Data Dive Post-Mortem

November 10th-12th saw the long awaited and oft rescheduled coding event, Data Dive, finally come to fruition. About twenty-two Wesleyan students gathered in the Exley fish bowl on Friday evening, and split into teams that tackled a multitude of questions related to gun data. After two days of work, the groups presented a fascinating combination of visualizations, analysis, and activism.

The participants explored a wide range of topics, from connections between gun sales and mass shootings, to location patterns of gun sales, to keywords that purchasers typically search for. As Wesleyan’s partner for this event, EveryTown, provided the volunteers with several extensive data sets. One of these was compiled from Armslist, an advertising site specifically allowing private sellers to market their guns to other individuals. While accessing the site requires confirmation that the individual is “18 years old, will follow all local, state and federal laws, and will not use Armslist for any illegal purposes,” Armslist itself does not ensure that buyers have a license or have completed a background check. This has led to the site being criticized by organizations like EveryTown on its lax approach to gun circulation.

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Data Ethics: Are these dilemmas really new?

As conversations around ethics of data usage grow, both on-and-off campus, different lines are being drawn in the sand. But it really is still a new frontier in that there are no standardized rules, and companies and organizations are encountering new dilemmas every day.

Although, that might slowly be changing. In March of this year, New America released a set of guidelines for the ethical use of data in higher education. Using data analysis to record and track university students has been a controversial topic, especially in the face of Trump’s immigration policies, as these data could potentially be used to out un-documented students. However, even before that there were concerns about how universities could and couldn’t use student data, and where the line was between their own gain and the students’ personal freedoms.

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Wesleyan’s 2017 DataDive: An Exploration into Activism through Data Analysis

On October 27-28, Wesleyan will host our first DataDive event. Similar to DataFest, DataDive asks people to get to know a dataset in a very short period of time. At the end of the weekend, participants present to the information’s owner some important insights and ideas on how this data could be used. However, where DataDive is truly different is its desire for volunteers to understand specifically how their data could be used for good.

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