Megan Price: "How Machine Learning Helps Count Casualties in Syria"


Monday, February 29, 2016, 11:30am to 1:00pm


Maxwell Dworkin 119, 33 Oxford Street, Cambridge

Speaker: Megan Price, Executive Director of the Human Rights Data Analysis Group

Title: How Machine Learning Helps Count Casualties in Syria


A fundamental question in any conflict is 'how many people have been killed?'  This seemingly straight-forward question is surprisingly difficult to answer even during times of peace and stability.  It becomes virtually impossible to answer during the fog of war.  In the case of Syria, numerous individuals and organizations are committed to the dangerous work of documenting victims of the armed conflict.  The result of these efforts are multiple lists of tens or hundreds of thousands of named victims.  Machine learning techniques can help to make sense of these lists, identifying multiple records that refer to the same victim, even when those records may contain incomplete or contradictory information. Combining records from these multiple sources into a single list is only the first step - this answers the question 'how many victims have been identified by at least one source?' To answer the fundamental question about how many people have been killed, we must use statistical models to estimate what we do not know - to estimate the number of victims who have not yet been reported to any source. Only then can we draw accurate conclusions about patterns of violence and make evidence-based policy recommendations.


As the Executive Director of the Human Rights Data Analysis Group, Megan Price designs strategies and methods for statistical analysis of human rights data for projects in a variety of locations including Guatemala, Colombia, and Syria. Her work in Guatemala includes serving as the lead statistician, since 2009, on a project in which she analyzes documents from the National Police Archive; she has also contributed analyses submitted as evidence in two court cases in Guatemala. Her work in Syria includes serving as the lead statistician and author on two recent reports, commissioned by the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner of Human Rights (OHCHR), on documented deaths in that country.

Megan is a Research Fellow at the Carnegie Mellon University Center for Human Rights Science, and she is the Human Rights Editor for the Statistical Journal of the International Association for Official Statistics (IAOS). She earned her doctorate in biostatistics and a Certificate in Human Rights from the Rollins School of Public Health at Emory University. She also holds a master of science degree and bachelor of science degree in Statistics from Case Western Reserve University.

From 2013 through 2015, Megan was the Director of Research at HRDAG; on December 1, 2015, she became Executive Director.