Malte Ziewitz, assistant professor of Science & Technology Studies and a Mills Family Faculty Fellow, was recently honored with a National Science Foundation (NSF) Faculty Early Career Development Program award, which will help him to investigate how ordinary citizens cope with being rated, scored and ranked by algorithmic systems.
“Receiving this award is a tremendous honor — not just for me, but also for the students, faculty and mentors I have been working with,” he said.
The award supports early-career faculty who have the potential to serve as academic role models in research and education and to lead advances in the mission of their department or organization. Research and activities pursued by early-career faculty build a firm foundation for a lifetime of leadership in integrating education and research. Over the next five years, Ziewitz will receive more than $400,000 to support his research.
Ziewitz will use the funds to study a new generation of computationally generated ratings, scores and rankings. As web search engines, hiring platforms and new credit scoring products have grown in popularity, the question of what counts as “fair” representation in these systems has become a widespread problem – especially for those who have to bear the consequences. A key goal of the research is therefore to investigate how ordinary citizens, as opposed to engineers and experts, experience and respond to these representations on a daily basis.
“The award will allow us to look further into the human side of algorithmic systems,” Ziewitz said. “A page of search engine results or broken credit score can make or break a business, reputation or career. What recourse do people have when things goes wrong and how might we improve their situation? These are important questions that the social sciences and humanities have a lot to say about.”
As part of this research, Ziewitz will pilot a new clinical program that will bring together undergraduate students from different majors to work on real-life problems. In the same way that a law school clinic would help represent a legal subject, the project clinic aims to support and advocate for data subjects who are on the receiving end of these technologies.
Ziewitz’s work has previously been supported by a McCloy Fellowship, a PGP Corporation Scholarship and grants from the Economic and Social Research Council, the Foundation for the Sociology of Health & Illness and the German Academic Exchange Service.