Algorithm Tips, a compilation of “potentially newsworthy algorithms” for journalists and researchers

DANIEL TRIELLI, JENNIFER STARK, and NICK DIAKOPOLOUS and Northwestern’s Computational Journalism Lab created this searchable, non-comprehensive list of algorithms in use at the federal, state, and local levels. The “Methodology” page explains the data-scraping process, then the criteria for inclusion:

“We formulated questions to evaluate the potential newsworthiness of each algorithm:

Can this algorithm have a negative impact if used inappropriately?
Can this algorithm raise controversy if adopted?
Is the application of this algorithm surprising?
Does this algorithm privilege or harm a specific subset of people?
Does the algorithm have the potential of affecting a large population or section of the economy?

If the answers for any of these questions were ‘yes’, the algorithm could be included on the list.”

Link popup: yes. The list includes a huge range of applications, from a Forest Service algorithmic ranking of invasive plants, to an intelligence project meant to discover “significant societal events” from public data—and pavement, nursing, and missiles too.

  • Nick Diakopolous also wrote a guide for journalists on investigating algorithms: “Auditing algorithms is not for the faint of heart. Information deficits limit an auditor’s ability to sometimes even know where to start, what to ask for, how to interpret results, and how to explain the patterns they’re seeing in an algorithm’s behavior. There is also the challenge of knowing and defining what’s expected of an algorithm, and how those expectations may vary across contexts.” Link popup: yes.
  • The guide is a chapter from the upcoming Data Journalism Handbook popup: yes. One of the partner organizations behind the guide has a website of advice and stories popup: yes from the data-reporting trenches, such as this popup: yes on trying to figure out prescription drug deaths: “The FDA literally found three different ways to spell ASCII. This was a sign of future surprises.”
  • In other technical journalism news, Julia Angwin and Jeff Larson announced in April that they were leaving ProPublica to start a nonprofit newsroom. From NiemenLab: “‘We will cover the impact of technology on society,’ Angwin told me. ‘That includes covering the big platform companies, but also the tech that is used in other aspects of life—hopefully through investigations like the ones we did of the racial bias in software popup: yes used in criminal justice and the algorithms that generate unjustifiably higher car insurance prices in minority neighborhoods popup: yes.'” Link popup: yes


The effect of monopsony power on downstream seller wages 

A new paper by NATHAN WILMERS published in the AMERICAN SOCIOLOGICAL REVIEW finds a connection between buyer concentration and stagnating wages through the supply chain: 

“Since the 1970s, market restructuring has shifted many workers into workplaces heavily reliant on sales to outside corporate buyers. These outside buyers wield substantial power over working conditions among their suppliers. During the same period, wage growth for middle-income workers stagnated. By extending organizational theories of wage-setting to incorporate interactions between organizations, I predict that wage stagnation resulted in part from production workers’ heightened exposure to buyer power.

Panel data on publicly traded companies shows that dependence on large buyers lowers suppliers’ wages and accounts for 10 percent of wage stagnation in nonfinancial firms since the 1970s. These results are robust to a series of supplementary measures of buyer power; instrumental variable analysis using mergers between buyers; corrections for selection and missing data; and controls for individual worker characteristics like education and occupation. The results show how product market restructuring and new forms of economic segmentation affect workers’ wages. The spread of unequal bargaining relations between corporate buyers and their suppliers has slowed wage growth for workers.”

Get the full paper here popup: yes

  • From a companion post by Wilmers for Equitable Growth: “Understanding wage stagnation requires attention to changing contracting relationships between companies. The organizational context of workers’ jobs—what kind of company and workplace they are employed by—also affects workers’ power to bargain about wages. This organizational context goes beyond immediate, within-organization characteristics.… Relationships between organizations are also factors in the organizational context that affect workers’ jobs and pay. In an era of outsourcing and market concentration, these between-organization relationships are increasingly important for setting workers’ wages.” Link popup: yes.
  • Yale Law Journal has published an excellent new set of articles on antitrust, a perennially cited tool by those hoping for an enforcement correction to monopsony conditions. Contributions come from Lina Khan, Sandeep Vaheesan, and Aaron Edlin. Link popup: yes. (And link popup: yes to the much larger collection “Unlocking Antitrust Enforcement,” which this new set responds to.)  ht Will
  • From that collection, an article by C. Scott Hemphill and Nancy Rose tackles the possibility of antitrust enforcement for the supply chain effects detailed in Wilmer’s article: “We show that lost upstream competition is an actionable harm to the competitive process. Our central claim is that harm to sellers in an input market is sufficient to support antitrust liability. We defend this conclusion against the contrary view that demonstrated harm to the merging firms’ downstream purchasers or final consumers is an essential element of any antitrust claim. Nor is it necessary for plaintiffs to demonstrate a reduction in the input quantity transacted. We further argue that claimed ‘efficiencies’ premised on a reduction in buy-side competition are not efficiencies at all.” Link popup: yes


  • An exciting new study from David Keith and Carbon Engineering suggests a relatively cheap new way to remove carbon from the air and remake it into fuel. From the Atlantic: “‘If these costs are real, it is an important result,’ said Ken Caldeira popup: yes, a senior scientist at the Carnegie Institution for Science. ‘This opens up the possibility that we could stabilize the climate for affordable amounts of money without changing the entire energy system or changing everyone’s behavior.'” Link popup: yes. Study available here.
  • A great thread from Fordham Law’s John Pfaff on the impact of elections on judicial behavior. Link popup: yes.
  • What happens when government gender quotas are instituted? A study examines results worldwide: “We find that substantial quota shocks—those associated with a large increase in women’s parliamentary representation—are followed by increased government expenditures toward public health. Further, we find that increases in health spending are offset by relative decreases in military spending and other spending categories.” Link popup: yes.
  • Copy and paste lawmaking. Link popup: yes
  • Fascinating historical paper on the history of macroeconometric modeling, by Juan Acosta and Erich Pinzón-Fuchs of Duke University’s Center for the History of Political Economy. Link popup: yes.  
  • JW Mason reviews Quinn Slobodian’s new book The Globalists popup: yes in the Boston Review: “For these thinkers, the most important argument for free movement of goods and especially finance was not their direct material benefits, but the limits they imposed on the autonomy of national governments.” Link popup: yes
  • “Across developing countries, a higher mean income comes with a higher floor. The bulk of this income effect is direct rather than via higher spending on social protection. That spending generally lifts the floor though this is mainly due to social insurance; on average, social assistance adds only 1.5 cents per day to the floor. Turning to the US, the paper finds that the floor has been sinking over the last 30 years, associated with an inequitable growth process.” New working paper on public spending and social protection from Martin Ravallion, Dean Jolliffe, Juan Margitic. Link popup: yes.
  • Who benefits from productivity growth? Link popup: yes.
  • At Niskanen, Ed Dolan’s libertarian perspective on universal health care: “Rather than asking how much any given health care plan would cost, it is more useful to ask, ‘What is the best plan we could design for what we are politically willing to spend?’ If we set that amount somewhere close to what the government now spends on health care, universal catastrophic coverage looks rather good.” Link popup: yes. popup: yes
  • A 2007 paper on donor fragmentation and development bureaucracy by Aminur Rahman and Stephen Knack. Link popup: yes. (Via this thread popup: yes by Garett Jones on the Marshall Plan and “monopsonistic” development aid structures.) 
  • From 1885, an interview with Henry George on his work and the theory of taxing land value. Link popup: yes

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