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Art and Science

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We had a wonderful event at Georgetown yesterday — the opening of the new space for the Georgetown Environment Initiative (Regents Hall, Suite 391). An unusual feature of the initiation of the space was a showing of the art of Denise Milan whose creations of mixed media portray links between humanity and nature.

The art transformed the space, enlivening it, and evoking the purpose of the Environment Initiative (GEI) – to convey the import of scientific findings to affect public discourse and beliefs regarding environmental issues.

After the opening, there was a panel discussion sponsored by the Lowey lecture series of the School of Foreign Service (especially the Science, Technology, and International Affairs program), the Global Futures Initiative, and the GEI. A set of experts from science, arts, and the environmental movement discussed the art exhibit. A real focus of the panel was the potential impacts of a collaboration of science and the arts.

One panelist, a Nobel laureate in physics, opined that the arts and sciences share several attributes. One is that they both seek understanding of reality. They are seeking insight and deeper appreciation of how things work and of new meanings of observations around us. They seek new perceptions of individual truths and relationships among them. They value basic foundational principles, but seek innovation in method and insight. They disproportionately value the newness of a piece of work. Hence, they are constantly undergoing change.

But there were also observations about important differences between art and science. Art often evokes emotion in its audience. Science eschews emotions. Science demands very explicit, unambiguous meaning. Art evokes multiple interpretations from the same work. Indeed, a piece of work that evokes uniquely powerful meanings by each viewer is often viewed as especially impactful. Each seek to create something beautiful, but they do so in very different ways.

Scientists have found inspiration for new approaches to their craft from studying art. Artists have found inspiration from scientific perspectives.

The panel agreed on one point: Combining science and art is often needed to influence human behavior. Repeated efforts to communicate the scientific findings about climate change and other environmental changes as the sole influence on action have achieved too little effect. Appealing to basic human emotions – love of family and children, future sustenance of oneself, beauty of nature – may be more impactful.

Hearing scientists and humanists discuss the same topic together, with deep respect for each other’s knowledge was a privilege for me. It would be good for all of us to reach across such boundaries for mutual benefit.

Entrepreneurship as a Way of Thinking

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Over the past few decades, evidence has grown that one engine of innovation in a society is the business start-up, the proverbial garage-based company. Few days go by without a media celebration of some new, disruptive, entrepreneurial initiative that blossomed into a major enterprise.

Following this trend, many business schools developed co-curricular activities that provide support for students to engage in the creation of new businesses. Some schools even have venture-capital funds supporting those activities.

At Georgetown, the McDonough School of Business has benefited from the success of StartupHoyas, with courses, off-campus activities, and other ways of connecting entrepreneurial alumni with students who aspire to follow in their footsteps.

Entrepreneurship is a way of thinking. Its motivation is solutions, with a premium placed on new approaches. Often these solutions are novel combinations of existing knowledge, previously unthought-of uses of existing technologies, and information-intensive practices

Entrepreneurship is a way of life. A common theme of biographies of entrepreneurs is that they are motivated by building not by money. They are resilient to failure. Indeed, they seek the greater success in bouncing back, in learning from failures of one idea, in order to succeed at an even bolder moves.

Entrepreneurship is an approach to solving problems. It focuses on identifying gaps and unmet needs; it intensely studies human behaviors tied up with the needs; it is devoted to improvement through trial and error, sometimes even randomized controlled trials; it’s conscious of what solutions can scale to larger application.

Indeed, this way of thinking, this way of life, this way of approaching problems is not inherently limited to the business world. We at Georgetown have many examples of students and faculty entrepreneurs in diverse settings. The entrepreneurial spirit is thriving in research centers in which new solutions are being evaluated every day. Each research breakthrough is a bold act of creation, requiring much entrepreneurship. Georgetown is alive with diverse social entrepreneurial thrusts: At the Center for Social Justice, the clinical law activities at the Law Center, the Beeck Center for Social Impact and Innovation, maker spaces at the university, and scores of other units.

In short, entrepreneurial approaches can exist in every human endeavor.

An open question as we think of the future of Georgetown is how can we expose every student to entrepreneurship so that they will be armed with those skills in whatever career they pursue.

Could we enlarge our concept of entrepreneurial activity across the wide spectrum of the university? What learning spaces might be opened to allow students to learn the skills they need? Is learning entrepreneurial thinking compatible with experiential learning initiatives? What can be learned about entrepreneurship in traditional pedagogy? How much of the practice of entrepreneurship in business can translate easily to other fields? How do we construct realistic experiences of failure to help students learn the resilience so powerful among entrepreneurs?

Documenting the Scholarly Product of Academics

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With the rise of the Internet and digital records of publications, comparisons of quality of universities are increasingly utilizing statistics based on this documentation (e.g., the Times Higher Education university rankings). Many academic fields themselves are comparing the product of scholars by using counts of citations to work (through h-indexes and other statistics). Journals are routinely compared on their impact partially through such citation evidence. Some academic fields have rated their journals into tiers of “quality” based on these numbers. Platforms like Google Scholar and ResearchGate are building repositories of documentation of the work of scholars.

At the same time, we have learned that the practice of evaluating the impact of work is highly variable across fields. Some fields have a scholarly culture in which citations of related work are mandatory for the credibility of the research product. Other fields have no culture supporting citations and view them as irrelevant to the quality of the scholarship in question.

Some fields use the journal article as the basic unit of research output; others use books and monographs as the basic unit. Some fields are built around individual scholarship in which a book-length product might take 6 or more years to produce. Others are built around teams of collaborating researchers in which articles might be produced at the rate of 5-10 per year from each team.

Finally, few would claim that the use of counts of articles/books and citations fully capture the contribution to human knowledge of a scholar’s work. There are too many examples of a single product of a scholar being transformative, sometimes decades after its inception.

While a one-size-fits-all evaluation tool is not appropriate, having tools to compare how universities vary on some standard statistics might be useful. Such was the motivation of Academic Analytics, a faculty-inspired data base that counts articles, books, citations, grants, and professional society awards. The data are available at the count level for many universities across the country, with the ability to compare like departments/units across universities.

Some faculty, given the comments above, see little value in comparing counts of articles and citations and other outputs. Other faculty could find it a useful auxiliary piece of evaluative information, if the counts were accurate.

Over the summer, the Provost Office examined the correspondence between what faculty listed on their curricula vitae (CV’s) and their Academic Analytics records. The categories of scholarly activities analyzed included: academic papers, external grants, scholarly books, and academic awards. The project was conducted in two phases.

In the first phase we examined CV’s of all current faculty members from the McCourt School who were represented in Academic Analytics (AA) for a total of 21 faculty. Two research assistants compared the data from AA with the faculty member’s CV independently and then cross-checked each other’s work for quality assurance. For each scholarly item included in our analysis the item was marked either (1) In AA and on the CV, (2) In AA but not on the CV, or (3) Not in AA but on the CV. During this phase a few analysis parameters were decided:

  1. We limited the analysis to only the years on which AA had data (e.g., AA presents academic papers published only within the last 5 years).
  2. We included data that we knew would not be in AA in order to examine the under-representation of scholarly activities of our faculty (e.g., AA does not collect information on grants from foundations, but we included any such grants found on a CV in our dataset).
  3. For any category 3 items (not in AA but on the CV), we would look at the granular data to determine if there is any obvious pattern that would explain the missing data.

For the McCourt School faculty, Academic Analytics captured scholarly books fairly accurately, missing 5%. The situation worsened for academic papers, where 35% of articles published and listed on CVs were not captured. Surprisingly, several articles in the area of economics, a standard disciplinary area, were not captured because they were in venues that were not covered by the data base. About 30% of the grants obtained by McCourt faculty were missed, mostly because they were private foundation grants, not covered by the database.

In the second phase of our project we collected AA data from 350 randomly chosen faculty members in the College. We were able to find current CVs for 348 of these faculty and conducted the same analysis described above on these CVs. In contrast to the McCourt finding, AA was not as accurate in reflecting scholarly books published by faculty in the College, missing 19%. While the database does not cover books from foreign presses as fully as US presses, not all the missing were published by foreign presses.

Academic papers, including conference proceedings, were poorly represented by AA with only 48% captured. More than a dozen departments had at least one instance of a missed paper. The two departments that faired least well were Computer Science and Psychology. Some of the missing products in Computer Science are conference proceedings. The case for Psychology is less clear, but might be related to publishing in sub-discipline.

As with McCourt faculty, grants awarded by non-federal foundations or institutions were not captured by AA which, therefore, significantly underrepresented faculty grant activity.

Finally, we discovered some articles in the Academic Analytics database assigned to a Georgetown faculty member that do not appear on the faculty member’s CV. We drilled into the case to try to understand the cause. It appears to be a person mismatch, with the database having attached to a Georgetown faculty member’s record a set of articles published by someone else who has a very similar name.
In short, the quality of AA coverage of the scholarly products of those faculty studied are far from perfect. Even with perfect coverage, the data have differential value across fields that vary in book versus article production and in their cultural supports for citations of others’ work. With inadequate coverage, it seems best for us to seek other ways of comparing Georgetown to other universities. For that reason, we will be dropping our subscription to Academic Analytics.

Learning to Understand Others

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One of the wonderful attributes of Georgetown is its devotion to inter-group dialogue as a tool to deeper understanding and solidarity. We have several organizations and activities that help us understand perspectives of alternative faith systems. We continue “A Different Dialogue” permitting students to develop comfort with, and skill for, discourse on difficult topics in order to foster positive, meaningful, and sustained cross-group relationships (issues like Ability and Disability, Religion, Social Class, Sexual Orientation, and Race and Ethnicity). We have a thriving Center for Social Justice that engages Georgetown students, faculty, and staff in close collaboration with disadvantaged DC community members. The Doyle Engaging Difference Program offers faculty and students opportunities in learning techniques for pedagogical innovation relevant to issues of difference and diversity, identity and inclusion.

All of us are embedded in a larger society struggling to deal with long run effects of racism, fragmented relationships between law enforcement institutions and their communities, and residential segregation by income and race. Research on the recent violent deaths show large differences by race and ethnicity in how those events are understood. Yet many of us seem to struggle with talking to those outside our own group about these important issues.

We are also members of an institution that is grappling with its own history of slavery and the sale of 272 enslaved persons in 1838. It is doing so in a transparent, public way. It is doing so by reaching out to the descendants of those 272 persons and seeking their help in shaping our actions going forward. Through that, it is attempting to help each of us discover our particular role in grappling with this history.

Conversations across groups from different cultures are difficult. We don’t want to offend anyone. We don’t want to embarrass ourselves by using inappropriate words. We don’t want to make someone in the conversation feel guilty about some prior offense. Yet at the same time we seek to understand the world view of others in the conversation.

Such conversations require a set of social skills that all of us can learn, ones that clearly express our sincere interest in another person’s thoughts. None of us come equipped with full knowledge of how different words are perceived in groups with whom we don’t frequently interact. Trained facilitators can help us over these hurdles.

The Provost’s Committee for Diversity met yesterday and discussed a proposal to create discussion fora with such facilitated dialogue across subgroup lines. We will use the deep experiences in mounting such discussions within the Student Affairs staff, CNDLS, and the Center for Social Justice. The committee is actively seeking collaborators across the university.

None of us can understand others as clearly as we understand ourselves, but honest dialogue with others is a necessary step to any increase in the understanding of others. This is a special moment at Georgetown; generations from now deserve that all of us be engaged as part of progress on these matters. Learning to talk and listen to one another is a good first step.

Unbridled Interdisciplinarity

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I’ve written in the past about opportunities to advance knowledge and serve the world through interdisciplinary work within universities.

At Georgetown, much of this is led by faculty who want to seize the opportunity to advance their own scholarship by combining knowledge from multiple fields.  It is they who are giving energy to the creation of new graduate programs stimulated by unsolved global problems.  There are, for example, proposals approved or being forwarded by faculty interested in the environment, a coalition from the natural and social sciences; one on aging, a coalition from psychology, demography, and the biomedical sciences; and one on global business and international affairs.

Other efforts have allowed faculty who wish to collaborate in their research across multiple fields – the Georgetown Environment Initiative (GEI) has supported work with natural scientists, social scientists, and humanists. The McCourt Massive Data Institute has supported work by social scientists and computer scientists.  The senior vice president for research has supported work on forced migration involving historians, anthropologists, and computer scientists.

Further, major foundations that fund faculty scholarship have signaled the importance of interdisciplinary work, most notably the National Science Foundation in its “big ideas” initiative.  Similar efforts can be found in many private foundations and the National Endowment for the Humanities.

The perceived push for interdisciplinarity most likely arises partly because the typical organization of intellectual activity is disciplinary or field-centric.  Universities organize themselves into domains defined by a identifiable set of theories, a set of enduring questions to be addressed, a set of methods espoused as productive of sound evidence, a culture defining what dissemination media are valued, and a set of professional associations that help to preserve all of the above.  These domains have gaps among them; some of the gaps can be filled with unexploited combinations of the domains.  Hence, the call for interdisciplinarity as an attempt to fill gaps.

While interdisciplinarity is demonstrating its value across a whole set of problems, it’s important to note that interdisciplinarity itself is dependent on disciplines.  The promise of interdisciplinarity to make progress on unsolved problems depends on the promise of mixing methods and theories form existing disciplines.  Several of my colleagues have made the observation that good interdisciplinarity requires strong disciplines.  I couldn’t agree more.

The need to initiate interdisciplinary thrusts have come from faculty who see the value of combining fields.  An increasing number of new faculty have generated such aspirations in their graduate programs.  They and their colleagues have forwarded exciting new ideas for blends of knowledge from multiple domains.  We have supplemented our faculty search process procedures to permit such joint hires; we are supporting such scholarship.  This attention is necessary to nurture such activity.

In doing so, however, we must simultaneously assure that the core strength of the disciplines is similarly nurtured.  The best interdisciplinary work contributes to the advancement of multiple fields.  The best disciplinary work can catalyze new interdisciplinary solutions.  Getting the right mixture is the challenge of all universities at this time.

Subscribing to the Provost’s Blog

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Today’s blog post was sent via an email to invite the Georgetown Community (and the world) to subscribe to the provost’s blog. I write a blog post each week, usually on Wednesdays. You can follow the blog by subscribing to the weekly email containing the text of the week’s blog post by entering your email in the left panel box labeled “SUBSCRIBE TO BLOG VIA EMAIL.”

Find out what issues Georgetown is facing; what initiatives we want to mount to make Georgetown stronger; what new things are happening that you might want to follow more closely.

FAQs on the Provost’s Blog:

I get too many emails already, why should I subscribe to the provost’s blog?

Georgetown, along with all other US universities, is facing unprecedented external forces and opportunities that will stimulate changes in how we achieve our mission. Rising tuition, the desire to expand access to quality higher education, the availability of innovative learning technologies, the need to integrate research experiences into education – all demand new ways of thinking about Georgetown.

Reading the blog allows you to stay in touch with those issues from a Georgetown perspective.

I’m a [student/faculty member/staff member]. Will the blog be at all relevant to my life at Georgetown?

The blog has tackled the topics of how undergraduate education is changing, the innovative teaching and research styles of faculty, and the role of Georgetown in the larger Washington community. All members of the Georgetown community have a stake in its future regardless of their role, and the blog posts reflect that.

No one cares what I think; I can have no input into important decisions facing Georgetown. How can I comment on what the provost says?

Every post in the blog gives you the opportunity to express your opinion on the topic covered in the post. The more readers comment, the more input the Provost’s Office has for decisions it must make.

If I subscribe, do I have a way to unsubscribe?

Every time a blog post is sent out to you by email (usually once a week on Wednesdays), the same email gives you a chance to unsubscribe.

You might want to try it for a while, then make a decision. I welcome your input via comments to the various posts.

In Service to Others

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One of the central missions of Georgetown is nurturing an environment where faculty, staff, and students can contribute to the common good of the society. The most frequent focus of discussion in this regard is helping disadvantaged populations both inside and outside the US. However, in a real way, service to others has a more universal mandate.

Thus, when the notion of “service to others” has an unusual twist, it’s useful to remind ourselves of its relevance. In the past few days, Georgetown submitted for review by a DC government agency, the Zoning Commission, a proposed 20-year campus plan. In the DC context, a “campus plan,” is a comprehensive statement of intentions of the university regarding programs, enrollments, building development and use, community activities, campus residential facilities, athletic and other spectator activities, transportation to and from campus, and a variety of other activities. The commission that reviews these plans looks for coordination and assent of the neighborhoods surrounding the university campus. The commission must approve the plan going forward.

Over the prior decades, the discussions with the neighborhood representatives and the university officials led to repeated impasses and litigation. Through the enlightened leadership of the neighborhood groups and the active participation of university officials, the Georgetown Community Partnership was formed in 2012 in an attempt to do better – to build a cooperative approach at the next campus plan instead of a conflictual one. The success of this endeavor is obvious in that all relevant neighborhood commissions, as well as the university, have now approved the plan prior to its delivery to the commission for action.

In a real way, the plan is a manifestation of “service to others” because it codifies an institutional commitment to be a good neighbor. It involves an ongoing commitment to offer community events to the neighbors, both social and intellectual. That is, the university seeks to share its human resources with the neighborhood. It also has an ongoing commitment to the security and quality of life within the neighborhood:

  • The coordination and funding of off-duty, University-paid DC police officers to patrol the neighborhoods surrounding campus during nighttime hours
  • Continued implementation of the Student Neighborhood Assistance Program (“SNAP”), which permits the University to proactively address, and respond to, issues of student safety, student behavior, and street noise during nighttime weekend hours
  • Late night transportation from the main campus to off-campus locations during nighttime weekend hours, to supplement nighttime neighborhood transportation options
  • Regular litter and trash patrols throughout the West Georgetown and Burleith communities, in addition to bulk trash collection during student move-in and move-out
  • Policies for on-campus and off-campus parties that encourage more on-campus social activity and address the impacts of off-campus student parties
  • Continued efforts, in partnership with community leaders, to promote safe and legally compliant rental properties, “good neighbor” behavior from local landlords, and responsibility for property maintenance by student tenants
  • Commitment to residential presence of University professional staff in the neighborhoods, to serve as liaisons between students and the community and provide educational and policy enforcement support

These commitments codify the behaviors of the University community, both staff and students. Together with a commitment to ongoing dialogue, we are building a positive, sustainable, supportive relationship between an institution and its neighborhood. Only through this can we serve those who share this part of Washington with us.

In short, one of the most important lasting legacies of the process of creating the new campus plan could be a greater shared understanding of the perspectives of the university among the neighbors and of the neighbors among the university. Serving others breeds an understanding of others, and that’s all good.

The Annual Renewal

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Most professional careers evolve as a near-continuous stream of work, day to day, month to month, year to year. It is true that they sometimes experience jumps in the level of responsibility; sometimes there are moves to completely new jobs, at a different organization. In service careers, clients might be new, but their issues might be similar to those of earlier clients. In manufacturing, each week brings new production problems, of course, but the fact of production problems is not new. However, the basic raw materials of one’s work often remain the same.

Thus, it is rather distinctive that academia runs on a very strict annual cycle. There is a start, early each fall; there is a finish, in late spring.

For faculty the summer is often an intense refocusing on their intellectual passions, pursuing their scholarship near full-time. They’re off to archives, field locations, their home office, their laboratory, or, for a few, the relative quiet of summer on a university campus.

Then in the fall the cycle begins again.

What’s refreshing about this life is the real sense of renewal at the initiation of the new cycle. It’s a fresh start.

While the course being taught might be the same course as last year, each new offering permits an updating. How should the course incorporate new work in the field that has emerged in the past year? Can my own research work over the last summer be used to inject new energy into the course?

Even if the course design is relatively unchanging, the students are new. They bring fresh energy to their studies. Each set of energy is different. They bring with them vivid reactions to world events that impinge on the coursework. Each of them is an individual; understanding their approach to the work requires individual attention. This gets our diagnostic juices flowing – what will work to open up the learning for them?

This newness each year also allows instructors to move on from any suboptimal performance on their part from the prior year. They too can be new. They have the freedom to learn from failings in last year’s class edition to try a new approach at an explanation or a new set of Socratic questions to facilitate learning.

The differences across years almost always produce some student asking a question that makes instructors think anew about key issues in the field. It refreshes the instructors and sometimes makes them think about their own research in a new way. This is an infrequently noted benefit of the combined job of teaching and research. The two sides of this life act as facilitators to each other. What might appear on the surface to be an naïve comment or question, when reflected upon by the instructors over the subsequent days, becomes a new approach to a key problem in their own scholarship. Those classes that allow the instructors to integrate their own scholarship into the class are precious resources, in that regard.

None of this could happen as efficiently if academia didn’t have this built-in annual cycle of renewal. Each fall is a fresh start. Each fresh start brings the promise of yet unachieved success. We’re lucky that way.

Combatting the Effects of Implicit Bias in Faculty Searches

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Great work by social and cognitive psychologists over the past few years has revealed one weakness of human judgment by developing the notion of “implicit bias,” often taken to mean embedded stereotypes that heavily influence our decision-making without our conscious knowledge. (Take your own implicit bias measurements). As the work evolved some are attempting various interventions to stimulate active reasoning to interrupt the unconscious judgments (see here, for example).

That research investigated some mitigations like efforts to actively recognize stereotyping in a given context; to consciously reflect on individuals who violate the stereotypic assumptions; to seek more detailed information about individuals of a given group based on personal, rather than group attributes; to take the perspective of a member of the given group; and to increase interactions with members of the given group. The experiment showed some impacts of these simple interventions.

Some of the interventions appear to succeed simply by our becoming aware that we are subject to unconscious influences on our judgment. This knowledge alone appears to act as a brake to “fast-thinking” decisions, as Kahneman calls them. It allows our values to be more explicit inputs to our evaluations of others, rather than using superficial criteria.

These are issues that all of us face in daily life, but they are of specific interest as we mount searches for new faculty in the coming year. How can we wisely achieve our goal of increasing the diversity of faculty?

Some lessons of other universities speak to the importance of diversity within search committees themselves; others focus on recruiting actively to produce a diverse pool of candidates from the inception of the search process. And then there are efforts to expose potential effects of implicit biases.

We think we can apply these research results about implicit bias to faculty search committees as part of orientation for search committee chairs. Led by our new Vice-Provost for Faculty, Reena Aggarwal, in collaboration with Rosemary Kilkenny, we also plan to have materials that other search committee members can use.

These efforts are probably most important after fully deterministic criteria are applied. That is, sometimes we receive applications for tenure line positions from Phd’s in the wrong field or from ABD candidates. Sometimes an assistant professor from a lower ranked institution applies for a chaired full professor appointment. Such applications can be easily rejected as unambiguously unqualified.

Some of the techniques are simply ways to force more attention to an evaluation – returning to the stated search criteria, forcing explicit documentation on strengths and weaknesses in addition to overall ratings.

Search committees administer complicated multidimensional and inherently subjective evaluations of potential faculty colleagues. Slowing down the thinking and understanding the individual candidate as much as possible are worthwhile goals.

Taking Care with Big Data

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I recently read a news article about a household tragedy related to sloppy use of big data. The offending event was connected with a digital portal that provided street addresses based on an IP address for an Internet connection. IP addresses cannot be mapped specifically to a street address in many cases, but can be mapped to a smallish geographical area. However, some IP addresses cannot be mapped at all. For those IPs, the mapping service chose a spot in the middle of the country, in Kansas, as the “default” position. Since the mapping problem with IP addresses is indeed prevalent, there were millions of such IP addresses that were mapped to the same default address.

One use of the service was apparently the assignment of a street address to IP addresses that were suspected to be involved with criminal activity. The outcome of the assignment practice as used by the law enforcement agencies was to investigate possible criminal activity at the house. Understandably, this came as quite a surprise to the owners, as wave after wave of different law enforcement agents descended on their house. They’re suing the data-mapping firm.

What went wrong here, from a data ethics point of view? (By “data ethics” here I mean honest communication of what is known and not known about the data.) The mapping firm has many records for which a street address is unknowable. They face a choice. They could mark the case with a code that denotes their own lack of knowledge. They would, therefore, admit that their information is incomplete for any purpose. Or, if they knew that the case lay within a specific country but not exactly where, they could have used a code that denoted that fact itself (“inside the US, not known where”). That code would thereby communicate the level of knowledge they do possess as well as the level they cannot possess.

Instead they chose to impute a specific location. Their imputation, however, was of the grossest type, probably choosing the geographical center of the country. In the best of circumstances, this will be incorrect for all cases but a very few. Perhaps the biggest irony of the story is that after the lawsuit the firm is reported to have changed the location chosen as the default location for cases missing location data. It is reported that they have chosen to impute into all those records a single location that is in the middle of a lake! (One can only imagine what law enforcement agents will do, given this information.)

All data have errors. In a colloquial sense, all data are wrong. But sometimes they’re useful for a given purpose. This occurs when the data are well described and curated in a manner to anticipate multiple uses. Further, the nature of the data is communicated to users in order to minimize uses that are not well supported by the data attributes. Finally, users have a responsibility for appropriate use of data, to know what the data describe well, and to know uses for which the data are ill suited. This requires some attention to detail.

The news story does not elaborate on what is known about the documentation provided users about the nature of the street address information, nor about the sophistication of users. But harm was done to the owners of the default address, harm that could have been so easily avoided with practices common to research data sets. The fact that the “correction” of the default address was to choose a point in a body of water demonstrates how much basic understanding of data ethics is lacking in the data owner.

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