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Entries for April 2021

Prediction, public policy and the harms of “epistemic optimism”

Over the past year we have seen what may euphemistically be described as “ambitious” uses made of predictive modelling to inform public policy. This is not a new phenomenon, but an established direction of travel. Unfortunately, such models have epistemic limitations that no amount of optimism can overcome. Assigning individuals to specific categories – with direct consequences for their lives and without recognising uncertainty in the prediction – is unsupportable scientifically and ethically. It ignores intrinsic uncertainties, reinforces existing structural disadvantage, and is inherently and irredeemably unfair. Model-based predictions may have an important role to play but, despite advancements in technology and data, we still need to exercise great caution when using predictions to place individuals in categories with real-world consequences for people's lives.

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