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Virginia Tech and Drexel University partner for workshop on ethics in big data analytics

September 19, 2016

Virginia Tech Research Center-Arlington
Virginia Tech Research Center — Arlington

Virginia Tech has teamed with Drexel University to organize a workshop on Collaboration as Big Data Ethics. Set for Sept. 29 and 30 at the Virginia Tech Research Center ─ Arlington, the workshop will focus on building ethical data analytic practices.

Government representatives and industry professionals who map practices in data analytics will join leading scholars from the computer and social sciences to discuss how to work together to build on what is known about power, surveillance, privacy, and inequality.

The workshop is supported by a grant from the National Science Foundation and the Virginia Tech National Capital Region Office of the Vice President.

Susan Sterett, professor in the Center for Public Administration and Policy, and Kelly Joyce, a professor of sociology and director of the Center for Science, Technology and Society at Drexel, worked together to secure the grant from the National Science Foundation to host the conference.

In reports issued in 2014 and 2016, the White House urged the greater use of data analytics, while also warning of risks that data analytics pose to core values including equality, privacy, and access to knowledge.

“We must collaborate to ensure we are aware of the pressures that organizations, including governments at different levels, are under when making decisions. Governments work in complex environments that shape what they can do. Governments can be under cross-cutting pressures from multiple constituents; to do data analytics well, we need to be aware of challenges,” Sterett said.

Sterett and Joyce will open the two-day workshop with a presentation on Big Data, Disciplinary Expertise, and Building Community for Empirical Ethics.

Joyce has been collaborating with an information science colleague to understand how data scientists create and work with algorithms and software to create big data sets, as well as the individual, professional, cultural, and institutional values and incentives that drive this work.  Joyce notes, “People are excited about the promise of big data to answer meaningful questions about society, but we need to be reflective about the disciplinary expertise that shapes the questions asked and the data content.”

In addition to Sterett, a number of other Virginia Tech faculty will participate in the workshop. Sallie Keller, professor and director of the Social and Decision Analytics Laboratory, and Naren Ramakrishnan, the Thomas L. Phillips Professor of Engineering in the Department of Computer Science at Virginia Tech and director of the Discovery Analytics Center, will make presentations on “Does Big Data Change the Privacy Landscape” and "Modeling Population-level Activity Using Open Source Data,” respectively.

Justin Abold-LaBreche, initiative director in the Inernal Revenue Service's Office of Compliance Analytics and adjunct faculty, and Adam Eckerd and Sara Jordan, assistant professor, all in the Center for Public Administration and Policy; and Mark Orr, research associate professor at the Biocomplexity Institute of Virginia Tech, will serve as panel chairs.

Barbara Allen, a professor in the Department of Science and Technology in Society, and Sudipta Sarangi, professor and head of the Department of Economics, will be discussants.

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