The Trouble with Big Data: A Case Study in Criminalization
with Khalil Muhammad
Offered in partnership with The New York Public Library
Friday, February 2, 2018

How does the need to simplify complex social phenomena help and hurt human beings? In our Big Data age, the facts are supposed to speak for themselves. With machine-learning algorithms, the likelihood of ever greater reliance on numbers to predict everything from climate change to your next online shopping purchase, suggests that all of us should be more informed consumers of how facts and Big Data work. In this master class, our particular case study will be the way data is used concerning incarceration. We will consider the political context in which facts are produced, why some facts matter and others don’t, and also explore epistemological questions raised by the Big Data phenomenon.

Khalil Muhammad is professor of History, Race and Public Policy at Harvard Kennedy School and the Suzanne Young Murray Professor at the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Studies. He is the former Director of the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, a division of the New York Public Library and the world’s leading library and archive of global black history. He is a contributor to a 2014 National Research Council study, The Growth of Incarceration in the United States: Exploring Causes and Consequences, and is the author of The Condemnation of Blackness: Race, Crime, and the Making of Modern Urban America, which won the 2011 John Hope Franklin Best Book award in American Studies.