Bigger Data Isn’t Always Better Data

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By Cathy O'Neil When making a decision such as whether to hire, insure or lend to someone, is more data better? Actually, when it comes to fairness, the opposite is often true. Consider a recent Harvard Business Review experiment, which involved sending 316 fake applications to the largest U.S. law firms. All the applicants were among the top 1 percent of students at their schools, but other information -- such as their names, college clubs and hobbies -- provided hints about their gender and social class. The result: Upper-class males were four times as likely to get a callback as other candidates, including upper-class women. This suggests that even among equally qualified candidates, the added information gave potential employers something not to like, such as a lower-class background, a bad…
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Harvard Launches Data Science Initiative

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Harvard has launched the Data Science Initiative, a University-wide program that aims to bring together data scientists in different fields. The primary objective of this program is to bridge disciplines and promote collaboration across Harvard through data science, according to a press release. “This initiative will connect research efforts across the University in this emerging field. It will facilitate cross-fertilization in both teaching and research, paving the way to methodological innovations and to applications of these new tools to a wide range of societal and scientific challenges,” University Provost Alan M. Garber ’76 said in the press release. The initiative is led by Francesca Dominici, a biostatistics professor at the School of Public Health, and David C. Parkes, a computer science professor and dean at the School of Engineering and…
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