Data science: Because data isn’t just for scientists

In February 2013, a 31-year-old man was arrested driving a car in La Crosse County, Wisconsin. Eric Loomis pleaded guilty to eluding an officer and was sentenced to six years in prison. Before his sentencing, Loomis received a score from an algorithm called COMPAS, a program developed by software company Northpointe to score the rate of recidivism for parole candidates.

Loomis’s COMPAS score, which claimed to suggest he was at a high risk of committing another crime, played a part in his six-year sentence. Loomis later challenged the use of the algorithm in court, saying it violated his right to due process. Loomis lost the case and COMPAS remains in use throughout the country. COMPAS is an example Dan Runfola, the director of William & Mary’s new data science program, uses to demonstrate the ethical issues with relying on predictive data to calculate recidivism rates.

Author: Adrienne Berard


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