Is Big Data Your Frenemy?
By Amy Willis
In this week’s EconTalk episode, host Russ Roberts welcomes back Cathy O’Neil, author of the fantastically titled new book, Weapons of Math Destruction. The “weapons” O’Neil is concerned with are problematic algorithms- widespread, in some sense secret or proprietary, and in some way destructive. While Roberts and O’Neil agree about the dangers inherent in certain algorithmic applications, they disagree on many as well.
1. How does the use of recidivism risk scores “create its own reality” in criminal sentencing? According to O’Neil, how does this practice confuse accuracy with causality?
2. Who loses more as a result of school districts employing the teacher value-added model, teachers or students? Why?
3. Both O’Neil and Roberts bemoan the transformation of many college campuses into resort-like settings. Why does this bother them so much, and to what extent does this bother you? What accounts for this transformation–competing for data-driven rankings, or something else?
4. O’Neil, a data scientist, doesn’t object to all algorithms, only those that are destructive. What constitutes a destructive algorithm, in your opinion? How does your evaluation compare to O’Neil’s?
5. What sort of ethical standards for the use of big data does O’Neil support? To what extent do you think these are warranted? Potentially effective? Do you think having an ethical data advisor is a good idea?)