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May 23, 2016

Perspectives on Big Data, Ethics, and Society


The Council for Big Data, Ethics, and Society has released a comprehensive white paper consolidating conversations and ideas from two years of meetings and discussions:

Today’s release marks a major milestone for the Council, which began in 2014 with support from the National Science Foundation and the goal of providing critical social and cultural perspectives on “big data” research initiatives. The work of the Council consistently surfaced conflicts between big data research methods and existing norms. Should big data methods be exempted from those norms? pushed into them? Are entirely new paradigms needed? The white paper provides recommendations in the areas of policy, pedagogy, and network building, as well as identifying crucial areas for further research. From the Executive Summary:

The Council’s findings, outputs, and recommendations—including those described in this white paper as well as those in earlier reports—address concrete manifestations of these disjunctions between big data research methods and existing research ethics paradigms. We have identified policy changes that would encourage greater engagement and reflection on ethics topics. We have indicated a number of pedagogical needs for data science instructors, and endeavored to fulfill some of them. We have also explored cultural and institutional barriers to collaboration between ethicists, social scientists, and data scientists in academia and industry around ethics challenges. Overall, our recommendations are geared toward those who are invested in a future for data science, big data analytics, and artificial intelligence guided by ethical considerations along with technical merit.

In addition to the Perspectives on Big Data, Ethics, and Society white paper, the Council’s website provides access to research literature, case studies,* meeting minutes, membership, and output such as a Letter on Proposed Changes to the Common Rule.

Feedback is welcome at bdes at data society dot net.


* June 1 is the deadline for submitting case study proposals to the Council; more information here.