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The Human-Rights Statistician

A Foreign Policy article by Tina Rosenberg profiles Patrick Ball, a human rights statistician. Rosenberg describes Ball’s testimony at the trial of  Slobodan Milosevic:

 “We find evidence consistent with the hypothesis that Yugoslav forces forced people from their homes, forced Albanian Kosovars from their homes, and killed people,” Ball said…

Could the movements of refugees have been random? No, Ball said. He had also plotted killings of Kosovars and found that both phenomena occurred at the same times and in the same places — flight and death, hand in hand. “I remember well the moment of astonishment that I felt when I saw the killing graph for the first time,” Ball replied to Milosevic. “I assumed I had made an error, because the correlation was so close.”

Rosenberg also looks at Ball’s work in El Salvador, South Africa, Guatemala, and Peru, and his concerns over the consequences of sloppy numbers. “A human rights group should never lose a factual challenge,” says Ball. “Our moral legitimacy depends on speaking truth to power. People who want to dismiss us say we’re just making shit up. If they’re ever right when they say that, we’re in big trouble.”