Data Skeptic

Algorithms are pervasive in our society and make thousands of automated decisions on our behalf every day. The possibility of digital discrimination is a very real threat, and it is very plausible for discrimination to occur accidentally (i.e. outside the intent of the system designers and programmers). Christian Sandvig joins us in this episode to talk about his work and the concept of auditing algorithms.

Christian Sandvig (@niftyc) has a PhD in communications from Stanford and is currently an Associate Professor of Communication Studies and Information at the University of Michigan. His research studies the predictable and unpredictable effects that algorithms have on culture. His work exploring the topic of auditing algorithms has framed the conversation of how and why we might want to have oversight on the way algorithms effect our lives. His writing appears in numerous publications including The Social Media Collective, The Huffington Post, and Wired.

One of his papers we discussed in depth on this episode was Auditing Algorithms: Research Methods for Detecting Discrimination on Internet Platforms, which is well worth a read.

Direct download: auditing_algorithms.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 7:00am PDT

Today's episode begins by asking how many left handed employees we should expect to be at a company before anyone should claim left handedness discrimination. If not lefties, let's consider eye color, hair color, favorite ska band, most recent grocery store used, and any number of characteristics could be studied to look for deviations from the norm in a company.

When multiple comparisons are to be made simultaneous, one must account for this, and a common method for doing so is with the Bonferroni Correction. It is not, however, a sure fire procedure, and this episode wraps up with a bit of skepticism about it.

Direct download: bonferroni-correction2.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 7:00am PDT

A recent paper in the journal of Judgment and Decision Making titled On the reception and detection of pseudo-profound bullshit explores empirical questions around a reader's ability to detect statements which may sound profound but are actually a collection of buzzwords that fail to contain adequate meaning or truth. These statements are definitively different from lies and nonesense, as we discuss in the episode.

This paper proposes the Bullshit Receptivity scale (BSR) and empirically demonstrates that it correlates with existing metrics like the Cognitive Reflection Test, building confidence that this can be a useful, repeatable, empirical measure of a person's ability to detect pseudo-profound statements as being different from genuinely profound statements. Additionally, the correlative results provide some insight into possible root causes for why individuals might find great profundity in these statements based on other beliefs or cognitive measures.

The paper's lead author Gordon Pennycook joins me to discuss this study's results.

If you'd like some examples of pseudo-profound bullshit, you can randomly generate some based on Deepak Chopra's twitter feed.

To read other work from Gordon, check out his Google Scholar page and find him on twitter via @GordonPennycook.

And just for fun, if you think you've dreamed up a Data Skeptic related pseudo-profound bullshit statement, tweet it with hashtag #pseudoprofound. If I see an especially clever or humorous one, I might want to send you a free Data Skeptic sticker.

Direct download: pseudo-profound-episode.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 7:00am PDT

Today's mini episode discusses the widely known optimization algorithm gradient descent in the context of hiking in a foggy hillside.

Direct download: gradient_descent.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 12:00am PDT

This episode is a discussion of data visualization and a proposed New Year's resolution for Data Skeptic listeners. Let's kill the word cloud.

Direct download: lets_kill_the_word_cloud.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 12:00am PDT