natematias's blog | MIT Center for Civic Media

The Cornhole Experiment: A Workshop for Teaching Randomized Trials

In recent years, UK and US governments have increasingly turned to randomized trials to test new policies, most recently in the case of the White House executive order on behavioral science. In the meantime, economics has been undergoing what Angrist and Pischke have called a "credibility revolution," that focuses on offering causal explanations to questions. This has especially been the case in development economics, where "randomistas" have grown in prominence after an influential and controversial 2004 study on the effect of deworming on school attendance in Kenya.

Doctoral Feedback Session on Causal Inference at OSSM: Deadline Oct 19

Are you a PhD student who is doing research that uses methods of causal inference (randomized trials, natural experiments, etc) on social media and user generated data?

If so, I have good news, of a last minute addition to the AAAI Spring Symp. on Observational Studies through Social Media and Other Human-Generated Content. This workshop, which takes place at Stanford on March 21-23, is a 3-day gathering that brings together researchers across disciplines to discuss approaches and issues for causal inference research.

The organizers have kindly offered space for a doctoral feedback session for PhD students planning to do related work. This informal gathering will bring together PhD students to get feedback on their research designs and work together to improve the quality of our methods. Since so many of the speakers and attendees are experienced at using causal inference methods, it's the perfect context to share early stage work and get feedback on your research.

The Story Behind MIT and Boston University's New Legal Clinic for Student Innovation

Today, MIT President Rafael Reif announced an exciting collaboration between MIT and the Boston University School of Law "to assist students with a broad range of legal matters related to entrepreneurship and cyber law, from basic issues associated with the founding of startup companies to novel questions about the application of laws and regulations to students’ innovation-related activities" (here's the BU press release). The legal clinic is the culmination of years of discussions and work by student advocates, faculty, and administration to address a recurring need at MIT for robust and supportive legal help for students doing innovative work.

In this blog post, I tell our story and take a moment to thank the hundreds of people who helped create this safety net for creative innovation at MIT.

Common Questions About Our Online Harassment Report

The process of reporting and responding to online harassment is the least understood and arguably most important part of the problem. Most of what we know about receiving harassment comes from the small number of people who are courageous enough to face the risk of telling their personal stories.

Maeve Duggan's recent Pew report about online harassment helps us understand the experience of harassment across a nationally-representative sample, but efforts by companies to address online harassment are still mostly secret. For all sorts of safety, legal, and business fears, companies are reluctant to reveal the details of how they enforce their policies around harassment and hate speech. So when Women, Action, and the Media approached me to analyze Twitter harassment reports collected over three weeks with the informed consent of participants, I knew it was a unique opportunity to grow our understanding of the problem.

Recent Articles and Blog Posts at The Atlantic and Microsoft Research

In the past month, I've been privileged to publish two articles in The Atlantic's Technology section and several posts over at Microsoft Research's Social Media Collective. I'm posting links to them here so anyone following on RSS or checking my archives can be aware of them.

The Tragedy of the Digital Commons: Advocates for fairer, safer online spaces are turning to the conservation movement for inspiration:
“How do you fix a broken system that isn't yours to repair?” In this Atlantic article, I look at the work of community volunteers to offer peer support and also advocate for change, in online platforms like Amazon Mechanical Turk, and along Boston's Charles River. I try to set out a long-term hope for what it might mean to be proud of our online spaces in the long term.

Legal Risks to Creative Innovation and Research at College: NJ Drops Its Investigation of MIT Students

Eighteen months after winning a hackathon innovation prize for a clever idea of a new online content business model, the MIT undergraduates who created Tidbit are finally free from the legal nightmare attracted by their proof of concept. Earlier this week, the New Jersey Attorney General dropped their investigation of the students, ending a case that hung over these students for a third of their undergraduate education. I'm incredbily relieved for the Tidbit undergrads, though I'm disappointed and upset that they had to face this legal challenge for so long.

In this post, I want to share what we're doing to figure out how to prevent similar problems in the future, or at least to better support other innovative student projects with legal problems. For more about the Tidbit case, you can read Jeremy Rubin's post, an update by the EFF, and a blog post by Ethan Zuckerman. I strongly suggest you read them.

What Can We Do About Online Harassment? Danielle Citron and Brianna Wu on Legal and Technical Responses

What legal routes are available to people facing online harassment, and what policies might need to be changed to better address this issue?

Anti-Oppressive Design: From Theory to Praxis: Jill Dimond at CivicMIT

This post was liveblogged by J. Nathan Matias, Ethan Zuckerman, Erhardt Graeff, Lilia Kilburn, with illustrations by Willow Brugh

Jill Dimond lives in Ann Arbor Michigan, and hails from rural Western Michigan. The logo for her company, Sassafras, evokes the shape of the state of Michigan. After a degree at the university of Michigan, she moved into industry, working on the App Inventor project, and then completed her PhD at Georgia Tech in Human Centric Design in 2012. Most recently, Jill is a worker owner at Sassafras Tech Collective, a worker owned technology cooperative based in Ann Arbor, and they focus on research and technology for social justice.

Civic Values in Technology Design: Read Along With Me!

When people in society come together to collectively perform a task -- from cleaning up a park to organizing around a cause-- the benefits of their cooperation extend far beyond the specific task at hand. People get to know each other, build bonds of trust, argue their understanding of a situation, and often form long-lasting partnerships, organizations, and communities for learning and action. Within cooperative technologies, these civic and community values are not easily computable. As a result, it is easy to pass over these values in favor of improving the performance of a task, increasing the number of petition signatures, or measuring the immediate outcomes of a social action. A core theme of my work at MIT has been to imagine how new kinds of measures more aligned with civic values, community, and social justice might transform our technology designs and our social interactions online. 

Using Randomized Trials in Policy: Oliver Hauser on the UK Behavioural Insights Team

How can policymakers conduct randomized trials and incorporate them into their policymaking? Over the summer, Oliver Hauser, a PhD student at Harvard, worked at the Behavioural Insights Team in London (@B_I_Tweets), sometimes called the "nudge unit." Yesterday at the Cooperation Working Group that I co-facilitate with Brian Keegan, Oliver shared with us the work that the nudge unit has done before opening up the conversation for discussion.

At Harvard, Oliver works with the Harvard Business School and at the Program for Evolutionary Dynamics at Harvard. He is also author of a recent Nature article: "Cooperating With the Future." Oliver's research focuses on cooperation and pro-sociality, and he often works with organizations using randomized experiments and using the term "Behavioural insight," when he uses research from behavioral sciences applies it in the world.