Attending FAccT 2021

posted by Ana Rita Pena (2019 cohort)

The ACM Conference on Fairness, Accountability and Transparency  (FAccT 2021) is an interdisciplinary conference with an interest in research on “ethical” socio-technical systems. Hosted entirely online the 2021 edition was the 4th edition of the conference, which started with fairly small in 2018 but has received a growing amount of interest in the last couple of editions.

The conference started on the 3rd of March with the Doctoral Colloquium, following with a Tutorial’s day (divided into three tracks: Technology; Philosophy/Law/Society and Practise) and a CRAFT day.

Before the consortium we were asked to prepare an informal presentation on our PhD work to present to the other participants in small groups. Having small breakout groups led to very engaging back and forth discussions on everyone’s work. Following on from that we had the choice of several discussion topics each in a different breakout room, the topics ranged from research interests to career advice to current world events. For the last activity of the consortium, we were divided into similar research interests and each group was allocated a mentor. The discussions we had ranged from understanding how all of the attendees’ research fitted together within a higher ecosystem to discussions on various approaches to incorporating our world/political views within our research. At times when focusing on our work it is easy to lose sight of the higher picture and even critically evaluate our own approach to our work, so being able to have a space to discuss it with a varied group of people working in a similar area was one of the most enriching experiences of the conference.

Another personal highlight of the conference was the CRAFT session “An Equality Opportunity: Combating Disability Discrimination in AI” which was presented by Lydia X. Z. Brown, Hannah Quay-de la Vallee, and Stan Adams (Center for Democracy & Technology). The CRAFT sessions are specifically designed to bring academics of different disciplines together to discuss current open problems. While algorithmic bias and discrimination regarding race and gender are more widely studied, disability bias has been severely understudied, this in part caused by the difficulty to summarise the varied disability spectrum in discrete labels. The session’s discussion was to imagine and think about possible ways to address disability bias, while still giving a voice to people with lived experiences.

After the weekend, there were three full days of paper presentations. Each day there was a panel session with a given topic followed up with the keynote. On day one the panel topic was “Health Inequities, Machine Learning, and the Covid Looking Glass “ followed by an excellent keynote by Yeshimabeit Milner from Data For Black Lives on Health, Technology, and Race ( for the keynote video). The second day discussion was around the topics of the flaws of mathematical models of causality and fairness approaches. To end the conference on a bit of a more optimistic note the final discussions were possible future directions and the role of journalism and the importance of good journalism to audit algorithms and make them accountable to the public.  The keynote speaker was Julia Angwin who was the first journalist to report on the COMPAS recidivism prediction tool bias. The COMPAS dataset bias was one of the issues that made the topic of algorithmic fairness gain some traction and that is still commonly used in the literature of Fairness in Machine Learning. Julia is currently in charge of The Markup, an independent and not-for-profit newsroom that focuses on data-driven journalism.

The different discussions enabled in the conference gave me some space to look at my own work and critically reflect on what I am doing, why I am doing it and the approach that I am taking, which is a conversation with myself that is still in process. It was not necessarily the very interesting research that was presented,  but the deep discussions that had taken place that made my attendance of FAccT 2021 an enriching experience.

Here are some of my favourite papers of the conference:

Representativeness in Statistics, Politics, and Machine Learning

Epistemic values in feature importance methods: Lessons from feminist epistemology (

Mel travels to Sweden for CRITIS2019

Mel Wilson  (2018 cohort) has recently returned from the CRITIS 2019 conference in Linkoping, Sweden where she successfully submitted the paper titled  Exploring How Component Factors and Their Uncertainty Affect Judgements of Risk in Cyber-Security 

Post by Melanie Wilson (2018 Cohort)

This conference paper was submitted following the work done for my PLP. It involved the process of recording and analysing the effects of uncertainty in experts’ ratings of cyber security risks, using an interval range method. This procedure allows capture of a value for uncertainty in a rating, by the use of an elliptical marking, as illustrated below.

A larger ellipse represents a greater uncertainty and a smaller represents greater certainty.

Following the PLP write up my PLP supervisor Josie McCulloch suggested that I might like to present the findings at a conference. Coincidentally I had been talking with an industry colleague who holds a doctorate in cyber security and is a senior figure in the cyber security industry with a large, international company with a particular interest in the industry sector addressed by the PLP work. He had suggested CRITIS as an ideal showcase for the paper.

After passing the details on to Josie, Zack and Christian we all felt that this was a worthwhile submission and after some discussions decided that we would submit a long paper with some adjustments from the original PLP work, to cover a greater range of data and greater depth of statistical analysis. Zack was to work on the statistical adjustment, with Josie and me looking at the general paper presentation and Christian inputting as necessary from his more experienced perspective of conference submissions.

I have been a commercially published author since the late 1980s, but I have not published an academic paper before. I enrolled on the Graduate School online course “ An Introduction to writing for academic Journals” which I found very helpful. It explained clearly the process and ways of dealing with each stage both practically and emotionally, as it recognised that peer review can be a harsh undertaking and hurtful if one’s mindset it not aligned to the process.

In general peer review does not differ too much from that of submitting to a mainstream publication. The biggest difference from my perspective was that you had several reviewers, rather than just a single editor. This meant that there were several different perspectives to address.

As a team I felt that each of us as contributors brought a different perspective and style to the paper. I had wondered how this might be aligned, as this kind of working, on a paper, was new to me. We all contributed to the paper by using overleaf; we also discussed ideas around changes and met to talk over differing aspects before the first submission. This was a really interesting process and one I really valued as it gave me a good insight into the way others could work in academia.

Following submission and peer review we again put our ideas forward on adjustments that could be made, and each contributed in their area. We met a discussed the points and addressed each one that was highlighted by each reviewer taking on board the suggestions and often hypothesising on the perspective of each reviewer and their field of expertise. Most of the points were valid and were useful contributions towards clarity and completeness within the paper.  I feel we addressed all the points we felt had validity for change and we explained our perspective if we felt the point was perhaps unclear, but correct. I felt that working in this way was very helpful and our different ways of looking at the project benefited us all as it brought greater depth of multiple perspectives in to play.

I was impressed with how we all worked together on the project and how well everyone’s skills complemented the others. I’ve worked in a great many industry and charity sector teams and am very aware of the psychological process of team building, but in this case the transitions were smooth and at all times calm and friendly.


The conference was very interesting and gave me a chance to hear about other work in the area as well as the have many talks with various attendees on a large range of associated subjects. Particularly interesting were those working is gamification on learning strategies which link into my PhD work.

An added and very exciting bonus was that the paper was presented with the Young CRITIS award. The conference process has a rejection rate of 2/3rds of submissions and our paper was stated as a clear winner of the award, which is something I feel proud to have been a part of.

I am hoping to use this method of recording uncertainty in some of the questionnaires for my PhD in terms of capturing the uncertainty of risk, online as experienced by children.  I also want to use the capture of uncertainty from the teachers of the children in terms of the skills changes they perceive that the children have experienced.

From my perspective as an Evolutionary psychologist the capture of uncertainty in risk is a very necessary part of the data needed to improve the industry’s ability to predict and assess how both experts and the general population assess risks and consequently respond to them. Using this uncertainty capture can help us to analyse what biases may be influencing decision making and to find methods to mitigate these as we increase individuals’ abilities to accurately predict the probability of the risks effect.

I am pleased that I undertook the PLP I chose and have progressed the work in this way. I am looking forward to working with this method and team in the future.


Andrew returns from AAAL conference in Atlanta

Post by Andrew Moffat (2015 Cohort)

American Association of Applied Linguistics

For people learning a second language, today’s hyper-connectivity has the potential to present new domains of engagement with and exposure to their target language. Exposure to the target language is accepted as a necessary condition for language learning, and it is often a key variable in classifications of learning environments. However, Internet-based communication technologies have the potential to connect learners with expert and non-expert speakers of the target language, regardless of geographical location, providing opportunities for informal learning.

Computer-Mediated Communication (CMC) has historically been approached within Applied Linguistics and Second Language Acquisition as a tool for enhancing language learning. More recently however, there has been an increased focus in investigating language learners’ pre-existing, “extramural” English-language online communicative activities, exploring their potential as a site of exposure to language and negotiation of meaning in authentic interaction, with a view to integrating this aspect of learners’ lives more deeply with their formal learning. Most of this work is small scale and qualitative in nature, and there has been relatively little large-scale fact-finding carried out to survey current practices in this area.

My talk presented the findings of a large-scale survey undertaken in partnership between the University of Nottingham and Cambridge University Press. A questionnaire asking respondents about their English-language online communication activities was promoted on CUP’s online dictionary website, receiving over 10,000 responses in a four-week period from second language English speakers all over the world. The analysis of this data set identified contexts of CMC in which English learners most frequently use their L2 as well as commonly occurring difficulties encountered therein. The talk concluded with a brief overview of an approach to incorporating and supporting English-language online activities in the classroom, thereby integrating formal and informal learning.


Siyang presents at IEEE FG 2018

In May Siyang Song gave a conference talk at IEEE conference on Automatic Face and Gesture Recognition 2018 on his work around facial recognition: Human Behaviors-based Automatic Depression Analysis using Hand-crafted Statistics and Deep Learned Spectral Features. 

He said that it was an amazing experience, but felt a little nervous about speaking infront of an expert audience and in his reflections thinks that he needs to get some more practice in public speaking to boost his confidence.

His advice to other PhD students:

“don’t be shy, a top conference can give us chances to exchange ideas with most successful and famous guys in our field face to face”


Will 2019 be the year your publish and present some of your PhD research?