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Weiye Loh

Harvard professor spots Web search bias - Business - The Boston Globe - 0 views

  • Sweeney said she has no idea why Google searches seem to single out black-sounding names. There could be myriad issues at play, some associated with the software, some with the people searching Google. For example, the more often searchers click on a particular ad, the more frequently it is displayed subsequently.

    “Since we don’t know the reason for it,” she said, “it’s hard to say what you need to do.”

  • But Danny Sullivan, editor of, an online trade publication that tracks the Internet search and advertising business, said Sweeney’s research has stirred a tempest in a teapot. “It looks like this fairly isolated thing that involves one advertiser.”

    He also said that the results could be caused by black Google users clicking on those ads as much as white users.

    “It could be that black people themselves could be causing the stuff that causes the negative copy to be selected more,” said Sullivan. “If most of the searches for black names are done by black people . . . is that racially biased?”

  • On the other hand, Sullivan said Sweeney has uncovered a problem with online searching — the casual display of information that might put someone in a bad light. Rather than focusing on potential instances of racism, he said, search services such as Google might want to put more restrictions on displaying negative information about anyone, black or white.
Weiye Loh

Unhappy meal: Data retention bill could lure sex predators into McDonalds, libraries - 0 views

  • mandatory data retention legislation. The bill that they have proposed requires that Internet Service Providers, such as Comcast and Time Warner, save records of the IP addresses they assign to their customers for a period of 18 months.
  • Data retention is a controversial topic and loudly opposed by the privacy community. To counter such criticism, the bill's authors have cunningly (and shamelessly) named it the Protecting Children from Internet Pornographers Act of 2011. This of course means that anyone who opposes data retention must go on record as opposing measures to catch sexual predators.
  • The bill includes a curious exception to the retention requirements: it doesn't apply to wireless data providers, such as AT&T and Verizon, or operators of public WiFi networks, such as Starbucks and McDonalds.

    When questioned about this, a Republican committee staffer told CNET in May that the wireless loophole was added because wireless networks are designed in such a way that IP addresses are assigned to multiple users or accounts and they are "not technologically capable of retaining the type of data that law enforcement needs because that's not how their system works."

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  • This explanation is completely bogus. Wireless providers, like wireline broadband providers, are quite capable of retaining logs of the IP addresses they temporarily issue to their customers. Many wireless providers, such as Sprint and Verizon, already retain IP logs for at least a year.

    The true explanation for the loophole is, I believe, that the wireless carriers have powerful and remarkably effective lobbyists.

    In this opinion piece, a cybersecurity researcher argues that loopholes in a new data retention bill push those wanting to use the 'Net anonymously into cafes, libraries, and fast food restaurants. The following op-ed does not necessarily represent the opinions of Ars Technica.
Weiye Loh

Singapore M.D.: You CAN put a price on everything... - 0 views

  • The study aims to calculate the costs incurred as a consequence of crime, which includes "monetary loss in traditional terms" and "monetising the loss of life and trauma suffered by victims".

    Costs of crime prevention and enforcement will also be tallied. The study seeks to find out costs borne by private entities - such as security expenditure and insurance - as well as costs borne by public bodies such as proactive police patrols in anticipation of crime.The police also intend to calculate the costs incurred in response to crime - investigating cases, apprehending suspects as well as the costs expended by the State in prosecuting, convicting and incarcerating suspects.
  • While costs of crime prevention - such as installing alarm systems - and the State's response to crime could be measured, sociologist Paulin Straughan felt it might be "impossible" to measure the social costs of a spate of violence on a community. Social isolation and mistrust from these crimes would impact social capital on a community which would be difficult to estimate, she argued.

    However, the former Nominated Member of Parliament felt calculating the cost of crime would serve as "a reality check" for any society.
  • "We live in a world that is driven by economics," Associate Professor Straughan said. "We can't understand or appreciate unless it is documented in dollars and cents. So, this is one way of documenting it (crime) in dollars and cents to show you that every burglary cost you this (amount) … and highlight the importance of crime prevention."
    As with healthcare and other valuable services, police work costs money; but as the cost is not borne by the user, the true cost is hidden and abuse occurs. Does this study by the SPF signal a desire on the part of the government to shift the cost of security from the public to the direct consumers? I certainly hope so. Now there will be people who will tell you that you cannot put a price on security (and health) - the truth is, you can: they just don't want to pay for it.
Weiye Loh

Genetic Sequencing Will Have to Wait: Links Between Genes and Behavior Still Largely Un... - 0 views

  • A recent article in The New York Times reported that over 100 studies show a relationship between genes and criminality but that the environment plays a key role in the effects of this relationship:

    “Kevin Beaver, an associate professor at Florida State University’s College of Criminology and Criminal Justice, said genetics may account for, say, half of a person’s aggressive behavior, but that 50 percent comprises hundreds or thousands of genes that express themselves differently depending on the environment.

    He has tried to measure which circumstances — having delinquent friends, living in a disadvantaged neighborhood — influence whether a predisposition to violence surfaces. After studying twins and siblings, he came up with an astonishing result: In boys not exposed to the risk factors, genetics played no role in any of their violent behavior. The positive environment had prevented the genetic switches — to use Mr. Pinker’s word — that affect aggression from being turned on. In boys with eight or more risk factors, however, genes explained 80 percent of their violence. Their switches had been flipped.”

  • “This idea that if something is genetic it’s deterministic is a misconception that we have to get over because saying that genes are involved in depression does not necessarily mean that someone who has certain genetic variants is doomed to become depressed, it just means that under certain circumstances, he or she may have to do certain things to help alleviate it, but it’s not unchangeable. You can change your brain, you can change your brain in many different ways and genetics is just one of many of these ways.”
  • In fact, environment plays the same crucial role for criminality as it does for obesity and depression.

    In an interview I did for a story in The Michigan Daily on depression research, Dr. Margit Burmeister, a professor of human genetics and a researcher in the Molecular and Biological Neuroscience Institute at the University of Michigan, explained the dangers the public oversimplifying the link between genetics and depression:

Weiye Loh

A Brief Primer on Criminal Statistics « Canada « Skeptic North - 0 views

  • Occurrences of crime are properly expressed as the number of incidences per 100,000 people. Total numbers are not informative on their own and it is very easy to manipulate an argument by cherry picking between a total number and a rate.  Beware of claims about crime that use raw incidence numbers. When a change in whole incidence numbers is observed, this might not have any bearing on crime levels at all, because levels of crime are dependent on population.
  • Whole Numbers versus Rates
  • Reliability

    Not every criminal statistic is equally reliable. Even though we have measures of incidences of crimes across types and subtypes, not every one of these statistics samples the actual incidence of these crimes in the same way. Indeed, very few measure the total incidences very reliably at all. The crime rates that you are most likely to encounter capture only crimes known and substantiated by police. These numbers are vulnerable to variances in how crimes become known and verified by police in the first place. Crimes very often go unreported or undiscovered. Some crimes are more likely to go unreported than others (such as sexual assaults and drug possession), and some crimes are more difficult to substantiate as having occurred than others.

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  • Complicating matters further is the fact that these reporting patterns vary over time and are reflected in observed trends.   So, when a change in the police reported crime rate is observed from year to year or across a span of time we may be observing a “real” change, we may be observing a change in how these crimes come to the attention of police, or we may be seeing a mixture of both.
  • Generally, the most reliable criminal statistic is the homicide rate – it’s very difficult, though not impossible, to miss a dead body. In fact, homicides in Canada are counted in the year that they become known to police and not in the year that they occurred.  Our most reliable number is very, very close, but not infallible.
  • Crimes known to the police nearly always under measure the true incidence of crime, so other measures are needed to better complete our understanding. The reported crimes measure is reported every year to Statistics Canada from data that makes up the Uniform Crime Reporting Survey. This is a very rich data set that measures police data very accurately but tells us nothing about unreported crime.
  • We do have some data on unreported crime available. Victims are interviewed (after self-identifying) via the General Social Survey. The survey is conducted every five years
  • This measure captures information in eight crime categories both reported, and not reported to police.

    It has its own set of interpretation problems and pathways to misuse. The survey relies on self-reporting, so the accuracy of the information will be open to errors due to faulty memories, willingness to report, recording errors etc.

  • From the last data set available, self-identified victims did not report 69% of violent victimizations (sexual assault, robbery and physical assault), 62% of household victimizations (break and enter, motor vehicle/parts theft, household property theft and vandalism), and 71% of personal property theft victimizations.
  • while people generally understand that crimes go unreported and unknown to police, they tend to be surprised and perhaps even shocked at the actual amounts that get unreported. These numbers sound scary. However, the most common reasons reported by victims of violent and household crime for not reporting were: believing the incident was not important enough (68%) believing the police couldn’t do anything about the incident (59%), and stating that the incident was dealt with in another way (42%).
  • Also, note that the survey indicated that 82% of violent incidents did not result in injuries to the victims. Do claims that we should do something about all this hidden crime make sense in light of what this crime looks like in the limited way we can understand it? How could you be reasonably certain that whatever intervention proposed would in fact reduce the actual amount of crime and not just reduce the amount that goes unreported?
  • Data is collected at all levels of the crime continuum with differing levels of accuracy and applicability. This is nicely reflected in the concept of “the crime funnel”. All criminal incidents that are ever committed are at the opening of the funnel. There is “loss” all along the way to the bottom where only a small sample of incidences become known with charges laid, prosecuted successfully and responded to by the justice system.  What goes into the top levels of the funnel affects what we can know at any other point later.
Weiye Loh

BBC News - Should victims have a say in sentencing criminals? - 0 views

  • If someone does you wrong, should you have a say in their punishment?
  • Should victims have a say in sentencing criminals? That partly depends upon what you mean by "have a say".

    A weak form of involvement would have a judge listen to a statement from victims, but ensure the judge alone does the sentencing.

    A slightly stronger form would be when the impact on victims is considered as part of assessing the moral seriousness of the crime. The strongest form would be when victims have a direct say in the type of sentence.

    So which is the more just?

  • A utilitarian approach, which seeks people's greatest happiness and is associated with the British philosopher Jeremy Bentham, can provide one reason why victims should, in part, play judge. It can be called the therapeutic argument.
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  • However, this might backfire.

    Given the choice, many victims might desire longer sentences than the judiciary would allow. When that desire is not satisfied, their anguish might be exacerbated. The therapeutic argument has also been called the "Oprahisation" of sentencing.

  • The second, Kantian approach emphasises reason and rights.
  • It stresses the law should be rational, and that includes keeping careful tabs on the irrational feelings that are inevitably present during legal proceedings. This would be harder to do, the more the voice of victims is heard.
  • More seriously still, strong forms of victim sentencing would reflect the capabilities of the victim. A victim who could powerfully express their feelings might win a longer sentence. That would be irrational because it would suggest that a crime is more serious if the victim is more articulate.
  • Taking considerations of moral seriousness into account would fit within a third approach, the one that stresses the common good and virtue and is associated with Aristotle.

    Man with black eye Would you want to meet the person who did this to you?

    Understanding the moral seriousness of a crime is important because it helps the criminal to take responsibility for what they've done. Victim feelings are also a crucial component in so-called restorative justice, in which the criminal is confronted with their crime, perhaps by meeting the victim.

  • virtue ethics approach would be concerned with the moral state of the victim too. Victims may need to forgive those who have wronged them, in order that they might flourish in the future. An impersonal legal system, that does not allow victims a say, might actually help with that, as it ensures objectivity.
Weiye Loh

If suspect Jared Lee Loughner has schizophrenia, would that make him more likely to go ... - 0 views

  • Shortly after Jared Lee Loughner had been identified as the alleged shooter of Arizona Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, online sleuths turned up pages of rambling text and videos he had created. A wave of amateur diagnoses soon followed, most of which concluded that Loughner was not so much a political extremist as a man suffering from "paranoid schizophrenia."
  • For many, the investigation will stop there. No need to explore personal motives, out-of-control grievances or distorted political anger. The mere mention of mental illness is explanation enough. This presumed link between psychiatric disorders and violence has become so entrenched in the public consciousness that the entire weight of the medical evidence is unable to shift it. Severe mental illness, on its own, is not an explanation for violence, but don't expect to hear that from the media in the coming weeks.
  • Seena Fazel is an Oxford University psychiatrist who has led the most extensive scientific studies to date of the links between violence and two of the most serious psychiatric diagnoses—schizophrenia and bipolar disorder, either of which can lead to delusions, hallucinations, or some other loss of contact with reality. Rather than looking at individual cases, or even single studies, Fazel's team analyzed all the scientific findings they could find. As a result, they can say with confidence that psychiatric diagnoses tell us next to nothing about someone's propensity or motive for violence.
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  • The fact that mental illness is so often used to explain violent acts despite the evidence to the contrary almost certainly flows from how such cases are handled in the media. Numerous studies show that crimes by people with psychiatric problems are over-reported, usually with gross inaccuracies that give a false impression of risk. With this constant misrepresentation, it's not surprising that the public sees mental illness as an easy explanation for heartbreaking events. We haven't yet learned all the details of the tragic shooting in Arizona, but I suspect mental illness will be falsely accused many times over.
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