We are honored to announce that Virginia Eubank’s Automating Inequality: How High-Tech Tools Profile, Police and Punish the Poor has won our book prize for a manuscript published in 2018.

Many of us take for granted that algorithms define the ways in which we find products, read news stories, or meet people. As embedded as they have become in our lives, algorithms have come to feel self-justifying and inevitable. But we should be far more alert to their hazards. Algorithms can do as much harm as good when companies and governments employ them merely because they are available or, worse, trendy.

In Automating Inequality, Virginia Eubanks shows that algorithmic decisionmaking systems and automated predictive risk models can help to police streets, manage child welfare assignments, and provide support for the homeless.  But, to the extent officials uncritically employ them, she explains, these high-tech tools destroy lives, leaving the most vulnerable among us far worse off. These dangers are often obscured and forgotten when officials announce their procurement and use under the banner of “smart” “innovation.”

Automating Inequality is a masterful account of the ways in which automated systems sometimes worsen disparities between rich and poor, men and women, whites and people of color. The book, anchored by three principal case studies to which Eubanks returns throughout, tells the story of techniques that officials have used to administer criminal justice and social welfare services. She identifies the moment in each of the three when things go awry – when the blind faith in automated processes dramatically fail the very people they were meant to help.

It is this aspect of the book – its humanity – that earns it the McGannon Center’s book prize. Our mission is “to study and deepen knowledge of the role of communication technologies in society.  Its aim is to interrogate the ways in which media and networked communication technologies (1) constitute social, economic, cultural, and political arrangements and (2) affect the distribution, regulation, and control of information flows.” Automating Inequality speaks elegantly and directly to this mission.  It is with humility that we associate ourselves with this impressive work. (By way of comparison, the Center’s has awarded the book prize to a wide range of influential books, including Dark Matters by Simone Brown, The Googlization of Everything by Siva Vaidhyanathan, The Master Switch by Tim Wu, The Public Domain by James Boyle, The Future of Reputation by Daniel H. Solove, and The Wealth of Networks by Yochai Benkler.)

We will convene two events at the end of the semester (on May 2 for our Rose Hill students in the Bronx and a public event on May 3 at the Lincoln Center campus) to celebrate the book and examine the important issues it raises. At both, Ms. Eubanks will present her work. We will also be joined by luminaries who work at the intersection of social justice and data science, including Cathy O’Neil (award-winning author), Scott Levy (Special Counsel at the Bronx Defenders), and Ifeoma Ajunwa (Cornell). We will distribute details about the events in the coming weeks.

PREVIOUS RESEARCH AWARD WINNERS:

2015 – Dark Matters (Duke University Press) by Simone Browne (University of Texas at Austin).

2014 – Low Power to the People (MIT) by Christina Dunbar-Hester (Rutgers, USC) and The War on Learning (MIT) by Elizabeth Losh (William & Mary)

2013 – No award given 

2012- Why Americans Hate the Media: And How it Matters (Princeton University Press) by Jonathan Ladd (Georgetown University).

2011- The Googlization of Everything (and Why We Should Worry) (University of California Press) by Siva Vaidhyanathan (University of Virginia).

2010- The Death and Life of American Journalism (Nation Books) by Robert McChesney (University of Illinois) and John Nichols; and The Master Switch (Knopf) by Tim Wu (Columbia University).

2009- The Myth of Digital Democracy (Princeton University Press) by Matthew Hindman (Arizona State University).

2008- The Public Domain (Yale University Press) by James Boyle.

2007- The Future of Reputation (Yale University Press) by Daniel J. Solove (George Washington University).

2006- The Wealth of Networks (Yale University Press) by Yochai Benkler (Yale University).

2005- Investigated Reporting(University of Illinois Press) by Chad Raphael (Santa Clara University).

2004- Watching Jim Crow (Duke University Press) by Steven D. Classen (Cal State Fullerton).

2003- Campaigning Online (Oxford University Press) by Bruce Bimber (UC Santa Barbara) and Richard Davis (Brigham Young University).

2002- Media, Markets, and Democracy (Cambridge University Press) by C. Edwin Baker (University of Pennsylvania).

2001- Prometheus Wired (University of Chicago Press) by Darin Barney (University of Ottawa).

2000- Code and Other Laws of Cyberspace (Basic Books) by Lawrence Lessig (Stanford University).

1999- Inventing the Internet (MIT Press) by Janet Abbate (University of Maryland).

1998- Privacy on the Line (MIT Press) by Whitfield Diffie and Susan Landau.

1997- The Gordian Knot: Political Gridlock on the Information Superhighway (MIT Press) by L. McKnight (MIT), W.R. Neuman (University of Pennsylvania), and R. Solomon (MIT).

1996- Selling the Air (University of Chicago Press) by T. Streeter (University of Vermont).

1995- Breaking the News: How the Media Undermine American Democracy (Pantheon Books) by J. Fallows.

1994- Managing Privacy: Information Technology and Corporate America (University of North Carolina Press) by H. Jeff  Smith (Georgetown University).

1993- “Conclusion” by R.W. McChesney (Wisconsin) in Telecommunications, Mass Media, and Democracy: The Battle for the Control of U.S. Broadcasting, 1928-1935 by R.W. McChesney (Oxford University Press).

1992- “Reconciling Economic and Non-Economic Perspectives on Media Policy: Transcending the ‘Market places of Ideas’” by R. M. Entman & S. S. Wildman (Northwestern) in Journal of Communication (Winter 1992).

1991- “The Periphery in the Center: The Information Age and the ‘Good Life’ in Rural America” by A. Calabrese (University of Colorado) in Gazette: The International Journal of Mass Communication Studies (April 1992).

1990- “The Deregulation of Telecommunications” by R. B. Horwitz (U.C. San Diego) in The Irony of Deregulation Reform by R. B. Horwitz (Oxford University Press).

1989- “Investigative Journalism and the Moral Order” by T. L. Glasser (Stanford University) & J. S. Ettema (Northwestern University) in Critical Studies in Mass Communication (March 1989).

1988- “World Television Trade: The Economic Effects of Privatization and New Technology” by D. Waterman (Indiana University) in Telecommunications Policy (June 1988).

1987- “Newsflow and Democratic Society in an Age of Electronic Media” by D. K. Davis (Southern Illinois University) & J. P. Robinson (University of Maryland) in Public Communication and Behavior Vol.II, edited by G. Comstock (Academic Press).