Bellbird : Sue Bell's blog

Advice from a machine learning specialist: think about the ethics

 ‘Despite all the hype, machine learning is not a be-all and end-all solution. We still need social scientists if we are going to use machine learning to study social phenomena in a responsible and ethical manner.’


I came across this quote in an article in Communications of the ACM[1][2] by machine learning specialist Hanna Wallach. The article is called ‘Computational Social Science ≠Computer Science+ Social Data’.

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Qualitative Analysis Skills: A Primer Part 2

Remember the people

Qualitative research is all about understanding people.  That’s why clients want us to conduct it.  While it is easy to remember that at the ‘data collection’ stage, it can sometimes be forgotten that qualitative analysis should be about people too.

One of the challenges is that some of the methods researchers use for qualitative analysis seems to turn the fascinating insightful people who have participated in the research into a dry list of themes. Of course, identifying the themes that have emerged from the research is important, but the best research goes beyond just themes.

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Safeguard Your Files Against Ransomware


At Susan Bell Research our clients increasingly ask how secure our systems are. Can we encrypt data? Yes we can. Do we have a risk management policy? Yes we do. We are lucky that we have our own IT Security specialist 'on staff'. Les Bell, Adjunct Lecturer in Cryptography and Information Security at Macquarie University and member of the Optus Macquarie University Cyber Security Hub, has written this piece about how to protect ourselves from what is probably the biggest cyber security threat faced by small and medium enterprises in Australia: ransomware.

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Going back to 1997 - Behavioural Economics and us

In 1997, I bought a book called 'Research on Judgement and Decision Making: currents, connections, and controversies' edited by Goldstein and Hogarth. It was here that I first came across Kahneman and Tversky and their work on such things as representativeness heuristic. I was hooked. I think my favourite piece was one on 'arguing with yourself', because it is something I do often!

I was working on insurance projects at the time, trying to figure out why some people saw risks, where everyone else saw opportunity. I used many of the insights I learned here with my clients, but did not make them public.

Twenty or more years later, I still find this whole field fascinating, but I am also frustrated.

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How Behavioural Economics and Qualitative Research can Work Together

This is the second of two posts about using Behavioural Economics (B.E.) and qualitative research together. The first post described ways in which qualitative research could benefit from a ‘broadened’ view of B.E. This second post describes how B.E. and qualitative research can work together, by making the best of both worlds.

B.E. and qualitative research can work well together because they share a parent – contemporary social science.

B.E. was revolutionary because it applied the same social science to economics that has been used by social-science trained researchers for decades.  ‘Everything is relative’, ‘people are influenced by what others think’, and ‘behaviour is best researched in context’, are all part of the B.E. canon and have also been part of the best kind of qualitative approach for a long time. 

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Insights from document testing: how to gain attention

Are you afraid that technology has taught us all to live in a fast multi-tasking world so that your customers and stakeholders have ‘the attention span of a goldfish’?

Don’t worry. Just because many of us multitask while watching movies, that doesn’t mean that we can’t pay attention when we have a goal to achieve. I like this distinction from from Google on how people pay attention, by leaning forward, or leaning back. Whether someone ‘leans forward’ mode or ‘leans back’ mode depends on their goals at the time.

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