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Megan Price: The role of data science in the fight for human rights

How data science is being used to bring human rights abusers to justice.

Illustration of a magnifying class

What if all human rights and advocacy organizations had their own in-house data scientists? | Illustration by Kevin Craft

Data scientists are involved in a wide array of domains, everything from health care to cybersecurity to cosmology.

Megan Price and her colleagues at the Human Rights Data Analysis Group (HRDAG), however, are using data science to help bring human rights abusers to justice.

In this episode of the Women in Data Science podcast, she shares how the nonpartisan group played a key role in the case of Edgar Fernando García, a 26-year-old engineering student and labor activist who disappeared during Guatemala’s brutal civil war.

Price, the executive director of HRDAG, says the investigation took years, but their work led to the conviction of two officers who kidnapped García and the former police chief who bore command responsibility for the crime. “It was one of the most satisfying projects that I’ve worked on,” she says.

For a recent project in Syria, Price’s group used statistical modeling and found information previously unobserved by local groups tracking the damage caused by the war. Similarly, in Mexico, she expects HRDAG to gain a better understanding of in-country violence by building a machine learning model to predict counties with a higher probability of undiscovered graves.

Price hopes that in the future human rights and advocacy organizations will have their own in-house data scientists to further combat social injustices around the world, and she believes that data science will continue to play an important role in the field.

You can listen to the Women in Data Science podcast on Apple Podcasts, via the Women in Data Science website or Stanford Engineering Magazine.