Sources & Methods #40: Data Science with Eric Schles


Show Notes:

6:50 - [On working at the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office in New York] There is some emotional burnout when the work that you do involves slave traders. That can be challenging for a lot of folks. But overall, the ability to know that the work you’ve done has made someone’s life better - there’s nothing like that in the world. It’s better than any other possible thing you could do.

10:07 - The General Problem is that we don’t want people enslaved. Fairly simple. People are not property. People are people. At a high level, that’s the goal. To have no one in the world treated as property.

This [slavery] problem is fundamentally an economics problem.

[On parents enslaving their kids or family members to beg] If you lift people out of poverty, then that doesn’t happen anymore. That’s a path forward to removing that form of slavery. Because that’s not motivated by malice or cruel intent. It’s motivated by simply not having means to do anything else. And this extreme desperation.

13:30 - There are some things we can do within traditional economic stimulus-style things for developing countries that will alleviate a great deal of the problem space. So I originally tried to work on that. The problem there is that economists aren’t particular interested in this. I don’t think they’re disinterested, I want to be clear. I think that their research dollars come from very specific sources and it’s hard to find research dollars for this.

14:29 - In international development, there’s plenty of money and everyone’s interested in this. But you can’t do this only from an aid perspective. You have to stimulate economies. There have to be network effects. Aid can help and lift specific people out of poverty. But we’ve seen that aid can be detrimental. There’s well documented evidence on this. If you give people aid, they become dependent on aid. And if the aid dries up… and the aid goes away, the cycle of dependence basically leaves these people worse off than they were originally.

15:23 - I was lucky enough while I was in the federal government to see how truly well intentioned so many federal employees really are. And I had the specific pleasure of interacting with someone from USAID. They were working on a project in West Africa. What they did was - it’s mind boggling how simply and brilliant and effective this was - was give folks really old cell phones and really old laptops with Excel. They were able to use this to coordinate crop outputs. And look at the weather.

They leveraged basic technology and they were able to get crop outputs up like crazy. And they brought these subsistence farmers up substantially.

These people didn’t need our help the next year.

If you give people standard tools and you are well intentioned, you can actually make a lot more change. Especially for third world or disadvantaged groups.

22:34 - I really recommend checking out the Polaris Project on Global Modern Slavery.

1:04:04 - Research Question #1: We need to figure out the frequency of trafficking

Research Question #2: I’m very interested in the discovering the probability that someone is being trafficked. How likely is a specific neighborhood to be an area for trafficking?

1:09:30 - Specialization is how I determine what problems to solve. I will usually work on issues that have technical solutions.

1:13:07 - I think understanding how automating works is a great skill, not least because it makes you highly employable. People need to make a living.

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