Archive for the ‘Sociology’ Category

Back from Conference of the American Society of Criminology (ASC 2008)

Friday, November 21st, 2008

I just got back from ASC 2008 (Conference of the American Society of Criminology). It’s the main conference for everything in criminology and has a wide international attendance. This was the first conference of this kind I attended and it was quite different from what I’m used to. There were more than 20 tracks – yep,20 talks going on at the same time. It’s impossible to pick and choose; the program was a book with a few hundred pages containing only titles and names (no abstracts) of the sessions and talks. Wow… But still way too many talks. I think the conference would be better if there would be a review process of the abstracts as some of the talks didn’t quite match the advertised title.

However, from the sessions I attended about two thirds of the presenters fail to show up. In one particular case I was interested in seeing a talk critical about an psychometric instrument I have worked with and the presenters bailed despite that we saw them in the morning in the conference hotel. That’s something I haven’t seen happen in computer science conferences at all. Some of the studies presented were a bit funny (small sample, no hold-out set etc.). Overall I got one new idea out of it that could turn out to be interesting: a diversity measure for static recidivism risk models.

Unfortunately St. Louis was a bit boring. It has pretty parks, but e.g. Tango dancing ends at 11pm (2am in Denver – at the earliest). Oh well…

Ensemble Predictors and Democracy

Wednesday, November 15th, 2006

I just read an interesting article about how society is usually described in science fiction. Turns out that in all circumstances it is about a very hierarchical, military like structure. There are no suggestions as to how a civilian society might work in the future. Consider things like Star Trek where a bunch of officers command a star ship around and the rest of the people just function. The captain is smart, benevolent and there is rarely an abuse of power. No democracy, no voting, little about how the civilian society of the future might function. There are things like Futarchy, but that’s pretty much all I could find in a quick search (and it wasn’t proposed in a SciFi-novel so it can’t be any good 🙂 ). One of the problems with Democracy might be that people don’t always make the right decision as they don’t have access to all the information or are easily swayed by bad arguments (e.g. negative ads – some of them are just factually wrong). My point is that there haven’t been that many viable alternatives proposed, not even some crazy, outlandish suggestions (think teleportation for means of transport) to give people some new ways to think about this.

There is an interesting book out there called The Wisdom of Crowds. It proposes that large crowds of people can be capable of making decissions better than individuals. Long story short, according to the book four key qualities are necessary to make a crowd smart. The crowd needs to be diverse, so that people are bringing different pieces of information to the table. It must not have somebody at the top dictating the crowd’s answer, and summarize people’s opinions into one collective verdict. The people in the crowd need to be independent, so that they pay attention mostly to their own information, and not worrying about what everyone around them thinks (i.e. being immune to persuasion concepts like social proof).

Random Forests in machine learning are an ensemble method that has very good classification performance. The way it works is that hundreds of decision trees are build, but each on a different training set and with a different choice of features. If all the classifiers are strong (i.e. not able to make perfect predictions, but they tend to do the right thing – they take the information they have and make independent decisions) , then the overall vote of all the trees in the ensemble will tend to minimize the misclassification error. Breiman gave a mathematical proof of why this minimizes the classification error (i.e. bad decisions).

I wonder if something like this might work for political decision making. Leaving problems like corruption and other human fallacies (e.g. looking at what others are doing) aside for a moment and assuming that for all things there are good arguments to be made for and against a bill, a senators vote would depend on how he or she weights the particular arguments for and against the bill. If we assume that senators tend to vote for what they perceive to be the right thing, would giving each senator a random subset of information make the overall senate vote for the “right thing”? Another idea would be to make a political decision, similar to jury duty, by picking a large number of people from the general population at random and have them decide on a particular issue.
Edit:I found some criticism of the Wisdom-of-Crowds theory, such as Wikipedia not being accurate enough or a democracy electing people like Hitler. A good question in both cases would be if people made their decisions independently in these cases or not. I think that independent decisions are difficult to achieve in practice. Also one has to wonder how robust this system is due to the assumption that everybody makes the best decission they can.

Perception of Beauty / Advertising

Thursday, November 9th, 2006

I just found this video on YouTube. Check it out. All I can say is “wow”.

Edit: A parody of the video is very funny…


“Shockers” in the Mainstream Press

Thursday, August 24th, 2006

Lately I found a couple of “shockers” in the mainstream press. Shockers, because my impression is that the press does not try to offend anyone. The articles were challenging the current model in society of where man and woman stand and how things should be. No matter what’s your take on this issue, it’s a loaded topic and I was surprised to find something like this.