"You can do precise statistics about what's in your database, and may be completely wrong about the world."
March 3, 2012 11:01 PM   Subscribe

The Body Counter Meet Patrick Ball, a statistician who's spent his life lifting the fog of war.

"On March 13, 2002, in a courtroom in The Hague, something different happened. In the trial of Slobodan Milosevic, Patrick Ball, an American statistician, presented numbers to support the case that Milosevic had pursued a deliberate policy of ethnic cleansing. "We find evidence consistent with the hypothesis that Yugoslav forces forced people from their homes, forced Albanian Kosovars from their homes, and killed people," Ball said."

Dr. Ball is the director of the Human Rights Data Analysis Group, which 'designs and builds information management solutions and conducts statistical analysis on behalf of human rights projects.'

Five Questions For Patrick Ball, at Engineering For Change.

He was also the subject of a Wired article from 2002, in which his report on 'ethnic cleansing' in Kosovo is available as a PDF.
posted by the man of twists and turns (4 comments total) 22 users marked this as a favorite
Speaking as someone who knows absolutely nothing about statistics, I think this article did a great job of explaining concepts in a down-to-earth manner. Very cool post! Go Ball!
posted by hypotheticole at 6:19 AM on March 4, 2012

Interesting, upsetting, hopeful.

And useful to see examples around use of statistics, which can get maligned in the non-profit sector as easily manipulated.

I think I will have to read it a few times to really take it in.

Thanks for posting!!
posted by chapps at 10:26 AM on March 4, 2012

I have absolutely no dog in this fight and certainly no training in statistics, but there appear to be questions about his methodology, at least as regards Kosovo. The tribunal observed:

"The Chamber observes that the main intent of Ball and his co-authors—to provide an alternative, innovative way of thinking about political violence—is a potentially commendable one. Likewise, the Chamber does not intend to repudiate the theoretical scientific value of the study and its methodology, which is rather the province of the academic community. However, the Chamber is of the view that such doubt has been cast upon the study’s conclusions that reliance upon them would not be appropriate."

If there's more to the story, I would be most interested in hearing it. My impression on that whole time and place is that there's a whole lot of smoke and mirrors on all sides.
posted by IndigoJones at 11:14 AM on March 4, 2012 [1 favorite]

Interestingly enough, his answer to the last question ties in very much so with this MeFi post: Is Privacy Dead? A conversation. The worst possible invasion of privacy is surveillance stemming from political ideology.

PB: A smartphone is a powerful computer, but how much more powerful could it be five years from now? How could we use that additional power to protect people rather than make it a powerful data collection device for the telco? The telco will always know where you are. And that's a big surveillance problem. Oppressive governments used to have to follow dissidents around. Now they just have to ask the telco where they've been and who've they been talking to. How can we balance that kind of surveillance capacity against the other things that cell phones do for us?

Mr. Ball, you indeed have worth.
posted by BlueHorse at 7:34 PM on March 4, 2012

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