Are you sure you’re an ethical data scientist? Build your ethical imagination
Are you sure you’re an ethical data scientist? Build your ethical imagination


This 90-minute workshop reveals researchers' hidden attribution biases and equips them with an ethical imagination to do data science better.

As an Ethics for Data Science instructor, I was struck by the disjunction between students’ excellent ability to find ethical gaps in other peoples’ projects and the blind spots they exhibited when critiquing their own work.

I developed a two-part 90 minute workshop to reduce the good intention bias. First, we interactively review three well-known cases including the Facebook/Cambridge Analytica case. These lively cases demonstrate how the basic tenets of research ethics can be adapted for data science.

Next, teams of 3-5 are led through a 60 minute Predicting College Failure case. This case is drawn from reality. A college has purchased an algorithm to predict which students will leave before graduation and why. We address ethical questions that arise during data collection, data cleaning, model development, intervention design, and FERPA compliance.

We also explore questions such as: how accurate does a model have to be before deployment? Is it fair to give students who show signs of financial hardship more aid if it reduces the amount available for students who are not visibly struggling? How do we manage the risk that labeling students high risk for departure may become a self-fulfilling prophecy? How do we weigh the collective impact on the school's retention capacity against the unique needs of individual students? Teams will produce a strategy for maximizing the social benefit of the intervention and minimizing negative impacts.


Laura Norén is a data science ethicist and researcher currently working in cybersecurity at Obsidian Security in Newport Beach. She holds undergraduate degrees from MIT, a PhD from NYU where she recently completed a postdoc in the Center for Data Science. Her work has been covered in The New York Times, Canada's Globe and Mail, American Public Media's Marketplace program, in numerous academic journals and international conferences. Dr. Norén is a champion of open source software and those who write it.

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