Ethics, stories, and curiosity

Content for Thursday, April 18, 2024


This looks like a lot, but most of these are quite short!

Causal inference and data science



Keep in mind throughout all these readings that an “algorithm” in these contexts is typically some fancy type of regression model where the outcome variable is something binary like “Safe babysitter/unsafe babysitter,” “Gave up seat in past/didn’t give up seat in past”, or “Violated probation in past/didn’t violate probation in past”, and the explanatory variables are hundreds of pieces of data that might predict those outcomes (social media history, flight history, race, etc.).

Data scientists build a (sometimes proprietary and complex) model based on existing data, plug in values for any given new person, multiply that person’s values by the coefficients in the model, and get a final score in the end for how likely someone is to be a safe babysitter or how likely someone is to return to jail.


The slides for today’s lesson are available online as an HTML file. Use the buttons below to open the slides either as an interactive website or as a static PDF (for printing or storing for later). You can also click in the slides below and navigate through them with your left and right arrow keys.

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Fun fact: If you type ? (or shift + /) while going through the slides, you can see a list of special slide-specific commands.


Videos for each section of the lecture are available at this YouTube playlist.

You can also watch the playlist (and skip around to different sections) here:


Gertler, Paul J., Sebastian Martinez, Patrick Premand, Laura B. Rawlings, and Christel M. J. Vermeersch. 2016. Impact Evaluation in Practice. 2nd ed. Washington, DC: Inter-American Development Bank and World Bank.
Hernán, Miguel A. 2018. “The c-Word: Scientific Euphemisms Do Not Improve Causal Inference from Observational Data.” American Journal of Public Health 108 (5): 616–19.