador with the Peace Brigades . . . Ball wrote software that allowed the commission to aggregate and analyze the human rights records of officers in the El Salvadoran Army. The results forced a quarter of the military leadership to retire. . . . Kosovo attracted international concern when hundreds of thousands of ethnic Albanian refugees fled to Albania. Amid what seemed little more than chaos, Ball saw dozens of data sources that, could point to the cause of the crisis: “Everything is data to us. A pile of scrungy paper from the border guards – 690 pages – that’s data.” He combined those scrungy papers, one for nearly every family that crossed the border, with crossing records kept by several international organizations; later, he brought in data from 11 sources on civilian deaths in the province. He analyzed the two separately, using one method for patterns of migration and another for mortality. . . .