The executive director of the Human Rights Data Analysis Group (HRDAG) discusses how data science is being used to combat injustices in Central America and the Middle East.
Data scientists are involved in a wide array of domains, everything from healthcare to cybersecurity to cosmology. Megan Price and her colleagues at the Human Rights Data Analysis Group (HRDAG), however, are using data science to help bring human rights abusers to justice.
The nonpartisan group played a key role in the case of Edgar Fernando García, a 26-year-old engineering student and labor activist who disappeared during Guatemala’s brutal civil war. Price, the executive director of HRDAG, says the investigation took years, but their work led to the conviction of two officers who kidnapped Garcia and the former police chief who bore command responsibility for the crime. “It was one of the most satisfying projects that I’ve worked on,” she says. Price discussed the case in more detail as well as other cases she’s worked on over the years and the role data science played in an interview recorded for the Women in Data Science podcast recorded at Stanford University.
For a recent project in Syria, Price’s group used statistical modeling and found information previously unobserved by local groups tracking the damage caused by the war. Similarly, in Mexico, she expects HRDAG to gain a better understanding of in-country violence by building a machine learning model to predict counties with a higher probability of undiscovered graves.
Price hopes that in the future human rights and advocacy organizations will have their own in-house data scientists to further combat social injustices around the world, and she believes that data science will continue to play an important role in the field. She advises young people entering the field of data science and social change to learn a programming language, pick an editor and find mentors and cheerleaders to help them along the way.