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The Transformation of Human Rights Fact-Finding$
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Philip Alston and Sarah Knuckey

Print publication date: 2016

Print ISBN-13: 9780190239480

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: January 2016

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780190239480.001.0001

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PRINTED FROM OXFORD SCHOLARSHIP ONLINE (oxford.universitypressscholarship.com). (c) Copyright Oxford University Press, 2021. All Rights Reserved. An individual user may print out a PDF of a single chapter of a monograph in OSO for personal use. date: 26 October 2021

The Bigness of Big Data

The Bigness of Big Data

Samples, Models, and the Facts We Might Find when Looking at Data

(p.425) 20. The Bigness of Big Data
The Transformation of Human Rights Fact-Finding

Patrick Ball

Oxford University Press

This chapter argues first that the notion of “big data” is misleading in most human rights work, and recommends other ways to think about human rights data; second, it argues that the limited, incomplete nature of data about the social world means that using raw data to calculate statistics about the social world can be deeply confusing. In human rights data, especially, much of the universe of violence is deliberately hidden. Third, it explores two examples showing how data on homicides in the context of political conflict are partial, and how in some cases data can be adjusted with statistical models to get less biased estimates. After some reflections on common misunderstandings about what statistics mean, this chapter concludes by recalling that much of the debate about the legitimacy of “big data” is rehashing a debate settled 80 years ago about whether bigger samples are necessarily better.

Keywords:   big data, sampling, modeling, homicide data, bias, legitimacy

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