Smart Software but No Mention of Cathy O’Neil

August 21, 2019

I read “Flawed Algorithms Are Grading Millions of Students’ Essays.” I also read Weapons of Math Destruction: How Big Data Increases Inequality and Threatens Democracy by Cathy O’Neil, which was published in 2016. My recollection is that Ms. O’Neil made appearances on some podcasts; for instance, Econ Talk, a truly exciting economics-centric program. It is indeed possible that the real news outfit Motherboard/Vice did not. Before I read the article, I did a search of the text for “O’Neil” and “Weapons of Math Destruction.” I found zero hits. Why? The author, editor, and publisher did not include a pointer to her book. Zippo. There’s a reference to the “real news” outfit ProPublica. There’s a reference to the Vice investigation. Would this approach work in freshman composition with essays graded by a harried graduate student?

Here’s the point. Ms. O’Neil did a very good job of explaining the flaws of automated systems. Recycling is the name of the game. After all, DarkCyber is recycling this “original” essay containing “original” research, isn’t it?

I noted this passage in the write up:

Research is scarce on the issue of machine scoring bias, partly due to the secrecy of the companies that create these systems. Test scoring vendors closely guard their algorithms, and states are wary of drawing attention to the fact that algorithms, not humans, are grading students’ work. Only a handful of published studies have examined whether the engines treat students from different language backgrounds equally, but they back up some critics’ fears.

Yeah, but there is a relatively recent book on the subject.

I noted this statement in the write up:

Here’s the first sentence from the essay addressing technology’s impact on humans’ ability to think for themselves…

I like the “ability to think for themselves.”

So do I. In fact, I would suggest that this write up is an example of the loss of this ability.

A mere 2,000 words and not a room or a thought or a tiny footnote about Ms. O’Neil. Flawed? I leave it to you to decide.

Stephen E Arnold, August 21, 2019


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