CHANCE Explores Role of Statistics in Human Rights

As guest editors Robin Mejia and Megan Price note in the Winter issue (Vol. 31, No. 1) of CHANCE, “When we tell people that we work at the intersection of statistics and human rights, the reaction is often surprise.” But while many people may not immediately associate statisticians with human rights as they would lawyers and journalists, the articles curated by Mejia and Price show that from changing definitions of gender to war crime trials, our understanding of and ability to protect human rights depends on robust data collection and analysis—often in difficult conditions—combined with the need for complex surveillance systems and careful quantitative description of cultural change.

With experience in conducting more than 30 studies across the globe, Phuong Pham and Patrick Vinck look at how statistics can provide critical rigor to the practical challenges of examining human rights violations, and how mixing quantitative and qualitative approaches can formalize what many researchers understand intuitively.

Matt Jans and colleagues look at the critical issues and best practices in sampling for sexual orientation and gender identity—how do you capture nuance without survey instruments becoming unfeasibly complex?

Did you know that when it comes to gun violence children aged 2–4 typically shoot themselves and that child-proof gun technology was developed more than 100 years ago? As David Hemenway reports, the data collected by the National Violent Death Reporting System offers important, actionable insights—but our data-collection systems for gun violence are badly hamstrung by political lobbying.

Thanks to AAAS’s On-Call Scientists Initiative, Art Kendall devised a statistical analysis for Maryland Legal Aid, which revealed a pattern of procedural problems and unfair verdicts in how the state dealt with cases of ‘failure to pay rent.’

And Patrick Ball and Megan Price recount their experiences as expert witness to claims of genocide against indigenous Mayans in Guatemala in 1982–1983. Were the patterns of violence evidence that a specific ethnic group was being targeted?

All these stories not only show the broad application of statistics to human rights, but how careful measurement and analysis reify and validate those rights.

As a reminder, CHANCE is available to ASA members to read free online.