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Renaissance Computing Institute (RENCI) – 

Notes, takeaways, and resources from our November 2022 event

On November 10, 2022, Carolina Data Science Now hosted the ninth iteration of its seminar series, which will strive to link the people, research, and resources by highlighting the many faces of data science across our campus and demonstrating the integral role data science can play in all disciplines.

This Month’s Speakers

The theme of the event was “Navigating Politics & the Law.” The event was moderated by Sarah Davis, and the speakers were selected to provide insight on how data science is used to examine political action, policy processes, and timely issues such as criminal justice and economic change.

Cameron Ballard-Rosa | Political Science, Renaissance Computing Institute (RENCI)

Cameron Ballard-Rosa discussed how he is using data science to understand the political economy of finance, specifically focusing on the current need for governments to find new funding sources for their programs, garnering traditionally elusive conservative support for necessary tax increases.

Read more about the lightning talk here.

Frank Baumgartner | Political Science

Frank Baumgartner seeks to understand if the disparate impacts of various North Carolina legislation were by design. To do so, he and his team analyzed the North Carolina Administrative Office of the Courts’ database and paired their findings with debates, news articles, and other sources that provide insights into the legislative intent behind laws that disproportionately impact minorities in the state.

Read more about the lightning talk here.

Shannon McGregor | School of Journalism & Media

Shannon McGregor discussed how President Trump transferred his presidential authority, legitimizing far-right, “fringe” news outlets within the Republican Party and the broader media ecosystem. Her team’s analysis involved analyzing Trump’s tweets about three far-right news outlets (One America News Network, Newsmax, and Breitbart) in the context of mainstream media recognition and GOP appearances with the far-right outlets, noting increases in both, as Trump provided more legitimacy through his presidential authority.

Read more about the lightning talk here.

Speaker Q&A

Questions for the speakers were collected through an EasyRetro board. Topics during this section included:

  • The difficulty of identifying and recognizing context when analyzing social media and news media posts. This includes a need to understand the temporal and social context, which cannot be automated.
  • A need to recognize the delicacy of labeling and grouping people. Researchers must disentangle people’s feelings about their labels and speak strictly to the existing literature while being careful with language and recognizing that labels do not carry the same meaning for all people.
  • The charged environments researchers enter when analyzing charged political and social topics. Administrative datasets can provide grounding in reality, but it does not mean everyone will always be happy with the outcome. For example, looking at inequities in arrests means entering into the politics of policing, Black Lives Matter, and those who complain about policing. It can be tricky territory.
  • Fraught political issues can be framed carefully to elicit more support. Part of this trend involves backing the ideas up with data, but the other involves providing examples that are less likely to cause tension.
  • To help solve inequalities in the justice system, it may be beneficial for social movement activists to have some training in data science. Unfortunately, when dealing with administrative datasets, however, it isn’t always as easy as plugging the data into Excel and making sense of things. It takes a high level of skill.
  • Politically speaking, populists are defined in the literature as those who are anti-elitist, anti establishment, and have a Manichean outlook; that is, they fundamentally believe that politics is a struggle between good and evil. One of the biggest concerns for these types is people who play by a different set of rules.
  • Research at the intersection of data science and politics is conducted for the sake of information and understanding, but also to potentially influence behaviors in the future. This includes everything from understanding and influencing how politicians support ballot measures to intervening on harms to our communities and democracy from the spread of harmful information.
  • The recent rise of far-right social media platforms shows an increasingly fragmented media sphere, not just across news outlets but in the general population as well. The divide includes spheres of influencers and journalists who have gathered on these sites to further legitimize far-right views, even after the Trump presidency ended.
  • Data science is an important narrative point, even in our narrative-driven society. When looking at the data, researchers need to remember that each data point represents an individual person with their own story. It’s not just all about numbers. There is a whole theory behind the data based on how we observe people interacting across social ecosystems.

During the event, several attendees shared resources relevant to the conversation. A full list of educational programs, funding opportunities, on-campus support services, tools and software, and more shared during Carolina Data Science Now seminars can be found on our Resources page.

Next Seminar

Our next seminar will be held on January 26 at 12 PM (ET). Please stay tuned to our website for the most updated information.

Check out a playlist of our previous events here.

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