The Gordon Lecture Series welcomes Professor of Complex Systems at Williams College Chad Higdon-Topaz.

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The Gordon Lecture Series welcomes Professor of Complex Systems at Williams College, Adjunct Professor (by courtesy) of Applied Mathematics at the University of Colorado—Boulder, Chad Higdon-Topaz, presenting “From Bytes to Rights: The Fight for Justice in the Era of Data.”

Tens of millions of people in the United States have been directly impacted by the criminal justice system, with nearly half the population affected through close familial or social ties. Alongside the direct harm inflicted by the system, an insidious challenge arises: the system’s opaque nature makes pinpointing the specific loci of harm complex and elusive. Echoing the words of civil rights pioneer Ida B. Wells, who stated that “the way to right wrongs is to turn the light of truth upon them,” this talk will showcase how data science can be harnessed to expose racial injustice. It will feature case studies spanning various scales and stages of the criminal justice system, including policing in the small municipality of Williamstown, Massachusetts; criminal sentencing across all 94 federal district courts; and incarceration at Rikers Island in New York during the COVID pandemic. These examples underscore the pivotal role of data in fostering transparency and advancing justice. 

Topaz (A.B. Harvard, Ph.D. Northwestern) is co-founder of an independent nonprofit organization: Institute for the Quantitative Study of Inclusion, Diversity, and Equity (QSIDE). QSIDE is a research-to-action institute working at the intersection of social justice and data science. 

The author of over 60 published scientific papers and pieces of public scholarship, Topaz began his career using mathematics to understand problems in physics, chemistry, and biology. He now focuses on areas such as criminal justice; diversity and inclusion in arts, media, and pop culture; education equity; and health care equity. His work has been covered nationally and internationally in The Atlantic, The Guardian, MIT Technology Review, Mother Jones, Science, Smithsonian Magazine, and more. His research honors include a New Directions Research Professorship at the Institute for Mathematics and its Applications (the first given to a liberal arts college faculty member), a Kavli Frontiers Fellowship from the National Academy of Sciences, a Board of Trustees Award from Macalester College, an Equity and Diversity Visiting Fellowship from the University of Auckland, and the Outstanding Paper Award of the Society for Industrial and Applied Mathematics. Topaz is passionate about scientific communication and discourse, having delivered nearly 200 talks at colleges, universities, and scientific meetings. 

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