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REASON

Professor Iris Eisenberger, Professor Christoph Bezemek and Professor Ernst Stadlober (TU Graz), have been granted funding for their research project “Legal Requirements for statistical modelling – (REASON)”. The funding is provided by the Province of Styria within the call “Learning from the Corona-Crisis!”.

Led by Iris Eisenberger, REASON traces to which extent political decision makers used statistical models to support measures in connection with the COVID-19 crisis in Austria. Based on these insights, REASON examines which legal requirements for statistical models can be derived from the constitutional principles of democracy, the rule of law, and the liberal state. The results will be used to formulate legal policy proposals that successfully combine the innovative potential of statistical modelling with the requirements of the Austrian constitution.

Statistical models represent aspects of reality in a simplified mathematical equation. This enables observing complex relationships are making forecasts. Among others, pandemic control is an application field for statistical models. However, the quality and validity of these models always depends on the data they are built on.

If these data, assumptions and methods as well as possible downfalls of the model in use are not transparent, democratically legitimized bodies may not be able to make informed decisions: the line between undeniable facts and politically relevant judgement is already blurred before the model’s documentation is presented to the political decisionmakers.

We therefore ask which criteria statistical models must fulfil to ensure that they comply with constitutional requirements. To answer this, REASON first focuses on the analysis of press conferences given by the Austrian federal government in the beginning of the Coronavirus Crisis. The analysis aims to show, if and how political decisionmakers emphasized the information deficit that was present at the beginning of the crisis. In another step, experts that have been directly involved in the decision-making process, e.g. as members of the Coronavirus-Taskforce, are interviewed. By this, we aim to analyze which role statistical models really played in the decision-making process.

Parallel to this we will conduct a thorough analysis of relevant legislation. By this we will identify already existing regulations regarding statistical models and eventual gaps within the legislation.

The project is jointly led by Professor Iris Eisenberger and Professor Christoph Bezemek, both University Graz, and scientifically supported by Professor Stadlober, Technical University Graz.

From the Department Eisenberger Thomas Buocz, Nikolaus Poechhacker, Katharina König, and Annemarie Hofer are involved in the project.

REASON is part of the Field of Excellence “Smart Regulation” at the University of Graz, which explores topics related to technical innovation.

 

Download interim report (PDF)

 

Pfingstdialog 2021: Webinar on the Project REASON

Tuesday, 18.05.2021

Which role do statistics have in politics and law? Experts from the University of Graz present first results from the Smart Regulation Project “REASON”.

How have statistical models and scientific expertise influenced the decisions taken by the Austrian government during the Coronavirus Crisis? Which legal circumstances must be provided if models and expertise are used to justify infringements on fundamental rights? This and many other questions were discussed by Professor Iris Eisenberger, Annemarie Hofer, Nikolaus Poechhacker and Katharina König as part of the Webinar.

After presenting first results gained through interviewing experts that have been directly involved in the decision-making process, the participants of the webinar were asked about their impressions on the influence that statistical models and scientific expertise has in the Coronavirus Crisis. Afterwards, Professor Iris Eisenberger gave an outlook regarding the legal phase of the project.

The video documentation from the Pfingstdialog 2021 can be found here: Forschungsprojekte on Vimeo

First Results

 

At the meeting on 20 January, Nikolaus Poechhacker (Sociology of Technology / STS) and Katharina König (Sociologist & Law student) presented the first results of their analysis of the press conferences given by the Austrian government on the topic of “Corona” during February and October 2020.

The analysis aims to show whether and how the federal government addressed the information deficit that existed at the beginning of the pandemic. In the analysis, Poechhacker and König focused on if and how experts were involved to justify the harsh legal measures taken.

The press conferences prior to 11 March 2020 (when the first lockdown was announced) primarily focused on the number of infections. The predicted spread of the virus was also addressed frequently, but it was not mentioned which models were used for the forecast, who created the models or which data they relied on.

Individual experts and scientific institutions were very rarely mentioned by name. Instead, the government frequently referred to “the science” or “mathematics”, without giving further details.

Poechhacker and König therefore concluded that the tension between rational decision-making and epistemic uncertainty was resolved by referring to “the science” or “mathematics”. However, those references remained vague and did not refer directly to individual scientists, experts or studies.

 

What are the next steps in REASON?

The next steps deal with the analysis of relevant legal provisions, also considering aspects of comparative law. Subsequently, a legal policy proposal will be formulated that can successfully combine the innovative potential of statistical modelling with the requirements of the Austrian constitution.

 

The entire REASON project team participated at the meeting, consisting of the project leader Professor Iris Eisenberger, Dean Christoph Bezemek, Professor Dr. Ernst Stadlober, (TU Graz),  Nikolaus Poechhacker, Annemarie Hofer, Stefan Steininger, Katharina König, and Aljoscha Puber.

 

You can find further information on the project here:

https://oeffentliches-recht.uni-graz.at/en/eisenberger/forschung/projects/reason/

 

Katharina König / Annemarie Hofer

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