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Data for Black Lives: Automating (In)Justice

Automating (In)Justice: Policing and Sentencing in the Algorithmic Age

Data for Black Lives (D4BL)  is “a group of activists, organizers, and mathematicians committed to the mission of using data science to create concrete and measurable change in the lives of Black people.” This is a liveblog from the Automating (In)Justice panel for the D4BL 2017 Inaugural Conference. Liveblogging contributed by Rahul Bhargava – apologizes for any errors or omissions.

Adam Foss starts by talking about how criminal Justice reform has been a hot-button issue. In Boston we incarcerated a generation of black men, but now we are feeling the impact of this the “smart on crime” approach. Right now all along the continuum people are trying to use data to solve this historical problem of mass incarceration.  There’s good to that, and bad to that.

Panelists:

  • Adam Foss
  • Charmaine Arthur
  • Samuel Sinyangwe
  • Kim Foxx
  • Julia Anfwin

Charmaine Arthur

Arthur is the Director of Community Programs at Freedom House (in Roxbury, Boston). Their founders were at the forefront of the Boston bussing crisis.  They’ve started a school for children of color to fight for equitable education.  They work with high school and college students to create success and opportunities through coaching, college-level opportunities, and other community work and civic engagement.

Data helps them in a number of ways. It helps them do their work better.  It gives them context. It helps them identify who they serve. They measure things like race, sex, grade, graduation, attendance, family base, economics, and more. They use SalesForce for a lot of this. Data allows for some accountability.

This data is a shell.  Until they meet a person they don’t see the life. And they let the students use their own data and be advocates.

Data can also be a false sense of progress and hope. It takes time to work against this. Freedom House survives through funding from foundations, and often they dictate how to do the work.  The corporatization of non-profits is happening – they’re using the same language as Wall Street.  How do you feel about the “return on my investment” in this work?  Absolutely not. We don’t talk that way about our young people.

Samuel Sinyangwe

Sinyangwe’s work began with the death of Michael Brown in 2014.  Just afterwards communities that had been experiencing police violence were able to say that. Others attempted to shut this down by saying they didn’t have the data, as if your lived experience needed a study to justify it.

They built the most comprehensive database of people killed by police in the US. They showed that police killed 323 black people the year Michael Brown was killed.  Then they began to use data as a tool for accountability.

Then they could have a conversation about why the numbers were the way they were.  Why are 1 in 6 homicides in Oklahoma City committed by police? 1 in 3 people killed by strangers in the US are killed by police officers.  Over 1200 people a year for the last five years. How do we make this apparent and accessible to people?  Visualization has been critical to help peopleunderstand what is going on, and move to some kind of action.

They have national data, and also deeper data bout the top 100 departments in the US (through public records requests and other means). In Orlando, FL they met with police leadership and the data showed that they are the second highest for people killed by police. When they presented all this they explain this because Orlando is a heavy tourist place, and there are lots of folks on Orange Ave corridor; clearly this is unque and they can’t be compared.  So Sinyangwe pulled the New Orleans Bourbon St. data, which shut down that conversation.

The people in this room can download the dataset and use it – http://mappingpoliceviolence.com.

Kim Foxx

Foxx is the state’s attorney of Cook Country, Chicago. They release this data to the public in a very accessible way. There is a sense around mass incarceration that things are “anecdotal.” 86% of the people in Cook County jail are black or brown.  94% of people in the juvenile system are black and brown. In the prosecutor’s office we don’t know how this happens, because the systems are black boxes.

For Foxx it was important to have the public know what she was doing, and how she makes decisions. How do you measure if you are better than your predecessor? She ran on the issue of people in jail being stuck there only because they are not able to afford their bail. Sharing information gives them a benchmark.  Foxx insists that “you can’t fix what you can’t measure.” 

Sharing budget, agenda, and more lets the public know. People can run the datasets themselves. They’ve hired a Chief Data Officer for the Prosecutors office, and released the last 6 years of data; precisely because they wanted it to be continuing and accountable.

In 2016 their second highest felony offense (after gun possession), was retail theft (shoplifting). They didn’t know that until they dove into the data.  Illinois’ level of retail theft felony is $300.  Indiana is $750.  Wisconsin is $2500. When you think about the impact of a felony conviction you can ask a question about what we are doing.  At her department, they decided to not charge retail theft as a felony for under $1000 (they can do that at their discretion). The data helped them see that, and led to that decision.  Next year they’ll be able to look at the impact of that on prison and jail populations, and more.

Chicago has an issue of violence, and Foxx has limited resources. If we are about public safety, we must look at on a continuum. Violence is connected to education, arrests in schools, and more. The highest incidence of violence is in places with under-resourced schools, the places where people returning from convictions live, and more. You can’t arrest your way out of violence. The justice system is not just reactive.  We can’t put the wrong people in jail.

Julia Anfwin

Julia was destined for computer science, but took a turn towards journalism.  She covered technology for 15 years. She started writing about criminal justice because she was writing about the data being collected and was wondering about how it was being used.

The highest stakes algorithm judging people is the software used across the country to create “risk assessment scores”. At ProPublica she wrote about this. This is used at pre-trial, parole, and sentencing.  San Francisco, most of New York, and lots of other places use this. As someone math and data literate she looked for studies to justify this.  No one was doing these studies. In fact Eric Holder asked the sentencing commission to have these studied. The only studies were by the companies that created it. New York State purchased this in 2001 and released number in 2012; but they didn’t look at race. She did a FOIA request in Florida to get data, and succeeded in getting 2 years worth of score (2 years).

Anfwin looked at the scores and found for black defendants there were sentences across the board. For white people, almost no-one was getting longer sentences. These algorithms are totally biased. The rigorous statistical analysis after 6 moths of work backed this up.

Computer science community has validated all this work, but the criminal justice community has totally rejected this. It becomes bout a debate about the definition of fairness. Bringing numbers to the table helped this debate happen.

“You gotta bring numbers to the fight”

 

Discussion

Adam shares that in Chicago the shootings aren’t that outside the average, but you just can’t get to a hospital in 45 minutes or less so the homicide numbers are worse. In Boston, they say homicide is way down, while shooting rate is through the roof (because you are at a trauma hospital in 4 minutes).

Samuel shares that in the absence of data you just have assumptions. When you talk about addressing police violence you run into an old script.  It says that anything that restricts how police use force endangers police or community. There is no data to support any of those claims. These are assumptions that are taken as fact. This couldn’t be challenged well because the data wasn’t there.

They’ve tested this with the data we have now, and find they are lies. They looked at use of force policies and how restrictive they were. They tested whether there was an increased risk in departments that are most restrictive. In fact these were the safest for civilians and police officers. You share that finding in the room with the police union and they have nothing to respond with. This can move those conversations forward.

Foxx asks what makes you a good prosecutor? How do you measure the outcomes of what you do? IF you say that you want to keep communities safe, and give someone a harsh punishment, and then see the person over and over, are you successful? Is this harsh sentencing aiding public safety? We have to look at the aggregate impacts on community, otherwise we’ll continue to do the same thing.

We haven’t defined what “tough on crime” or “smart on crime” means.  If you don’t have to own that “tough on crime” means lots of people in prison and decimated neighborhoods, then the data doesn’t matter. The narrative of “personal responsibly” has dominated prosecutorial offices for years. This narrative lets you not care about the impact, and absolves you from the conversation. We cannot afford to do that. In what place can you invest 500 million on crime and have a 55% recidivism rate?

Adam shares that Foxx was elected on a wave of anti-incumbent prosecutorial elections. Next year there are 1000 DA elections across the country. This is an opportunity. Foxx is a leading example of what can happen when we change.

Foxx shares that 80% of elected prosecutors are white men. Less than 1% are women of color. This is important, because we need people in these positions to push back on this. She is from public housing, a single mother-family, all the risk factors that make her high risk from an algorithmic sentencing point of view. These un-connected people don’t know the impact of the policies, and that’s a problem.

Arthur shares that there are lots of egos at the table.  Yes you have to bring numbers, but what happens when you are worn out fighting with the numbers, because those numbers are lives. Understanding “why” matters.  There has to be action with the communication. It takes time, and we have to keep chipping away. But the funders say here, have 3 years to fix it. We just can’t do it. Quality programs are proactive and find youth before they fall off the wall.

Adam asks the panelists – what do you need to do your work better? How is data going to help us?

Arthur shares the story of her kids, who have had different experiences of racism – from shootings and support failures to more. The danger of the story about 18 year old black males is dangerous for individuals. The information Sam has is information Freedom House can use. They can give youth the tools to advocate for themselves. We need to advocate for our own.

Sinyangwe argues that the field of stopping police violence is new. The data is out there for you. The policy information is out there. Help produce knowledge that communities can use for change. Look at civilian review boards – there is no data to tell you which structure is the most useful. Make this stuff accessible.

Foxx wants to amplify this. We don’t validate why things are happening; we don’t understand them. We have to be cognizant of the nuances in spaces, otherwise we’ll just adopt things because other folks have. They need people in the data/analytical space to come to the criminal justice system. Advocacy from outside is good, but we need help inside it too to figure out what questions to ask. Foxx wants people to work with prosecutors to help.

Anfwin has a team of two programmers that she works with. Every industry needs more tech literacy. The most shocking thing of criminal justice scores was the shocking amount of forgiveness applied to white defendants. Her analysis of car insurance rates was the same chart – with higher risk the rates declined in white neighborhoods. They use the word “bias”, but the algorithms have allocated “forgiveness”. This is an important re-framing. Can we build-in forgiveness for more than one group of people.

 

Questions

How do we help advocates use data better?

Anfwin shares that people over-collect data before they have a question.  You need a targeted smart question before you start collecting data.  Otherwise your data is putting data at risk. You have to think about when your data is lost, because it will happen.

Surveillance is a real risk, reminds Sinyangwe. You have to take steps to protect yourself. The framing of your statistics matter.  Especially folks that aren’t data literate; they’re the ones that need to take these numbers and use them.

What do you say to black communities that don’t feel safe and want more policing and surveillance?

There is not a magic answer to that, says Arthur. We used to depend on our neighbors. We’ve lost trust. We used to have a shared understanding of what the village looked like. Community policing works for some people, but it doesn’t work for everyone. It can build trust.

Those numbers are real people that live and breathe. We need to really remember that. We need the police. Arthur was going to be a cop, but her mama said that her calling was to work with young people.

Foxx hears this question a lot. She goes into neighborhoods and talks with people in forums. The ACLU folks were talking about stop and frisk. A woman stood up and shared that she was scared to go to the bus stop. She didn’t want an open-air drug market next to the bus stop. Another woman asked about getting rid of the unlicensed snow cone seller. Foxx didn’t understand, because she didn’t live there, that the problem was around the loitering around the snow cone person and the drug sales and more that happened there. People have a deep fear of the police, and a deep fear of the person causing harm.

People want policing that isn’t dangerous to them. This narrative can’t be lost. Law enforcement has to contend with bad tactics and bad policies in the communities that need to trust law the most (because they are suffering the most).

Is the decision whether to keep this data a problem of resources, or a deliberate effort to not collect it?

Sinyangwe says it is a combination. The political system responds to crises. The Department of Justice only opened up an investigation into Fergurson, Baltimore, Chicago when something big happened. Patrick Sharkey found in a recent study that the crime decline in the past few decades was driven by non-profit organizations. For every 10 NGOs working on stuff, there was a 6% drop in violent crime and 10% drop in homicide. The only place resourced to respond when you need safety help is the police department. That was a choice; and they defunded other alternatives. Other studies show that mass incarceration had zero perfect impact on the decline in crime; but that is where all the money goes. Same result for spending on police – very little impact on crime (0% to 5%). We have to shift to community-based responses. Those are the evidence based responses to this problem.

Anfwin attributes this to benign malice (if that exists). Journalism is the last watchdog – people respond. And journalism is in crisis.  All the money is going from them to Google and Facebook. Journalism needs our support to bring attention to this.

 

 

Graphene filter makes even Sydney Harbour water drinkable

Dong Han Seo, of the CSIRO, holds a flask of water taken from Sydney Harbour, which ...

Among graphene’s long list of superpowers, filtering water may be one of the most directly beneficial. Now a team of Australian scientists has demonstrated how effective a specially-designed form of graphene can be at purifying water with a pretty challenging test: the filter made water from Sydney Harbour safe to drink in one step.

..
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Data for Black Lives: Automating (In)Justice

Automating (In)Justice: Policing and Sentencing in the Algorithmic Age

Data for Black Lives (D4BL)  is “a group of activists, organizers, and mathematicians committed to the mission of using data science to create concrete and measurable change in the lives of Black people.” This is a liveblog from the Automating (In)Justice panel for the D4BL 2017 Inaugural Conference. Liveblogging contributed by Rahul Bhargava – apologizes for any errors or omissions.

Adam Foss starts by talking about how criminal Justice reform has been a hot-button issue. In Boston we incarcerated a generation of black men, but now we are feeling the impact of this the “smart on crime” approach. Right now all along the continuum people are trying to use data to solve this historical problem of mass incarceration.  There’s good to that, and bad to that.

Panelists:

  • Adam Foss
  • Charmaine Arthur
  • Samuel Sinyangwe
  • Kim Foxx
  • Julia Anfwin

Charmaine Arthur

Arthur is the Director of Community Programs at Freedom House (in Roxbury, Boston). Their founders were at the forefront of the Boston bussing crisis.  They’ve started a school for children of color to fight for equitable education.  They work with high school and college students to create success and opportunities through coaching, college-level opportunities, and other community work and civic engagement.

Data helps them in a number of ways. It helps them do their work better.  It gives them context. It helps them identify who they serve. They measure things like race, sex, grade, graduation, attendance, family base, economics, and more. They use SalesForce for a lot of this. Data allows for some accountability.

This data is a shell.  Until they meet a person they don’t see the life. And they let the students use their own data and be advocates.

Data can also be a false sense of progress and hope. It takes time to work against this. Freedom House survives through funding from foundations, and often they dictate how to do the work.  The corporatization of non-profits is happening – they’re using the same language as Wall Street.  How do you feel about the “return on my investment” in this work?  Absolutely not. We don’t talk that way about our young people.

Samuel Sinyangwe

Sinyangwe’s work began with the death of Michael Brown in 2014.  Just afterwards communities that had been experiencing police violence were able to say that. Others attempted to shut this down by saying they didn’t have the data, as if your lived experience needed a study to justify it.

They built the most comprehensive database of people killed by police in the US. They showed that police killed 323 black people the year Michael Brown was killed.  Then they began to use data as a tool for accountability.

Then they could have a conversation about why the numbers were the way they were.  Why are 1 in 6 homicides in Oklahoma City committed by police? 1 in 3 people killed by strangers in the US are killed by police officers.  Over 1200 people a year for the last five years. How do we make this apparent and accessible to people?  Visualization has been critical to help peopleunderstand what is going on, and move to some kind of action.

They have national data, and also deeper data bout the top 100 departments in the US (through public records requests and other means). In Orlando, FL they met with police leadership and the data showed that they are the second highest for people killed by police. When they presented all this they explain this because Orlando is a heavy tourist place, and there are lots of folks on Orange Ave corridor; clearly this is unque and they can’t be compared.  So Sinyangwe pulled the New Orleans Bourbon St. data, which shut down that conversation.

The people in this room can download the dataset and use it – http://mappingpoliceviolence.com.

Kim Foxx

Foxx is the state’s attorney of Cook Country, Chicago. They release this data to the public in a very accessible way. There is a sense around mass incarceration that things are “anecdotal.” 86% of the people in Cook County jail are black or brown.  94% of people in the juvenile system are black and brown. In the prosecutor’s office we don’t know how this happens, because the systems are black boxes.

For Foxx it was important to have the public know what she was doing, and how she makes decisions. How do you measure if you are better than your predecessor? She ran on the issue of people in jail being stuck there only because they are not able to afford their bail. Sharing information gives them a benchmark.  Foxx insists that “you can’t fix what you can’t measure.” 

Sharing budget, agenda, and more lets the public know. People can run the datasets themselves. They’ve hired a Chief Data Officer for the Prosecutors office, and released the last 6 years of data; precisely because they wanted it to be continuing and accountable.

In 2016 their second highest felony offense (after gun possession), was retail theft (shoplifting). They didn’t know that until they dove into the data.  Illinois’ level of retail theft felony is $300.  Indiana is $750.  Wisconsin is $2500. When you think about the impact of a felony conviction you can ask a question about what we are doing.  At her department, they decided to not charge retail theft as a felony for under $1000 (they can do that at their discretion). The data helped them see that, and led to that decision.  Next year they’ll be able to look at the impact of that on prison and jail populations, and more.

Chicago has an issue of violence, and Foxx has limited resources. If we are about public safety, we must look at on a continuum. Violence is connected to education, arrests in schools, and more. The highest incidence of violence is in places with under-resourced schools, the places where people returning from convictions live, and more. You can’t arrest your way out of violence. The justice system is not just reactive.  We can’t put the wrong people in jail.

Julia Anfwin

Julia was destined for computer science, but took a turn towards journalism.  She covered technology for 15 years. She started writing about criminal justice because she was writing about the data being collected and was wondering about how it was being used.

The highest stakes algorithm judging people is the software used across the country to create “risk assessment scores”. At ProPublica she wrote about this. This is used at pre-trial, parole, and sentencing.  San Francisco, most of New York, and lots of other places use this. As someone math and data literate she looked for studies to justify this.  No one was doing these studies. In fact Eric Holder asked the sentencing commission to have these studied. The only studies were by the companies that created it. New York State purchased this in 2001 and released number in 2012; but they didn’t look at race. She did a FOIA request in Florida to get data, and succeeded in getting 2 years worth of score (2 years).

Anfwin looked at the scores and found for black defendants there were sentences across the board. For white people, almost no-one was getting longer sentences. These algorithms are totally biased. The rigorous statistical analysis after 6 moths of work backed this up.

Computer science community has validated all this work, but the criminal justice community has totally rejected this. It becomes bout a debate about the definition of fairness. Bringing numbers to the table helped this debate happen.

“You gotta bring numbers to the fight”

 

Discussion

Adam shares that in Chicago the shootings aren’t that outside the average, but you just can’t get to a hospital in 45 minutes or less so the homicide numbers are worse. In Boston, they say homicide is way down, while shooting rate is through the roof (because you are at a trauma hospital in 4 minutes).

Samuel shares that in the absence of data you just have assumptions. When you talk about addressing police violence you run into an old script.  It says that anything that restricts how police use force endangers police or community. There is no data to support any of those claims. These are assumptions that are taken as fact. This couldn’t be challenged well because the data wasn’t there.

They’ve tested this with the data we have now, and find they are lies. They looked at use of force policies and how restrictive they were. They tested whether there was an increased risk in departments that are most restrictive. In fact these were the safest for civilians and police officers. You share that finding in the room with the police union and they have nothing to respond with. This can move those conversations forward.

Foxx asks what makes you a good prosecutor? How do you measure the outcomes of what you do? IF you say that you want to keep communities safe, and give someone a harsh punishment, and then see the person over and over, are you successful? Is this harsh sentencing aiding public safety? We have to look at the aggregate impacts on community, otherwise we’ll continue to do the same thing.

We haven’t defined what “tough on crime” or “smart on crime” means.  If you don’t have to own that “tough on crime” means lots of people in prison and decimated neighborhoods, then the data doesn’t matter. The narrative of “personal responsibly” has dominated prosecutorial offices for years. This narrative lets you not care about the impact, and absolves you from the conversation. We cannot afford to do that. In what place can you invest 500 million on crime and have a 55% recidivism rate?

Adam shares that Foxx was elected on a wave of anti-incumbent prosecutorial elections. Next year there are 1000 DA elections across the country. This is an opportunity. Foxx is a leading example of what can happen when we change.

Foxx shares that 80% of elected prosecutors are white men. Less than 1% are women of color. This is important, because we need people in these positions to push back on this. She is from public housing, a single mother-family, all the risk factors that make her high risk from an algorithmic sentencing point of view. These un-connected people don’t know the impact of the policies, and that’s a problem.

Arthur shares that there are lots of egos at the table.  Yes you have to bring numbers, but what happens when you are worn out fighting with the numbers, because those numbers are lives. Understanding “why” matters.  There has to be action with the communication. It takes time, and we have to keep chipping away. But the funders say here, have 3 years to fix it. We just can’t do it. Quality programs are proactive and find youth before they fall off the wall.

Adam asks the panelists – what do you need to do your work better? How is data going to help us?

Arthur shares the story of her kids, who have had different experiences of racism – from shootings and support failures to more. The danger of the story about 18 year old black males is dangerous for individuals. The information Sam has is information Freedom House can use. They can give youth the tools to advocate for themselves. We need to advocate for our own.

Sinyangwe argues that the field of stopping police violence is new. The data is out there for you. The policy information is out there. Help produce knowledge that communities can use for change. Look at civilian review boards – there is no data to tell you which structure is the most useful. Make this stuff accessible.

Foxx wants to amplify this. We don’t validate why things are happening; we don’t understand them. We have to be cognizant of the nuances in spaces, otherwise we’ll just adopt things because other folks have. They need people in the data/analytical space to come to the criminal justice system. Advocacy from outside is good, but we need help inside it too to figure out what questions to ask. Foxx wants people to work with prosecutors to help.

Anfwin has a team of two programmers that she works with. Every industry needs more tech literacy. The most shocking thing of criminal justice scores was the shocking amount of forgiveness applied to white defendants. Her analysis of car insurance rates was the same chart – with higher risk the rates declined in white neighborhoods. They use the word “bias”, but the algorithms have allocated “forgiveness”. This is an important re-framing. Can we build-in forgiveness for more than one group of people.

 

Questions

How do we help advocates use data better?

Anfwin shares that people over-collect data before they have a question.  You need a targeted smart question before you start collecting data.  Otherwise your data is putting data at risk. You have to think about when your data is lost, because it will happen.

Surveillance is a real risk, reminds Sinyangwe. You have to take steps to protect yourself. The framing of your statistics matter.  Especially folks that aren’t data literate; they’re the ones that need to take these numbers and use them.

What do you say to black communities that don’t feel safe and want more policing and surveillance?

There is not a magic answer to that, says Arthur. We used to depend on our neighbors. We’ve lost trust. We used to have a shared understanding of what the village looked like. Community policing works for some people, but it doesn’t work for everyone. It can build trust.

Those numbers are real people that live and breathe. We need to really remember that. We need the police. Arthur was going to be a cop, but her mama said that her calling was to work with young people.

Foxx hears this question a lot. She goes into neighborhoods and talks with people in forums. The ACLU folks were talking about stop and frisk. A woman stood up and shared that she was scared to go to the bus stop. She didn’t want an open-air drug market next to the bus stop. Another woman asked about getting rid of the unlicensed snow cone seller. Foxx didn’t understand, because she didn’t live there, that the problem was around the loitering around the snow cone person and the drug sales and more that happened there. People have a deep fear of the police, and a deep fear of the person causing harm.

People want policing that isn’t dangerous to them. This narrative can’t be lost. Law enforcement has to contend with bad tactics and bad policies in the communities that need to trust law the most (because they are suffering the most).

Is the decision whether to keep this data a problem of resources, or a deliberate effort to not collect it?

Sinyangwe says it is a combination. The political system responds to crises. The Department of Justice only opened up an investigation into Fergurson, Baltimore, Chicago when something big happened. Patrick Sharkey found in a recent study that the crime decline in the past few decades was driven by non-profit organizations. For every 10 NGOs working on stuff, there was a 6% drop in violent crime and 10% drop in homicide. The only place resourced to respond when you need safety help is the police department. That was a choice; and they defunded other alternatives. Other studies show that mass incarceration had zero perfect impact on the decline in crime; but that is where all the money goes. Same result for spending on police – very little impact on crime (0% to 5%). We have to shift to community-based responses. Those are the evidence based responses to this problem.

Anfwin attributes this to benign malice (if that exists). Journalism is the last watchdog – people respond. And journalism is in crisis.  All the money is going from them to Google and Facebook. Journalism needs our support to bring attention to this.

 

 

Kia drops the apostrophe and adds the tech on all-new Ceed

Kia third generation Ceed hatchback will make its public debut at the 2018 Geneva Motor Show

Kia has taken the wraps off its third generation Ceed ahead of next month’s Geneva Motor Show. The hatchback gets a selection of new engine options, a host of driver assist technology and a sporty exterior makeover and a subtle name change.

..
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Team Jamaica’s Coach Took Their Bobsled When She Quit, So Red Stripe Bought Another One

When the men’s bobsled team from Jamaica failed to qualify for the Winter Olympics, the country found renewed hope in its first-ever women’s team making it to Pyeongchang. However, those hopes were briefly dashed when team coach Sandra Kiriasis suddenly quit, claiming that her job role changed from driving coach to track analyst, which, in turn, wouldn’t give her access to the athletes.

But it’s not just team spirit Kiriasis was walking away with–she also laid claim to the women’s bobsled. Upon hearing that the Jamaican team was without their main piece of equipment, other country’s offered to help but a donor closer to home swooped in.

Jamaican beer company Red Stripe tweeted their support, saying the team could put a bobsled on their tab–and it turns out they did. According to Adweek, Red Stripe confirmed they wired the money and the bobsled has been purchased.

Talk about goodwill branding.

Data for Black Lives: Automating (In)Justice

Automating (In)Justice: Policing and Sentencing in the Algorithmic Age

Data for Black Lives (D4BL)  is “a group of activists, organizers, and mathematicians committed to the mission of using data science to create concrete and measurable change in the lives of Black people.” This is a liveblog from the Automating (In)Justice panel for the D4BL 2017 Inaugural Conference. Liveblogging contributed by Rahul Bhargava – apologizes for any errors or omissions.

Adam Foss starts by talking about how criminal Justice reform has been a hot-button issue. In Boston we incarcerated a generation of black men, but now we are feeling the impact of this the “smart on crime” approach. Right now all along the continuum people are trying to use data to solve this historical problem of mass incarceration.  There’s good to that, and bad to that.

Panelists:

  • Adam Foss
  • Charmaine Arthur
  • Samuel Sinyangwe
  • Kim Foxx
  • Julia Anfwin

Charmaine Arthur

Arthur is the Director of Community Programs at Freedom House (in Roxbury, Boston). Their founders were at the forefront of the Boston bussing crisis.  They’ve started a school for children of color to fight for equitable education.  They work with high school and college students to create success and opportunities through coaching, college-level opportunities, and other community work and civic engagement.

Data helps them in a number of ways. It helps them do their work better.  It gives them context. It helps them identify who they serve. They measure things like race, sex, grade, graduation, attendance, family base, economics, and more. They use SalesForce for a lot of this. Data allows for some accountability.

This data is a shell.  Until they meet a person they don’t see the life. And they let the students use their own data and be advocates.

Data can also be a false sense of progress and hope. It takes time to work against this. Freedom House survives through funding from foundations, and often they dictate how to do the work.  The corporatization of non-profits is happening – they’re using the same language as Wall Street.  How do you feel about the “return on my investment” in this work?  Absolutely not. We don’t talk that way about our young people.

Samuel Sinyangwe

Sinyangwe’s work began with the death of Michael Brown in 2014.  Just afterwards communities that had been experiencing police violence were able to say that. Others attempted to shut this down by saying they didn’t have the data, as if your lived experience needed a study to justify it.

They built the most comprehensive database of people killed by police in the US. They showed that police killed 323 black people the year Michael Brown was killed.  Then they began to use data as a tool for accountability.

Then they could have a conversation about why the numbers were the way they were.  Why are 1 in 6 homicides in Oklahoma City committed by police? 1 in 3 people killed by strangers in the US are killed by police officers.  Over 1200 people a year for the last five years. How do we make this apparent and accessible to people?  Visualization has been critical to help peopleunderstand what is going on, and move to some kind of action.

They have national data, and also deeper data bout the top 100 departments in the US (through public records requests and other means). In Orlando, FL they met with police leadership and the data showed that they are the second highest for people killed by police. When they presented all this they explain this because Orlando is a heavy tourist place, and there are lots of folks on Orange Ave corridor; clearly this is unque and they can’t be compared.  So Sinyangwe pulled the New Orleans Bourbon St. data, which shut down that conversation.

The people in this room can download the dataset and use it – http://mappingpoliceviolence.com.

Kim Foxx

Foxx is the state’s attorney of Cook Country, Chicago. They release this data to the public in a very accessible way. There is a sense around mass incarceration that things are “anecdotal.” 86% of the people in Cook County jail are black or brown.  94% of people in the juvenile system are black and brown. In the prosecutor’s office we don’t know how this happens, because the systems are black boxes.

For Foxx it was important to have the public know what she was doing, and how she makes decisions. How do you measure if you are better than your predecessor? She ran on the issue of people in jail being stuck there only because they are not able to afford their bail. Sharing information gives them a benchmark.  Foxx insists that “you can’t fix what you can’t measure.” 

Sharing budget, agenda, and more lets the public know. People can run the datasets themselves. They’ve hired a Chief Data Officer for the Prosecutors office, and released the last 6 years of data; precisely because they wanted it to be continuing and accountable.

In 2016 their second highest felony offense (after gun possession), was retail theft (shoplifting). They didn’t know that until they dove into the data.  Illinois’ level of retail theft felony is $300.  Indiana is $750.  Wisconsin is $2500. When you think about the impact of a felony conviction you can ask a question about what we are doing.  At her department, they decided to not charge retail theft as a felony for under $1000 (they can do that at their discretion). The data helped them see that, and led to that decision.  Next year they’ll be able to look at the impact of that on prison and jail populations, and more.

Chicago has an issue of violence, and Foxx has limited resources. If we are about public safety, we must look at on a continuum. Violence is connected to education, arrests in schools, and more. The highest incidence of violence is in places with under-resourced schools, the places where people returning from convictions live, and more. You can’t arrest your way out of violence. The justice system is not just reactive.  We can’t put the wrong people in jail.

Julia Anfwin

Julia was destined for computer science, but took a turn towards journalism.  She covered technology for 15 years. She started writing about criminal justice because she was writing about the data being collected and was wondering about how it was being used.

The highest stakes algorithm judging people is the software used across the country to create “risk assessment scores”. At ProPublica she wrote about this. This is used at pre-trial, parole, and sentencing.  San Francisco, most of New York, and lots of other places use this. As someone math and data literate she looked for studies to justify this.  No one was doing these studies. In fact Eric Holder asked the sentencing commission to have these studied. The only studies were by the companies that created it. New York State purchased this in 2001 and released number in 2012; but they didn’t look at race. She did a FOIA request in Florida to get data, and succeeded in getting 2 years worth of score (2 years).

Anfwin looked at the scores and found for black defendants there were sentences across the board. For white people, almost no-one was getting longer sentences. These algorithms are totally biased. The rigorous statistical analysis after 6 moths of work backed this up.

Computer science community has validated all this work, but the criminal justice community has totally rejected this. It becomes bout a debate about the definition of fairness. Bringing numbers to the table helped this debate happen.

“You gotta bring numbers to the fight”

 

Discussion

Adam shares that in Chicago the shootings aren’t that outside the average, but you just can’t get to a hospital in 45 minutes or less so the homicide numbers are worse. In Boston, they say homicide is way down, while shooting rate is through the roof (because you are at a trauma hospital in 4 minutes).

Samuel shares that in the absence of data you just have assumptions. When you talk about addressing police violence you run into an old script.  It says that anything that restricts how police use force endangers police or community. There is no data to support any of those claims. These are assumptions that are taken as fact. This couldn’t be challenged well because the data wasn’t there.

They’ve tested this with the data we have now, and find they are lies. They looked at use of force policies and how restrictive they were. They tested whether there was an increased risk in departments that are most restrictive. In fact these were the safest for civilians and police officers. You share that finding in the room with the police union and they have nothing to respond with. This can move those conversations forward.

Foxx asks what makes you a good prosecutor? How do you measure the outcomes of what you do? IF you say that you want to keep communities safe, and give someone a harsh punishment, and then see the person over and over, are you successful? Is this harsh sentencing aiding public safety? We have to look at the aggregate impacts on community, otherwise we’ll continue to do the same thing.

We haven’t defined what “tough on crime” or “smart on crime” means.  If you don’t have to own that “tough on crime” means lots of people in prison and decimated neighborhoods, then the data doesn’t matter. The narrative of “personal responsibly” has dominated prosecutorial offices for years. This narrative lets you not care about the impact, and absolves you from the conversation. We cannot afford to do that. In what place can you invest 500 million on crime and have a 55% recidivism rate?

Adam shares that Foxx was elected on a wave of anti-incumbent prosecutorial elections. Next year there are 1000 DA elections across the country. This is an opportunity. Foxx is a leading example of what can happen when we change.

Foxx shares that 80% of elected prosecutors are white men. Less than 1% are women of color. This is important, because we need people in these positions to push back on this. She is from public housing, a single mother-family, all the risk factors that make her high risk from an algorithmic sentencing point of view. These un-connected people don’t know the impact of the policies, and that’s a problem.

Arthur shares that there are lots of egos at the table.  Yes you have to bring numbers, but what happens when you are worn out fighting with the numbers, because those numbers are lives. Understanding “why” matters.  There has to be action with the communication. It takes time, and we have to keep chipping away. But the funders say here, have 3 years to fix it. We just can’t do it. Quality programs are proactive and find youth before they fall off the wall.

Adam asks the panelists – what do you need to do your work better? How is data going to help us?

Arthur shares the story of her kids, who have had different experiences of racism – from shootings and support failures to more. The danger of the story about 18 year old black males is dangerous for individuals. The information Sam has is information Freedom House can use. They can give youth the tools to advocate for themselves. We need to advocate for our own.

Sinyangwe argues that the field of stopping police violence is new. The data is out there for you. The policy information is out there. Help produce knowledge that communities can use for change. Look at civilian review boards – there is no data to tell you which structure is the most useful. Make this stuff accessible.

Foxx wants to amplify this. We don’t validate why things are happening; we don’t understand them. We have to be cognizant of the nuances in spaces, otherwise we’ll just adopt things because other folks have. They need people in the data/analytical space to come to the criminal justice system. Advocacy from outside is good, but we need help inside it too to figure out what questions to ask. Foxx wants people to work with prosecutors to help.

Anfwin has a team of two programmers that she works with. Every industry needs more tech literacy. The most shocking thing of criminal justice scores was the shocking amount of forgiveness applied to white defendants. Her analysis of car insurance rates was the same chart – with higher risk the rates declined in white neighborhoods. They use the word “bias”, but the algorithms have allocated “forgiveness”. This is an important re-framing. Can we build-in forgiveness for more than one group of people.

 

Questions

How do we help advocates use data better?

Anfwin shares that people over-collect data before they have a question.  You need a targeted smart question before you start collecting data.  Otherwise your data is putting data at risk. You have to think about when your data is lost, because it will happen.

Surveillance is a real risk, reminds Sinyangwe. You have to take steps to protect yourself. The framing of your statistics matter.  Especially folks that aren’t data literate; they’re the ones that need to take these numbers and use them.

What do you say to black communities that don’t feel safe and want more policing and surveillance?

There is not a magic answer to that, says Arthur. We used to depend on our neighbors. We’ve lost trust. We used to have a shared understanding of what the village looked like. Community policing works for some people, but it doesn’t work for everyone. It can build trust.

Those numbers are real people that live and breathe. We need to really remember that. We need the police. Arthur was going to be a cop, but her mama said that her calling was to work with young people.

Foxx hears this question a lot. She goes into neighborhoods and talks with people in forums. The ACLU folks were talking about stop and frisk. A woman stood up and shared that she was scared to go to the bus stop. She didn’t want an open-air drug market next to the bus stop. Another woman asked about getting rid of the unlicensed snow cone seller. Foxx didn’t understand, because she didn’t live there, that the problem was around the loitering around the snow cone person and the drug sales and more that happened there. People have a deep fear of the police, and a deep fear of the person causing harm.

People want policing that isn’t dangerous to them. This narrative can’t be lost. Law enforcement has to contend with bad tactics and bad policies in the communities that need to trust law the most (because they are suffering the most).

Is the decision whether to keep this data a problem of resources, or a deliberate effort to not collect it?

Sinyangwe says it is a combination. The political system responds to crises. The Department of Justice only opened up an investigation into Fergurson, Baltimore, Chicago when something big happened. Patrick Sharkey found in a recent study that the crime decline in the past few decades was driven by non-profit organizations. For every 10 NGOs working on stuff, there was a 6% drop in violent crime and 10% drop in homicide. The only place resourced to respond when you need safety help is the police department. That was a choice; and they defunded other alternatives. Other studies show that mass incarceration had zero perfect impact on the decline in crime; but that is where all the money goes. Same result for spending on police – very little impact on crime (0% to 5%). We have to shift to community-based responses. Those are the evidence based responses to this problem.

Anfwin attributes this to benign malice (if that exists). Journalism is the last watchdog – people respond. And journalism is in crisis.  All the money is going from them to Google and Facebook. Journalism needs our support to bring attention to this.

 

 

Catalina tiny house offers flexibility and off-grid freedom

The Catalina is wrapped in board and batten or lap siding, with knotty cedar tongue and ...

The flagship model of Gresham, Oregon-based Tiny Innovations is called the Catalina. The towable dwelling is offered in three different sizes and its layout can be tweaked to suit, including the number of bedrooms required. The tiny house can also run off-the-grid with an optional solar power setup.

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Data for Black Lives: Automating (In)Justice

Automating (In)Justice: Policing and Sentencing in the Algorithmic Age

Data for Black Lives (D4BL)  is “a group of activists, organizers, and mathematicians committed to the mission of using data science to create concrete and measurable change in the lives of Black people.” This is a liveblog from the Automating (In)Justice panel for the D4BL 2017 Inaugural Conference. Liveblogging contributed by Rahul Bhargava – apologizes for any errors or omissions.

Adam Foss starts by talking about how criminal Justice reform has been a hot-button issue. In Boston we incarcerated a generation of black men, but now we are feeling the impact of this the “smart on crime” approach. Right now all along the continuum people are trying to use data to solve this historical problem of mass incarceration.  There’s good to that, and bad to that.

Panelists:

  • Adam Foss
  • Charmaine Arthur
  • Samuel Sinyangwe
  • Kim Foxx
  • Julia Anfwin

Charmaine Arthur

Arthur is the Director of Community Programs at Freedom House (in Roxbury, Boston). Their founders were at the forefront of the Boston bussing crisis.  They’ve started a school for children of color to fight for equitable education.  They work with high school and college students to create success and opportunities through coaching, college-level opportunities, and other community work and civic engagement.

Data helps them in a number of ways. It helps them do their work better.  It gives them context. It helps them identify who they serve. They measure things like race, sex, grade, graduation, attendance, family base, economics, and more. They use SalesForce for a lot of this. Data allows for some accountability.

This data is a shell.  Until they meet a person they don’t see the life. And they let the students use their own data and be advocates.

Data can also be a false sense of progress and hope. It takes time to work against this. Freedom House survives through funding from foundations, and often they dictate how to do the work.  The corporatization of non-profits is happening – they’re using the same language as Wall Street.  How do you feel about the “return on my investment” in this work?  Absolutely not. We don’t talk that way about our young people.

Samuel Sinyangwe

Sinyangwe’s work began with the death of Michael Brown in 2014.  Just afterwards communities that had been experiencing police violence were able to say that. Others attempted to shut this down by saying they didn’t have the data, as if your lived experience needed a study to justify it.

They built the most comprehensive database of people killed by police in the US. They showed that police killed 323 black people the year Michael Brown was killed.  Then they began to use data as a tool for accountability.

Then they could have a conversation about why the numbers were the way they were.  Why are 1 in 6 homicides in Oklahoma City committed by police? 1 in 3 people killed by strangers in the US are killed by police officers.  Over 1200 people a year for the last five years. How do we make this apparent and accessible to people?  Visualization has been critical to help peopleunderstand what is going on, and move to some kind of action.

They have national data, and also deeper data bout the top 100 departments in the US (through public records requests and other means). In Orlando, FL they met with police leadership and the data showed that they are the second highest for people killed by police. When they presented all this they explain this because Orlando is a heavy tourist place, and there are lots of folks on Orange Ave corridor; clearly this is unque and they can’t be compared.  So Sinyangwe pulled the New Orleans Bourbon St. data, which shut down that conversation.

The people in this room can download the dataset and use it – http://mappingpoliceviolence.com.

Kim Foxx

Foxx is the state’s attorney of Cook Country, Chicago. They release this data to the public in a very accessible way. There is a sense around mass incarceration that things are “anecdotal.” 86% of the people in Cook County jail are black or brown.  94% of people in the juvenile system are black and brown. In the prosecutor’s office we don’t know how this happens, because the systems are black boxes.

For Foxx it was important to have the public know what she was doing, and how she makes decisions. How do you measure if you are better than your predecessor? She ran on the issue of people in jail being stuck there only because they are not able to afford their bail. Sharing information gives them a benchmark.  Foxx insists that “you can’t fix what you can’t measure.” 

Sharing budget, agenda, and more lets the public know. People can run the datasets themselves. They’ve hired a Chief Data Officer for the Prosecutors office, and released the last 6 years of data; precisely because they wanted it to be continuing and accountable.

In 2016 their second highest felony offense (after gun possession), was retail theft (shoplifting). They didn’t know that until they dove into the data.  Illinois’ level of retail theft felony is $300.  Indiana is $750.  Wisconsin is $2500. When you think about the impact of a felony conviction you can ask a question about what we are doing.  At her department, they decided to not charge retail theft as a felony for under $1000 (they can do that at their discretion). The data helped them see that, and led to that decision.  Next year they’ll be able to look at the impact of that on prison and jail populations, and more.

Chicago has an issue of violence, and Foxx has limited resources. If we are about public safety, we must look at on a continuum. Violence is connected to education, arrests in schools, and more. The highest incidence of violence is in places with under-resourced schools, the places where people returning from convictions live, and more. You can’t arrest your way out of violence. The justice system is not just reactive.  We can’t put the wrong people in jail.

Julia Anfwin

Julia was destined for computer science, but took a turn towards journalism.  She covered technology for 15 years. She started writing about criminal justice because she was writing about the data being collected and was wondering about how it was being used.

The highest stakes algorithm judging people is the software used across the country to create “risk assessment scores”. At ProPublica she wrote about this. This is used at pre-trial, parole, and sentencing.  San Francisco, most of New York, and lots of other places use this. As someone math and data literate she looked for studies to justify this.  No one was doing these studies. In fact Eric Holder asked the sentencing commission to have these studied. The only studies were by the companies that created it. New York State purchased this in 2001 and released number in 2012; but they didn’t look at race. She did a FOIA request in Florida to get data, and succeeded in getting 2 years worth of score (2 years).

Anfwin looked at the scores and found for black defendants there were sentences across the board. For white people, almost no-one was getting longer sentences. These algorithms are totally biased. The rigorous statistical analysis after 6 moths of work backed this up.

Computer science community has validated all this work, but the criminal justice community has totally rejected this. It becomes bout a debate about the definition of fairness. Bringing numbers to the table helped this debate happen.

“You gotta bring numbers to the fight”

 

Discussion

Adam shares that in Chicago the shootings aren’t that outside the average, but you just can’t get to a hospital in 45 minutes or less so the homicide numbers are worse. In Boston, they say homicide is way down, while shooting rate is through the roof (because you are at a trauma hospital in 4 minutes).

Samuel shares that in the absence of data you just have assumptions. When you talk about addressing police violence you run into an old script.  It says that anything that restricts how police use force endangers police or community. There is no data to support any of those claims. These are assumptions that are taken as fact. This couldn’t be challenged well because the data wasn’t there.

They’ve tested this with the data we have now, and find they are lies. They looked at use of force policies and how restrictive they were. They tested whether there was an increased risk in departments that are most restrictive. In fact these were the safest for civilians and police officers. You share that finding in the room with the police union and they have nothing to respond with. This can move those conversations forward.

Foxx asks what makes you a good prosecutor? How do you measure the outcomes of what you do? IF you say that you want to keep communities safe, and give someone a harsh punishment, and then see the person over and over, are you successful? Is this harsh sentencing aiding public safety? We have to look at the aggregate impacts on community, otherwise we’ll continue to do the same thing.

We haven’t defined what “tough on crime” or “smart on crime” means.  If you don’t have to own that “tough on crime” means lots of people in prison and decimated neighborhoods, then the data doesn’t matter. The narrative of “personal responsibly” has dominated prosecutorial offices for years. This narrative lets you not care about the impact, and absolves you from the conversation. We cannot afford to do that. In what place can you invest 500 million on crime and have a 55% recidivism rate?

Adam shares that Foxx was elected on a wave of anti-incumbent prosecutorial elections. Next year there are 1000 DA elections across the country. This is an opportunity. Foxx is a leading example of what can happen when we change.

Foxx shares that 80% of elected prosecutors are white men. Less than 1% are women of color. This is important, because we need people in these positions to push back on this. She is from public housing, a single mother-family, all the risk factors that make her high risk from an algorithmic sentencing point of view. These un-connected people don’t know the impact of the policies, and that’s a problem.

Arthur shares that there are lots of egos at the table.  Yes you have to bring numbers, but what happens when you are worn out fighting with the numbers, because those numbers are lives. Understanding “why” matters.  There has to be action with the communication. It takes time, and we have to keep chipping away. But the funders say here, have 3 years to fix it. We just can’t do it. Quality programs are proactive and find youth before they fall off the wall.

Adam asks the panelists – what do you need to do your work better? How is data going to help us?

Arthur shares the story of her kids, who have had different experiences of racism – from shootings and support failures to more. The danger of the story about 18 year old black males is dangerous for individuals. The information Sam has is information Freedom House can use. They can give youth the tools to advocate for themselves. We need to advocate for our own.

Sinyangwe argues that the field of stopping police violence is new. The data is out there for you. The policy information is out there. Help produce knowledge that communities can use for change. Look at civilian review boards – there is no data to tell you which structure is the most useful. Make this stuff accessible.

Foxx wants to amplify this. We don’t validate why things are happening; we don’t understand them. We have to be cognizant of the nuances in spaces, otherwise we’ll just adopt things because other folks have. They need people in the data/analytical space to come to the criminal justice system. Advocacy from outside is good, but we need help inside it too to figure out what questions to ask. Foxx wants people to work with prosecutors to help.

Anfwin has a team of two programmers that she works with. Every industry needs more tech literacy. The most shocking thing of criminal justice scores was the shocking amount of forgiveness applied to white defendants. Her analysis of car insurance rates was the same chart – with higher risk the rates declined in white neighborhoods. They use the word “bias”, but the algorithms have allocated “forgiveness”. This is an important re-framing. Can we build-in forgiveness for more than one group of people.

 

Questions

How do we help advocates use data better?

Anfwin shares that people over-collect data before they have a question.  You need a targeted smart question before you start collecting data.  Otherwise your data is putting data at risk. You have to think about when your data is lost, because it will happen.

Surveillance is a real risk, reminds Sinyangwe. You have to take steps to protect yourself. The framing of your statistics matter.  Especially folks that aren’t data literate; they’re the ones that need to take these numbers and use them.

What do you say to black communities that don’t feel safe and want more policing and surveillance?

There is not a magic answer to that, says Arthur. We used to depend on our neighbors. We’ve lost trust. We used to have a shared understanding of what the village looked like. Community policing works for some people, but it doesn’t work for everyone. It can build trust.

Those numbers are real people that live and breathe. We need to really remember that. We need the police. Arthur was going to be a cop, but her mama said that her calling was to work with young people.

Foxx hears this question a lot. She goes into neighborhoods and talks with people in forums. The ACLU folks were talking about stop and frisk. A woman stood up and shared that she was scared to go to the bus stop. She didn’t want an open-air drug market next to the bus stop. Another woman asked about getting rid of the unlicensed snow cone seller. Foxx didn’t understand, because she didn’t live there, that the problem was around the loitering around the snow cone person and the drug sales and more that happened there. People have a deep fear of the police, and a deep fear of the person causing harm.

People want policing that isn’t dangerous to them. This narrative can’t be lost. Law enforcement has to contend with bad tactics and bad policies in the communities that need to trust law the most (because they are suffering the most).

Is the decision whether to keep this data a problem of resources, or a deliberate effort to not collect it?

Sinyangwe says it is a combination. The political system responds to crises. The Department of Justice only opened up an investigation into Fergurson, Baltimore, Chicago when something big happened. Patrick Sharkey found in a recent study that the crime decline in the past few decades was driven by non-profit organizations. For every 10 NGOs working on stuff, there was a 6% drop in violent crime and 10% drop in homicide. The only place resourced to respond when you need safety help is the police department. That was a choice; and they defunded other alternatives. Other studies show that mass incarceration had zero perfect impact on the decline in crime; but that is where all the money goes. Same result for spending on police – very little impact on crime (0% to 5%). We have to shift to community-based responses. Those are the evidence based responses to this problem.

Anfwin attributes this to benign malice (if that exists). Journalism is the last watchdog – people respond. And journalism is in crisis.  All the money is going from them to Google and Facebook. Journalism needs our support to bring attention to this.

 

 

3 plans to avoid blackouts using 100% renewable energy

Researchers have proposed three different methods for providing consistent power in 139 countries using 100 percent renewable energy.

The inconsistencies of power produced by wind, water, and sunlight and the continuously fluctuating demand for energy often hinder renewable energy solutions. In a new paper, which appears in Renewable Energy, the researchers outline several solutions to making clean power reliable enough for all energy sectors—transportation; heating and cooling; industry; and agriculture, forestry, and fishing—in 20 world regions after all sectors have converted to 100 percent clean, renewable energy.

The researchers previously developed roadmaps for transitioning 139 countries to 100 percent clean, renewable energy by 2050 with 80 percent of that transition completed by 2030. The present study examines ways to keep the grid stable with these roadmaps.

Multiple solutions

“Based on these results, I can more confidently state that there is no technical or economic barrier to transitioning the entire world to 100 percent clean, renewable energy with a stable electric grid at low cost,” says lead author Mark Z. Jacobson, a professor of civil and environmental engineering at Stanford University who is also a senior fellow at the Stanford Precourt Institute for Energy and the Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment.

“This solution would go a long way toward eliminating global warming and the 4 million to 7 million air pollution–related deaths that occur worldwide each year, while also providing energy security.”

“…the greatest barrier to the large-scale implementation of clean renewable energy is people’s perception that it’s too hard to keep the lights on…”

The paper builds on a previous 2015 study by Jacobson and colleagues that examined the ability of the grid to stay stable in the 48 contiguous United States. That study only included one scenario for how to achieve the goals. Some criticized that paper for relying too heavily on adding turbines to existing hydroelectric dams—which the group suggested in order to increase peak electricity production without changing the number or size of the dams.

The previous paper was also criticized for relying too much on storing excess energy in water, ice, and underground rocks. The solutions in the current paper address these criticisms by suggesting several different solutions for stabilizing energy produced with 100 percent clean, renewable sources, including solutions with no added hydropower turbines and no storage in water, ice, or rocks.

“Our main result is that there are multiple solutions to the problem,” says Jacobson. “This is important because the greatest barrier to the large-scale implementation of clean renewable energy is people’s perception that it’s too hard to keep the lights on with random wind and solar output.”

Meeting demand

At the heart of this study is the need to match energy supplied by wind, water, and solar power and storage with what the researchers predict demand to be in 2050. To do this, they grouped 139 countries—for which they created energy roadmaps in a previous study—into 20 regions based on geographic proximity and some geopolitical concerns.

Unlike the previous 139-country study, which matched energy supply with annual-average demand, the present study matches supply and demand in 30-second increments for 5 years (2050-2054) to account for the variability in wind and solar power as well as the variability in demand over hours and seasons.

For the study, the researchers relied on two computational modeling programs. The first program predicted global weather patterns from 2050 to 2054. From this, they further predicted the amount of energy that could be produced from weather-related energy sources like onshore and offshore wind turbines, solar photovoltaics on rooftops, and in power plants, concentrated solar power plants, and solar thermal plants over time. These types of energy sources are variable and don’t necessarily produce energy when demand is highest.

The group then combined data from the first model with a second model that incorporated energy produced by more stable sources of electricity, like geothermal power plants, tidal and wave devices, and hydroelectric power plants, and of heat, like geothermal reservoirs. The second model also included ways of storing energy when there was excess, such as in electricity, heat, cold, and hydrogen storage. Further, the model included predictions of energy demand over time.

With the two models, the group was able to predict both how much energy could be produced through more variable sources of energy, and how well other sources could balance out the fluctuating energy to meet demands.

Keeping the lights on

Scenarios based on the modeling data avoided blackouts at low cost in all 20 world regions for all five years examined and under three different storage scenarios. One scenario includes heat pumps—which are used in place of combustion-based heaters and coolers—but no hot or cold energy storage; two add no hydropower turbines to existing hydropower dams; and one has no battery storage.

The fact that no blackouts occurred under three different scenarios suggests that many possible solutions to grid stability with 100 percent wind, water, and solar power are possible, a conclusion that contradicts previous claims that the grid cannot stay stable with such high penetrations of just renewables.

Overall, the researchers found that the cost per unit of energy—including the cost in terms of health, climate and energy—in every scenario was about one quarter what it would be if the world continues on its current energy path. This is largely due to eliminating the health and climate costs of fossil fuels. Also, by reducing water vapor, the wind turbines included in the roadmaps would offset about 3 percent of global warming to date.

Although the cost of producing a unit of energy is similar in the roadmap scenarios and the non-intervention scenario, the researchers found that the roadmaps roughly cut in half the amount of energy needed in the system. So, consumers would actually pay less.

Green energy is more popular if it’s the default

The vast amount of these energy savings come from avoiding the energy needed to mine, transport, and refine fossil fuels, converting from combustion to direct electricity, and using heat pumps instead of conventional heaters and air conditioners.

“One of the biggest challenges facing energy systems based entirely on clean, zero-emission wind, water, and solar power is to match supply and demand with near-perfect reliability at reasonable cost,” says Mark Delucchi, coauthor of the paper and a research scientist at the University of California, Berkeley. “Our work shows that this can be accomplished, in almost all countries of the world, with established technologies.”

Planning ahead, working together

Jacobson and his colleagues says that a remaining challenge of implementing their roadmaps is that they require coordination across political boundaries.

“Ideally, you’d have cooperation in deciding where you’re going to put the wind farms, where you’re going to put the solar panels, where you’re going to put the battery storage,” says Jacobson. “The whole system is most efficient when it is planned ahead of time as opposed to done one piece at a time.”

Germany’s big push for renewables is paying off

In light of this geopolitical complication, they are also working on smaller roadmaps to help individual towns, many of which have already committed to achieving 100 percent renewable energy.

Additional coauthors of this paper are from Aalborg University in Denmark and UC Berkeley.

Source: Stanford University

The post 3 plans to avoid blackouts using 100% renewable energy appeared first on Futurity.

Astronomers image 40-light-year-wide space donut

An artist's rendition of the gigantic donut of gas that surrounds the supermassive black hole at ...

The supermassive black holes lurking at the center of galaxies have been known to chow down on anything unlucky enough to pass too close, but the opportunity to see that in action rarely occurs at the Milky Way’s quiet core. Now, astronomers using the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) observatory in Chile have imaged a very active black hole at the center of spiral galaxy M77, which is apparently feasting on the universe’s largest donut.

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