Roberta Sinatra awarded a Velux Foundation grant to fight discriminatory algorithms

Algorithms used for ranking publications and evaluating researchers on the basis of their citations are far from fair. The Velux Foundation has awarded associate professor, Roberta Sinatra, the Young Investigator grant to pursue her ambition of creating the foundation for better algorithms and metrics.

Roberta Sinatra awarded a Velux Foundation grant to fight discriminatory algorithms
Roberta Sinatra awarded a velux foundation grant to fight discriminatory algorithms

Today, university has fast and efficient algorithms that search, sort and rank scientific information. Yet, these algorithms have an issue: they are based on citations, which are ingrained with human biases. Therefore, explains associate professor at the IT University of Copenhagen, Roberta Sinatra, their output is also biased, creating inequalities and raising serious concerns of discrimination:

– For example, there is scientific evidence that given same quality, women receive less recognition than men. Similarly, given same the quality, a researcher from a Danish University receives less recognition than, say, a researcher from Harvard University. In general, citations are distorted by effects that have nothing to do with quality, like gender, ethnicity or affiliation. Why is this a problem? Because we want algorithms and metrics to find high quality papers and researchers, regardless of their gender or affiliation, she says.

Young Investigators

In 2021, Roberta Sinatra is among 19 researchers to receive the Velux Foundation’s Young Investigator grant; a part of a funding programme, which “aims to support early career researchers with ambitions of creating their own, independent research identity, and with the potential to significantly contribute to research in technical and natural sciences at a Danish research institution.”

The fund has invested DKK 6 million in Roberta Sinatra’s project Bias Explained: Pushing Algorithmic Fairness with Models and Experiments. The project aims to uncover the mathematical bias mechanisms and to create fair algorithms.

– We all know biases exist. Yet, we have no quantitative understanding of the long-term effects of bias mechanisms on recognition. In the long term, I expect that this research will empower us to study recognition inequalities not only in science, but also in many other fields where we use biased measures to quantify output, like in art or movies. We have the moral responsibility to create systems where equal opportunities are not undermined by our own biases or by poorly designed algorithms. This project aims to build a more fair society by creating a debiased framework to recognize true talent and to allocate resources in a fair way, she ends.

Source: IT University of Copenhagen


European Higher Education Organization

European Higher Education Organization is a public organization carrying out academic, educational and information activities on higher education in Europe. The EHEO general plan stresses that: Higher education systems require adequate funding and, as an investment in economic growth, public spending in higher education should be protected. The challenges faced by higher education require more flexible governance and funding systems, which balance greater autonomy for education institutions with accountability to stakeholders. Thus, EHEO plans: improve academic and scientific interaction of universities; protect the interests of universities; interact more closely with public authorities of European countries; popularize European higher education in the world; develop academic mobility; seek funding for European universities.

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