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Advancing Racial Equity with Data

In late 2020, motivated by a deep-seated concern over racial injustices in the United States, the American Statistical Association (ASA) convened the ASA Antiracism Task Force to identify ways in which the organization, membership, and related guidance on the responsible use of data and statistics could advance racial equity and justice by becoming more antiracist. I was honored to be invited to participate and serve as the chair of the Advancing Racial Justice in the Practice of Statistics subcommittee.

Our eight-person subcommittee spanned a variety of domains and experiences, including academia and industry. Over the course of 2021, we met regularly to discuss findings and develop recommendations related to racial justice and the practice of statistics. The Antiracism Task Force published a final report, including the contributions of our subcommittee, in February 2022.

In a conference session on August 8, 2022, I will be sharing the recommendations from our subcommittee at the 2022 Joint Statistical Meetings (JSM), the largest gathering of statisticians held in North America. I am looking forward to continuing the conversation on what statisticians, data scientists, educators, and other stakeholders can do to support racial justice in statistics.

Our recommendations for advancing racial justice in the practice of statistics center around four sub-themes: 

  1. Contribute to development of public policy that prioritizes racial-ethnic equity: The ASA and its members can continue to identify policy areas where opportunities exist for statistical input that can promote racial-ethnic equity. This includes endorsing and providing materials and support to policymakers and including antiracist topics in training materials that prepare members to testify in court or policymaking venues.
  2. Promote racial-ethnic equity in statistical education and research: The ASA can invest in driving positive cultural change through education and research. This includes development of antiracist statistics materials for use by secondary and postsecondary educators, providing support to researchers addressing considerations of racial-ethnic equity in statistics, and encouraging journal leadership to assess and address racial-ethnic bias in design and analysis of submitted content.
  3. Positively influence organizations to ethically use statistics, data science, and artificial intelligence: The ASA can provide a template statement to organizations to express their commitment to ethical data usage, collaborate with organizations to expand a diverse membership body, and encourage ASA chapters and sections to incorporate antiracist approaches into career development programs.
  4. Support statisticians and data scientists in incorporating racial-ethnic inclusion in their own work: The ASA can support its members and the broader community of statisticians and data scientists by helping to develop and share common identifiers of racism, aggregating best practices to avoid racial-ethnic bias in analysis and research, and creating events such as tutorials, workshops, and conference pathways to disseminate findings that directly or indirectly promote racial-ethnic equity.

The final report is intended to be a road map and starting point rather than a final product. The ASA has already started to convene groups and initiatives related to the recommendations. I enjoyed the opportunity to collaborate with a variety of ASA members on the ASA Antiracism Task Force, and I look forward to contributing to the continuing efforts to advance racial equity and justice in the practice of statistics and data science.

Emily Hadley is a Research Data Scientist at RTI International. She is grateful for the contributions of the other members of the ASA Antiracism Task Force, and specifically the Advancing Racial Justice in the Practice of Statistics subcommittee whose efforts are reflected in this post: Necip Doganaksoy, Susan Halabi, Ofer Harel, David Marker, Miles Ott, Douglas Samuelson, and Abdus Wahed.

Attending JSM 2022? View the other RTI presentations during the event.

Learn more about RTI’s Center for Data Science and our Transformative Research Unit for Equity (TRUE) to see all the ways we’re helping to advance racial justice.

Disclaimer: This piece was written by Emily Hadley (Research Data Scientist) to share perspectives on a topic of interest. Expression of opinions within are those of the author or authors.