Can Trudeau keep resisting calls to be the anti-Trump? Radwanski

Listening to President Trump’s inaugural speech, reinforces the Adam Radwanski’s commentary on one aspect of the challenges facing the government with respect to the Trump administration:

On the eve of Donald Trump’s inauguration as his country’s 45th president, Justin’s Trudeau’s office was flagging a speech about Canada-U.S. relations that the Prime Minister made when he was the third-party leader back in June, 2015.

Delivered to the Liberal-affiliated Canada 2020 think-tank shortly before the campaign that would bring Mr. Trudeau to power, the address criticized Conservative prime minister Stephen Harper for letting ideology get in the way of our country’s relationship with its most important trading partner. If his party were to be elected, Mr. Trudeau pledged, there would be no “hectoring” of whoever was in charge of the U.S. government; he would build on a proud history of setting aside differences in favour of pursuing shared interests.

So far, Mr. Trudeau seems to be making good on that commitment, even with an incoming president he could not possibly have considered as a potential partner back then. He generally has refrained from public criticism of the White House’s new occupant, despite presumable personal distaste for him; meanwhile, Mr. Trudeau’s officials and advisers have diligently worked to forge ties with those of Mr. Trump and sell them on the importance of a relationship scarcely on their radar.

But as speculation about Mr. Trump’s presidency gives way to hard reality, we will find out the extent to which Mr. Trudeau is willing and able to stay focused on Canada’s economic self-interest – and how much he can tune out voices telling him he should aim for something nobler.

Some of those voices will come from within his own government: Some members of Mr. Trudeau’s caucus, deeply uncomfortable playing nice with right-wing populists, would certainly prefer he strike a contrast with Mr. Trump.

Others will come from Canadian media and the opposition. Even before Mr. Trump was elected in November, commentators wanted Mr. Trudeau to upbraid him publicly. Those can be expected to ramp up again soon, and if he declines to criticize the new president strongly for going against Canadian interests on trade policy or to stand up to him on human rights, Mr. Trudeau will be accused of weakness – not least by the New Democrats, who are seeking Liberal vulnerabilities among voters who are opposed to Mr. Trump.

And prominent voices in other countries see him as one of liberal internationalism’s few great hopes as a wave of populism sweeps across an increasingly destabilized Western world.

“I think this is the time for Canada to be loud, very loud, and that’s not always the case,” was how Ian Bremmer – who heads the global consulting firm Eurasia Group, and is a prominent foreign-policy commentator south of the border – put it in a recent interview in his New York office. Mr. Bremmer, who is friends with Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland, said this may be an opportune time for a “Canada doctrine” – echoing a view that Mr. Trump’s presidency could help compel Mr. Trudeau to take an outsized role in defending and shaping international institutions.

As seductive as such calls could be for a Prime Minister who unabashedly enjoys the international stage, Mr. Trudeau has thus far rejected them in favour of pragmatism – buying the argument from David MacNaughton, the ambassador to Washington, that Canada’s interests (particularly on trade policy) can best be served by acting as a friend to Mr. Trump at a time he will need one. As evidenced by his cancellation of his visit to this week’s World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, where last year he was the toast of the town, Mr. Trudeau is clearly aware he risks giving rise to a populist backlash in Canada if he pays too much attention to international elites at the expense of practical concerns back home.

But it was relatively easy for Mr. Trudeau, going along to get along, when Mr. Trump’s words did not have real consequences – when Barack Obama was still in the White House and the United States retained its traditional role with NATO and other international bodies, respected Muslims’ and other minorities’ civil liberties (relatively), pursued a climate-change strategy, did not seek out trade wars, was suspicious of Vladimir Putin, and was otherwise recognizable.

If a lot of that changes, Mr. Trudeau will have to turn a blind eye – and live with accusations of complicity – if he wants to make good on that 2015 speech.

Or most of that speech anyway. Toward its end, he spoke enthusiastically of also working more closely with Mexico as part of a continental strategy. His government followed through on his promise to lift visa requirements that Mr. Harper imposed on Mexicans. But it plainly has little intention of otherwise aligning more closely with NAFTA’s southernmost partner when that country is firmly in Mr. Trump’s sights.

The Prime Minister’s aim, one of his advisers said on Thursday, is for Canada to lead by example on matters such as diplomacy and human rights without ramming its views down its neighbour’s throat. But even that has its limits.

Source: Can Trudeau keep resisting calls to be the anti-Trump? – The Globe and Mail

How America’s anti-elitism might be creating a whiter White House – The Washington Post

Good analysis on the relative lack of diversity in the Trump cabinet, from a variety of perspectives:

As his Cabinet nominees were grilled by the Senate on the eve of his inauguration, President-elect Donald Trump declared that “We have by far the highest IQ of any Cabinet ever assembled!”

It’s a grandiose assertion, one that’s impossible to know. But by another metric, Trump’s nominees fall short: academic degrees.

As a whole, Trump’s picks to lead the nation’s government agencies have fewer advanced degrees than any first-term Cabinet in at least 24 years.

A third of the nominees in Trump’s 15-member executive team hold only a bachelor’s degree. A quarter obtained up to a master’s degree, and 40 percent achieved a law or medical degree. No one has a doctorate. Compare that to President Obama’s original Cabinet, which conservatives derided for being stacked with intellectual elites: Only two members held a bachelor’s degree alone. A third stopped their educations at a master’s degree, and more than half held doctorates, medical or law degrees — often from the nation’s most prestigious universities.

Certainly, education comes in many of forms. For some of Trump’s nominees, what they lack in classroom education has been made up for in relevant career experience. But there’s something uniquely important about schooling — it’s supposed to be America’s great equalizer, the traditional gateway to the higher levels of society. At least for people of color.

In 2008, it wasn’t lost on people that Obama’s nominated Cabinet was both loaded with academic credentials and among the most racially and ethnically diverse in history. Six of the 15 nominees belonged to minority groups, all of whom held advanced degrees. Obama himself has a Harvard law degree and was the first black president of the Harvard Law Review. (Bill Clinton’s first Cabinet included just as many minorities as Obama’s, and it was even more educated, with all but one Cabinet member holding doctorate or law degrees.)

Trump’s Cabinet also happens to be the wealthiest in modern history — illustrating how it’s possible for some to reach the top without racking up college degrees. That level of success without years of advanced education is nearly impossible for black and brown Americans, say sociologists, economists and political scientists who study the link between race, education and achievement.

“Rarely will we find an example of an uncredentialed black person in an elite position,” said Darrick Hamilton, an economist at The New School in New York. “That black person is usually certainly qualified, if not overqualified, with regard to their education.”

The makeup of Trump’s Cabinet reflects a growing disdain in America for intellectual elitism and a distrust of scientific empiricism. Trump, the first president not to hold an advanced degree since George H.W. Bush, tapped into that sentiment in his unprecedented campaign by slamming the “Washington elite,” rallying against the “political correctness” often tied to academia, and misstating the facts on climate change and President Obama’s citizenship.

“As higher education has become more accessible to more diverse groups of people, the general population has become more distrustful of education and expertise,” said Tressie McMillan Cottom, a sociologist at Virginia Commonwealth University. “They think there must be something suspect about education, because how great can Harvard really be if someone like Barack Obama got there?”

“In this country, diversity has gotten tied up in the idea of a liberal academy,” she said. “The election of Trump is a critique and rebuke of that.”

Source: How America’s anti-elitism might be creating a whiter White House – The Washington Post

Globe editorial: Toronto Pride parade marches backwards


Toronto, the non-profit organization that holds Toronto’s annual Pride Parade, lists “inclusivity” as one of its main values. “We welcome everyone and want everyone to be welcomed,” reads the group’s website.

They should rewrite that. Pride Toronto has officially banned Toronto Police Services from putting a float in the parade, or having stands along the route. LGBTQ people who are police officers can march on their own, but not as an identifiable group.

It’s a horribly misguided decision. Yes, we know, Toronto’s Pride Parade began in 1981 in part as a reaction to police harassment of the city’s gay community. The history is real. But it’s also history.

Last summer, members of Black Lives Matter Toronto held a sit-in during the parade, bringing it to a standstill for half an hour. The group only ended its blockade when Pride Toronto officials agreed to its demands, one of which was that police participation be banned.

Black Lives Matter is a group that spends a lot of its energy protesting the police. In a democratic society, it has every right to. It also has reason to: Police often deserve to be criticized – the TPS’s long-standing practice of carding, which fell most heavily on black Torontonians, was only recently curtailed by provincial legislators.

BLM thinks it’s taking Pride Toronto back to its protest roots. After all, the police weren’t invited to take part in the first gay pride rally in 1981. And now Pride Toronto, in deference to a group that claims to speak for all black Torontonians, has agreed to go back in time.

But surely Pride Toronto would agree that the willingness of groups to work with the police to end harassment has been a key part of the social progress that has made Toronto one of the world’s most diverse and tolerant cities. The Pride weekend is a hugely popular annual event and a major symbol of Toronto’s inclusivity. Or it used to be, anyway.

Then there is the fact that Pride Toronto has agreed to the ban while accepting hundreds of thousands of dollars in support from all levels of government. To take that money and then discriminate against members of an important public institution is problematic, to put it mildly. There will be a taint on this year’s parade if the ban isn’t lifted.

Source: Globe editorial: Toronto Pride parade marches backwards – The Globe and Mail

Montréalais soupçonné de terrorisme: «Ils ont tout fait pour me radicaliser» 

Interesting testimony by one radicalized Québécois, and the contribution that feeling second-class made in his radicalization journey:

Les parents de Wassim, des immigrants algériens, ne sont pas particulièrement religieux, dit-il. Lui s’est tourné vers la religion vers l’âge de 18 ans, notamment parce qu’il dit ne pas avoir trouvé sa place dans la société québécoise.

« J’ai grandi dans Côte-des-Neiges et après dans Outremont, et les gens étaient toujours en train de m’emmerder. Ils me disaient de retourner dans mon pays. Ils me demandaient si je parlais français. Je suis né à Montréal. Où est-ce qu’ils voulaient que je retourne ? Avec des histoires comme ça, j’ai commencé à détester tout le pays. »

Le jeune homme raconte s’être souvent senti traité comme un citoyen de deuxième classe. « On se sent pas chez nous. T’as pas les mêmes chances. T’es pas traité de la même façon tant que t’es pas comme eux, dit-il. Tu vas voir les Québécois et ils te rejettent. J’ai dit OK, je vais revenir à mes origines. »

« Je le dis sans vouloir insulter, mais les anglophones sont plus gentils avec nous. » Il raconte avoir été marqué, adolescent, par « l’affaire Hérouxville » en 2007, alors que le conseil municipal du village de la Mauricie avait adopté un code de conduite pour les immigrants, et par les accommodements raisonnables. Il a suivi le débat entourant la charte des valeurs à distance, en 2014.

« C’est juste au Québec que ça arrive. Ça confirme ce que je pense. Je ne sais pas si je serais parti si j’avais grandi dans une autre province. »

Se considère-t-il comme un radical ? « Pourquoi est-ce qu’un juif qui va se battre pour son peuple n’est pas vu comme radical ? Ça n’a pas de sens. Selon la définition du gouvernement canadien, oui, je suis radical. Je ne mentirai pas. Mais à mes yeux, je ne suis pas radical. Je ne suis pas extrémiste. Pour moi, être radicalisé, c’est quand t’es tellement obtus dans tes opinions que tu n’acceptes rien d’autre. Je ne suis pas comme ça. »

Il affirme qu’il soutiendrait n’importe quel État où la loi islamique est appliquée, mais qu’il est contre le groupe armé État islamique. « Ils sont hors de l’islam. Ils sont devenus fous. »

Jamais il ne reviendra au Canada, dit-il.

Des membres du groupe soupçonné dans l’affaire de la prise d’otages, aucun n’a été arrêté, mais l’enquête se poursuit.

Canada sees ‘dramatic’ spike in online hate — here’s what you can do about it

Useful to have this tracking of trends given that police-reported hate crime statistics, while needed and useful, only tell part of the story:

The internet can be a pretty intolerant place, and it may be getting worse.

An analysis of Canada’s online behaviour commissioned by CBC’s Marketplace shows a 600 per cent jump in the past year in how often Canadians use language online that’s racist, Islamophobic, sexist or otherwise intolerant.

“That’s a dramatic increase in the number of people feeling comfortable to make those comments,” James Rubec, content strategist for media marketing company Cision, told Marketplace.

Cision scanned social media, blogs and comments threads between November 2015 and November 2016 for slurs and intolerant phrases like “ban Muslims,” “sieg heil” or “white genocide.” They found that terms related to white supremacy jumped 300 per cent, while terms related to Islamophobia increased 200 per cent.

“It might not be that there are more racists in Canada than there used to be, but they feel more emboldened. And maybe that’s because of the larger racist sentiments that are coming out of the United States,” Rubec said.

So when you see hateful speech online, what can you do about it?

Marketplace‘s Asha Tomlinson joined journalist and cultural critic Septembre Anderson and University of Ontario Institute of Technology sociologist Barbara Perry, whose work focuses on hate crimes, to share strategies and tips for confronting intolerance online.

Reach out

If the person making hurtful comments is a friend, message them privately about it. Calling them out publicly can backfire.

ICYMI: How a country gets forged in the classrooms: Salutin

Good piece on the integrative role of the public school:

My friend and neighbour Rob Vipond, who’s a political science prof and whose daughter Susanna looks after our cat and turtle when we’re at the lake, has written a neighbourhood book brimming with love. It’ll be out this spring. He says it’s the “biography of a school” — Clinton Street Junior Public, where both our kids went. It’s a nonacademic book, full of academic rigour and insight.

He had the great idea of focusing on public schools as incubators of citizenship. Private schools can teach about citizenship but can’t ever embody it, since people go there in a private role, vs. as taxpaying members of society. Public schools are labs, not just for studying citizens but for growing them.

As a poli-sci guy, Rob is also chronically fascinated by the place of the state and formal political structures, and schools are an ideal field for study since, as he says, they are “the one state institution with which many citizens have daily and recurring interaction.” In a downtown school in The Six, like Clinton, those interactions for about a century have revolved around dealing with newcomers.

So he tells three stories. One is about “Jewish Clinton,” during the first half of the last century, when Clinton was largely Jewish. Canada still saw itself as a “Christian country,” making it hard for Jewish arrivals to feel like full citizens. Then in 1944, Ontario’s Tory premier made religious i.e., Christian, instruction mandatory, like math or science.

Clinton’s response was basically to ignore the law without kicking up a fuss. It was brilliant, a subtle form of civil disobedience, which made it possible for Jewish families to gradually acquire a full sense of being Canadian rather than having second-class quality thrust upon them.

The eras of Italian Clinton and Global Clinton followed, during which Canada groped its way toward “multiculturalism” while governments added laws and bureaucracies. But at Clinton, the effort to construct “multicultural citizenship” was “all part of the daily routine.” The meaning of multicultural got sorted out right there — in classrooms and at recess. The challenge was “to pay respect to the country’s … legacy” while adapting it to “the needs and aspirations” of newcomers.

Could you integrate them without stigmatizing their heritage as “an obstacle course to overcome?” Could they contribute as themselves? “A real sense of belonging” is hard to attain if it means betraying your own identity, which you brought with you. These issues are still unresolved, as Tory leadership provocateur Kellie Leitch reminds us. But practically speaking, at Clinton, it meant “Toronto’s students might well learn something from their newly arrived classmates.”

Let me add a footnote here, based on my own teaching of a half course in the Canadian studies program at U of T over several decades. The names on my class lists have changed mightily, as Clinton’s did over a longer time. When I started, the program seemed more or less designed for people from north Toronto. The courses were basically variations on Atwood (for culture) and Innis (for social science/history): two Canadian academic staples, like timber or the beaver.

But over the years, Canadian studies added Asian-Canadian, Chinese-Canadian, Jewish-Canadian, aboriginal, etc., courses and “chairs” — the lively mélange would probably have been unimaginable to those who set it up in the late 1970s. The north Toronto contingent still attends but, as Rob says, they learn something in return from their more recently arrived classmates.

In fact, we all win. For those of us teaching, we can’t just toss out headings (federal-provincial relations, Rocket Richard, the nativity story). We can toss them out, but we also have to fill them in. It’s good for us, it reveals our assumptions, especially to ourselves, and leads to treatment of glossed-over issues.

We, in turn, learn about, oh: Model Minorities and Cooking in Madeleine Thien’s Simple Recipes; The Critical Role of Cultural Beliefs in Shaping the Perceptions of Mental Health by Chinese-Canadians; The Emergence of Queer Punk in Toronto; along with old friends like, An Appraisal of the War of 1812 and, BlackBerry: Canadian or Not? (All covered in the CanStudies student journal, IMAGINATIONS.)

This doesn’t just reflect what Canadian studies has become, it’s what Canada has become, despite the urgent efforts of Leitch and others to dictate our meaning to us, from the top down. Maybe she should sign up for some courses.

Source: How a country gets forged in the classrooms: Salutin | Toronto Star

ICYMI: Quebec City guide to help integrate newcomers derided as insulting, infantilizing

Does seem that this guide would have benefited from greater care in its design and emphasis. That being said, it is an effort to capture some unwritten aspects of integration but not whether the content reflects evidence or is based upon the assumptions of the authors:

Immigrants who settle in Quebec City are being offered a new guide to explain local customs, and the authors spare no detail in telling the newcomers how to fit in – for example, refrain from committing incest, wash with soap and use underarm deodorant to “control perspiration and bad odours.”

The guide from city hall was made public last week and has already been condemned as insulting and paternalistic.

“It’s a good idea to prepare something intelligent to help immigrants, but the way it was done is infantilizing,” Anne Guérette, municipal opposition leader in Quebec City, said on Sunday.

Quebec City is one of 13 municipalities across Quebec designated by the province to settle refugees from Syria. While Montreal remains the overwhelming destination of choice for newcomers, more than 550 state-sponsored refugees landed in Quebec City, 400 of them from Syria.

To help them integrate, city hall unveiled a guide last week, “Québec, Une ville pour moi” (Quebec City, A city for me) that spells out “common values” and ways of life in the province’s second-largest city. Some of the values, such as the equality of men and women, are commonly recognized in Canada. Other rules in the booklet, whose contents were first reported in Le Journal de Québec, seem to treat newcomers as if they are joining the civilized world for the first time, or have never bathed.

The section on “Hygiene and body care,” which is accompanied by a diagram of a dark-haired man with a beard, advises brushing one’s teeth at least twice a day “with a toothbrush and toothpaste.” Hand-washing is a must, “especially after going to the bathroom,” among other occasions. Socks and underwear should be washed after each use. And when washing one’s body, “pay particular attention to underarms, feet and intimate parts.”

For household rules, the guide counsels limiting kitchen odours through the use of an oven vent, and removing shoes inside the house to avoid disturbing one’s neighbours. In yet another rule aimed at removing “bad odours,” the guide helpfully suggests opening a window.

Mayor Régis Labeaume defended the guide in Quebec City last week, calling it “completely normal.”

“We could have just talked about sorting household garbage, but that is not enough,” Mr. Labeaume said. “There are practices, ways, traditions that are different,” he said. “There are laws and rules that exist here that might be different from the countries of origin of immigrants. So it’s better to go this far.”

The tips out of Quebec City come as the country debates the notion of defining “Canadian values,” as the country integrates large numbers of newcomers, and as Conservative leadership candidate Kellie Leitch has proposed screening would-be immigrants for “anti-Canadian values.”

Quebec City’s guide, which received funding from the provincial immigration ministry, also has a section on family violence. It says using violence against your spouse violates the Criminal Code, as is using “unreasonable” force or using a belt or ruler to punish your child. Sexual consent is necessary even among married couples. Incest is a crime.

“For example: Brother + sister = illegal. Parent + child = illegal,” the guide spells out.

The guide is being distributed to organizations working with immigrants and refugees. Chantal Gilbert, a city councillor whose responsibilities include minority ethnic communities, says the individual sections can be made available to groups depending on their particular needs.

“There are communities to whom things won’t necessarily apply,” she said. “There are communities that might come from a place that is exactly the same culture as us, though they might need to know how things work for schooling. Even a French person from France comes here and can’t figure out the schooling for their children.”

Source: Quebec City guide to help integrate newcomers derided as insulting, infantilizing – The Globe and Mail

ICYMI: Will Britain’s new definition of antisemitism help Jewish people? I’m sceptical | David Feldman

David Feldman on the risks of the expanded IHRA definition (the examples section) and its lack of recognition of the linkages to other forms of prejudice, discrimination and hate:

The text also carries dangers. It trails a list of 11 examples. Seven deal with criticism of Israel. Some of the points are sensible, some are not. Crucially, there is a danger that the overall effect will place the onus on Israel’s critics to demonstrate they are not antisemitic. The home affairs committee advised that the definition required qualification “to ensure that freedom of speech is maintained in the context of discourse on Israel and Palestine”. It was ignored.

The IHRA definition has been circulating for over a decade and has already been buried once. It is almost identical to the European Union monitoring commission’s working definition, formulated in 2005 as part of the global response to the second intifada in the early 2000s. The definition was never accorded any official status by the EUMC and was finally dropped by its successor body, the Fundamental Rights Agency.

The definition has been resurrected just as we are moving to new times. David Friedman, who will soon become President Trump’s ambassador to Israel, has denounced the “two-state” solution. The prospect of continued Israeli dominion over disenfranchised Palestinians, supported by a US president whose noisome electoral campaign was sustained by nods and winks to anti-Jewish prejudice, is changing the dynamic of Jewish politics in Israel and across the world.

In this new context, the greatest flaw of the IHRA definition is its failure to make any ethical and political connections between the struggle against antisemitism and other sorts of prejudice. On behalf of Jews it dares to spurn solidarity with other groups who are the targets of bigotry and hatred. In the face of resurgent intolerance in the UK, in Europe, the United States and in Israel, this is a luxury none of us can afford.

Source: Will Britain’s new definition of antisemitism help Jewish people? I’m sceptical | David Feldman | Opinion | The Guardian

ICYMI: In Cancer Trials, a Lopsided Shot at Hope for Minorities – The New York Times

Another area where ensuring diversity is important:

Like a man on a flying trapeze, K.T. Jones has leapt from one medical study to another during his 15-year struggle with cancer, and he has no doubt that the experimental treatments he has received have saved his life.

Mr. Jones, 45, has an aggressive type of Hodgkin’s lymphoma that resists the usual therapies. At the start of his most recent clinical trial, his life expectancy was measured in months. That was more than three years ago. He received a drug that helped his immune system fight cancer — a type of immunotherapy, the hottest area in cancer research and treatment.

“I’ve been over 12 months now with no treatment at all,” he said. “I walk half-marathons.”

Mr. Jones is one of many patients who have benefited from lifesaving advances in immunotherapy. But he’s an outlier: He is African-American. As money pours into immunotherapy research and promising results multiply, patients getting the new treatments in studies have been overwhelmingly white. Minority participation in most clinical trials is low, often out of proportion with the groups’ numbers in the general population and their cancer rates. Many researchers acknowledge the imbalance, and say they are trying to correct it.

Two major studies of immunotherapy last year starkly illustrate the problem. The drug being tested was nivolumab, a type of checkpoint inhibitor, one of the most promising drug classes for cancer. In both studies, patients taking it lived significantly longer than those given chemotherapy.

In the first study, of 582 patients with lung cancer, 92 percent were white. Three percent were black, 3 percent were Asian and 3 percent were listed as “other.” In the second study, of 821 people with kidney cancer, 88 percent were white, 9 percent Asian and just 1 percent black.

According to 2015 census figures, whites make up 77 percent of the United States population, blacks 13.3 percent and Asians 5.6 percent.

A 1993 law requires that all medical research conducted or paid for by the National Institutes of Health include enough minorities and women to determine whether they respond to treatment differently than other groups. Minority enrollment in its studies was about 28 percent in clinical research and 40 percent in Phase III clinical trials in 2015, the N.I.H. said.

But the N.I.H. paid for only about 6 percent of all clinical trials in the United States in 2014, and those it does not support do not have to adhere to its rules. The lung and kidney studies of nivolumab, for instance, were paid for by the drug’s maker, Bristol-Myers Squibb. Researchers say such studies, geared toward getting a drug approved for new uses, are often done quickly, and minority patients may be left out because it can take longer to find and enroll them.

One obstacle, researchers say, is that people in minority groups tend to have lower incomes and less education, and therefore less awareness of medical studies and how to find them. Many live in areas that do not have easy access to a major cancer center. Moreover, minority patients with cancer are more likely to have other, poorly controlled chronic diseases like diabetes that may make them ineligible for studies, according to Dr. Julie R. Brahmer, from the Johns Hopkins Kimmel Cancer Center.


Source: In Cancer Trials, a Lopsided Shot at Hope for Minorities

Most engineers are white — and so are the faces they use to train software – Recode

Not terribly surprising but alarming given how much facial recognition is used these days.

While the focus of this article is with respect to Black faces (as it is with the Implicit Association Test), the same issue likely applies to other minority groups.

Welcome any comments from those with experience on how the various face recognition programs in commercial software such as Flicker, Google, Photos etc:

Facial recognition technology is known to struggle to recognize black faces. The underlying reason for this shortcoming runs deeper than you might expect, according to researchers at MIT.

Speaking during a panel discussion on artificial intelligence at the World Economic Forum Annual Meeting this week, MIT Media Lab director Joichi Ito said it likely stems from the fact that most engineers are white.

“The way you get into computers is because your friends are into computers, which is generally white men. So, when you look at the demographic across Silicon Valley you see a lot of white men,” Ito said.

Ito relayed an anecdote about how a graduate researcher in his lab had found that commonly used libraries for facial recognition have trouble reading dark faces.

“These libraries are used in many of the products that you have, and if you’re an African-American person you get in front of it, it won’t recognize your face,” he said.

Libraries are collections of pre-written code developers can share and reuse to save time instead of writing everything from scratch.

Joy Buolamwini, the graduate researcher on the project, told Recode in an email that software she used did not consistently detect her face, and that more analysis is needed to make broader claims about facial recognition technology.

“Given the wide range of skin-tone and facial features that can be considered African-American, more precise terminology and analysis is needed to determine the performance of existing facial detection systems,” she said.

“One of the risks that we have of the lack of diversity in engineers is that it’s not intuitive which questions you should be asking,” Ito said. “And even if you have a design guidelines, some of this stuff is kind of feel decision.”

“Calls for tech inclusion often miss the bias that is embedded in written code,” Buolamwini wrote in a May post on Medium.

Reused code, while convenient, is limited by the training data it uses to learn, she said. In the case of code for facial recognition, the code is limited by the faces included in the training data.

“A lack of diversity in the training set leads to an inability to easily characterize faces that do not fit the normal face derived from the training set,” wrote Buolamwini.

She wrote that to cope with limitations in one project involving facial recognition technology, she had to wear a white mask so that her face could “be detected in a variety of lighting conditions,” she said.

“While this is a temporary solution, we can do better than asking people to change themselves to fit our code. Our task is to create code that can work for people of all types.”