Data research aims to predict manifestations

While financial indices may look like numbers and a Google search like a trivial collection of words, the potential application of both to anticipate future protests around the world is currently under study at the University, according to the University. Data Science Initiative website.

A joint project entitled “A Quantitative Measure of Freedom of Assembly”, led by researchers from the University, the University of Michigan, the University of Calgary and the University of Chicago hope to explore the application of the data to predict outbreaks. The group was the first to receive funding through a grant called Data Science @ Brown, offered by the DSI.

Combining their respective expertise in economics – in particular its relationship with political institutions, government development and protests – the team intends to apply the latest economic data and theories to compare freedom of assembly in various countries, wrote Jesse Shapiro, professor of economics and co-principal investigator of the project, in a e-mail to the Herald. The project will also rely on machine learning techniques, according to DSI’s website. The other principal investigators are Yusuf Neggers, assistant professor at the Ford School of Public Policy at the University of Michigan, and Mehdi Shadmehr, associate professor of economics at the University of Calgary and visiting associate professor at the Harris School of Public Policy. from the University of Chicago. “We hope that our research will contribute to a better understanding of the variation and determinants of freedom of assembly,” Shapiro wrote in an email to The Herald, adding that researchers are currently and “actively” using the grant to obtain and analyze the data.

Danilo Freire, postdoctoral associate researcher at the University, is not involved in the project, but has focused on political instability in his research. This topic piqued his interest due to his time in Brazil, when he was exposed to the possibility of imminent violence, he said. Similar to the ISD-funded project, Freire also engaged in research involving machine learning. His job was specifically to try to predict and thus create a genocide alert system, he said. Timing is crucial for interventions in such atrocities, he said, adding that “I think it’s not about predicting everything correctly, it’s just being better than human judgment.”

Social scientists typically look at cause and effect to draw conclusions and create predictions; the methods employed in some social science research, including the Protest Data Project and Freire’s research, hope to provide new and potentially more accurate way to achieve the same end result, Freire said. Machine learning allows the process of social science analysis to become more flexible because it does not need to rely on fixed assumptions used in old statistical research methods, he added.

It is “important that someone fund… early warning systems… not just for science, but for humanity,” Freire said.

The group’s proposal was the first application received by ISD, and it was subsequently chosen to receive the funds. The proposal met all the criteria for the grant, which includes establishing interdisciplinary research and helping to achieve ISD goals, wrote Associate Director of the Data Science Initiative, Alden Bumstead.

CIO seeks to promote research within data science, which involves the creation and use of methods and tools to draw conclusions from data. It also aims to increase learning in the field and examine societal and cultural applications of data science methods. CIO established the grant with these goals in mind, Bumstead wrote in an email to the Herald. Bumstead is hopeful that this funding – potentially in combination with other financial aid – will serve as a catalyst for published findings or additional investigations under this project, she wrote.

These types of studies require intensive use of computers and technology, so financial support from grants like Data Science @ Brown further helps researchers by allowing them to take risks in the hope of getting better results, said Freire. There are currently more opportunities available in data science than there are people working to pursue them, he added; he hopes that funding for this project will increase interest in data science.

DSI hopes to award additional grants during the semester, Bumstead wrote in an email to the Herald.

Sean N. Ayres