The Myth of Comprehensive Data

Dart-Throwing Chimp

“What about using Twitter sentiment?”

That suggestion came to me from someone at a recent Data Science DC meetup, after I’d given a short talk on assessing risks of mass atrocities for the Early Warning Project, and as the next speaker started his presentation on predicting social unrest. I had devoted the first half of my presentation to a digression of sorts, talking about how the persistent scarcity of relevant public data still makes it impossible to produce global forecasts of rare political crises—things like coups, insurgencies, regime breakdowns, and mass atrocities—that are as sharp and dynamic as we would like.

The meetup wasn’t the first time I’d heard that suggestion, and I think all of the well-intentioned people who have made it to me have believed that data derived from Twitter would escape or overcome those constraints. In fact, the Twitter stream embodies them. Over the past two decades, technological, economic, and political changes have…

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I had a culture column at WIRED. And then I didn’t. Here’s what happened.

monica byrne

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Photo: an illustration by Eric Battle and John Jennings from Nnedi Okorafor’s The Book of the Phoenix. 

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A month ago, with the Hugo fracas in full swing, an editor at Wired wrote me and said, “If you have something to say, you have the platform.” Given Wired’s enormous readership, what an incredible thing. I wrote the piece in an afternoon, they put it up, and it did well.

Shortly thereafter, the same editor said she and the Culture editor wanted me to write a column for them. Which was even more thrilling. And given that my op-ed had been about systemic bias in favor of white men in literature, I thought they knew exactly what they were getting with me: a commitment to changing the conversation around what’s considered newsworthy art. I wrote to the editor, “Boyhood or the new Avengers movie? I could give a shit. A Girl Walks Home Alone at…

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Dream as if you’ll live forever, Live as if you’ll die today

Ramblings of a College Introvert

We’re responsive creatures, always yearning for some kind of carnal or spiritual fulfillment. So many of our conversations are dedicated to that one question: What makes us feel alive? For me it’s neither people nor adventures. It’s the shapes and colors that make up a city I love.

When I took a semester off in Cali, all I could think about was how much I missed NYC and how exciting it would be to blog about college life there. But four months after I returned to NYU I’ve only written four posts on my adventures here in the Big Apple. Ostensibly it’s because I just haven’t had the time. In reality it’s because I’ve kind of lost confidence in my writing. I don’t think I’ll ever be as good a writer as I would like to be, and I certainly don’t think I’m good enough to capture the sense of wonder I feel every time…

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Komodo National Park – Here Be Dragons…

incidental naturalist

In 2007, a Komodo dragon killed an eight-year-old boy.  This was the first fatal attack on a human by one of the giant lizards in 33 years. “The Komodo bit him on his waist and tossed him viciously from side to side,” a national park spokesman, Heru Rudiharto, said.  “The boy died from massive bleeding half an hour later.”

This is the stuff of legends; huge reptiles capable of killing human beings, living on a remote Indonesian island. This may have been the first fatal attack for a while but it is just one of many attacks on people that have resulted in serious injury.

My childhood fascination with nature grew out of watching the behaviour of amphibians. Like many children, I learned about cycles of life by watching frog spawn become tadpoles and finally crawl out of the water on frogs’ legs. This interest naturally extended to the…

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The French Approach to “Anti-racism”: Pretty Words and Magical Thinking

Aware of Awareness

I first came to France twelve years ago during my junior year abroad. I was the first person in my family to get a passport and I could barely contain my excitement. In the winter of 2003, two years before the riots that followed the untimely deaths of 15 year old Zyed Benna and 17 year old Bouna Traore, I landed in Paris bright-eyed and bushy tailed, armed with a very shaky grasp of French and a naive fascination with this beautiful country.

As an African-American, I was vaguely aware that France did not deal with issues of race the way we do in the United States. And when I happened to forget, French white people were keen to remind me. In one of the sociology classes I took at a university in the south of France, I hesitantly raised my hand to ask a question. The white French professor had…

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When You Lose Weight, Where Does it Go? The Answer May Surprise You

Mitch Kirby

Recently, I was sitting and thinking about all of the diet and exercise suggestions that constantly bombard us from all sides. While trying to determine which techniques would likely yield the largest benefits, I decided to start from the beginning and attempted to answer a seemingly simple question: When we lose weight, where does the weight go? When the fat from our waistline disappears, what happens to it? Answering this question was actually way more difficult than I imagined at the start, and forced me to think back to my time as a molecular biology major in order to answer the question effectively.

After uncovering the answer for myself, I asked others to think about the question to see if the solution was more obvious to them than it was to me. Shockingly, even many physicians I asked were unable to answer this question accurately and completely. Below are the most popular answers…

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