Carnegie Mellon University

Working Where Statistics and Human Rights Meet

April 04, 2018

Working Where Statistics and Human Rights Meet

Robin Mejia and Megan Price guest-edited a special issue of the magazine Chance focusing on the use of statistics in supporting human rights

This article first appeared on the CHANCE website in March 2018

By: Robin Mejia and Megan Price

When we tell people that we work at the intersection of statistics and human rights, the reaction is often surprise. Everyone knows that lawyers and journalists think about human rights problems … but statisticians? Yet, documenting and proving human rights abuses frequently involves the need for quantification.

In the case of war crimes and genocide, guilt or innocence can hinge on questions of whether violence was systematic and widespread or one group was targeted at a differential rate compared to others. Similar issues can arise in assessing violations of civil, social, and economic rights. Sometimes the questions can be answered through simple tabulations, but often, more-complex methods of data collection and analysis are required. This is something Richard Savage, former chair of the Department of Statistics at Yale, knew well when he called for more statisticians to get involved in human rights data analysis in his 1984 presidential address to the Joint Statistical Meetings.

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