Helping Ukrainian Refugees, Truth Decay, Algorithmic Inequity: RAND Weekly Recap

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April 1, 2022

This week, we discuss how to help Ukrainian refugees, plus more insights from RAND experts on the Russia-Ukraine war; how cognitive biases and reasoning processes are linked to Truth Decay; using data to understand environmental racism; how wastewater surveillance could help track the spread of COVID-19; striving for equity in machine learning; and China's tactics in the gray zone.

People fleeing Russia's invasion of Ukraine rest in a temporary refugee center located at a local track-and-field athletics stadium in Chisinau, Moldova, March 4, 2022, photo by Vladislav Culiomza/Reuters

Photo by Vladislav Culiomza/Reuters

How to Help Ukrainian Refugees

Since Russia launched its invasion, roughly 4 million Ukrainians have fled their country. And a total of 10 million people have left their homes, including those who are now internally displaced.

This massive refugee crisis will likely be long-term, says RAND's Shelly Culbertson. In fact, a study she co-authored last year found that only about one-third of refugees return to their home countries even 10 years after a conflict has ended.

If Ukrainians are expected to remain in host countries for years, then supporting them over the long term will be critical. Recent RAND research provides insights into how to do this. For example, one study suggests that both refugees and host countries can benefit by matching workers to areas with ample job opportunities. Another report examined solutions for educating refugee children, who make up about half of those fleeing.

There have been a lot of lessons learned about how caring for refugees and host communities can go wrong, Culbertson says. But that means there's also knowledge about how to mitigate such risks. “Deliberate action can—and should—go a long way toward making this situation right,” she says.The Russian invasion of Ukraine began exactly one month ago yesterday. Our experts have been drawing on a vast body of relevant RAND research, providing key insights on important issues related to Russia's military; Ukraine's resistance; how the West can hold Putin accountable while preventing a wider conflict; the many political, diplomatic, and humanitarian implications of the crisis; and more.

More RAND Insights on the War in Ukraine

A human face outline and painted pattern composition evoking human relationships, mind, psychology, and creativity, image by Andrew Ostrovsky/Adobe Stock

Image by Andrew Ostrovsky/Adobe Stock

How Reasoning and Cognitive Biases Affect Resistance to Truth Decay

Truth Decay, the diminishing role of facts in public life, has taken hold in the United States over the last two decades. What cognitive capabilities might make someone more susceptible—or more resistant—to this phenomenon? That's the question at the center of a new RAND report. The authors found that the greatest predictors for an individual's resistance/susceptibility to Truth Decay were reasoning processes, such as numerical and scientific reasoning, that develop over time.

A map showing historically redlined districts in Baltimore, and an image of smokestacks with smoke billowing out from them.

Baltimore street map retrieved from Mapping Inequality / CC BY 4.0; Smoke stacks by Alfred T. Palmer, retrieved from Library of Congress. Design by Alyson Youngblood

Using Data to Understand Environmental Racism

In part because of historical redlining policies, communities of color and low-income communities in the United States are more likely to include hazardous waste facilities, have worse air quality, and experience the effects of climate change. All these challenges negatively affect health and well-being. A new RAND tool provides insight into these inequities, connecting the dots between present-day environmental factors and historically redlined neighborhoods.

Student Maria Melendez sets up equipment to collect public wastewater samples from the University of Oklahoma campus to test for COVID-19 in Norman, Oklahoma, April 9, 2021, photo by Chris Landsberger/The Oklahoman/USA Today Network via Reuters

University of Oklahoma student Maria Melendez sets up equipment to collect public wastewater samples, Norman, Oklahoma, April 9, 2021

Photo by Chris Landsberger/USA Today via Reuters

Wastewater Tracking Could Help America Stay Ahead of COVID-19

Throughout the pandemic, public health officials have mostly relied on lagging indicators, such as cases and deaths, to understand the spread of COVID-19. Assessing leading indicators like wastewater surveillance would be far more useful, says RAND's Douglas Yeung. Wastewater provides a true community-level picture of near-real-time disease spread. Expanding the National Wastewater Surveillance System could change the way the country fights not just COVID-19, but future pandemics, too, he says.

Wooden human figures with different colors on a dark gray surface, photo by designer491/Getty Images

Photo by designer491/Getty Images

Algorithms Demonstrate Why Equity Is Hard

Machine-learning algorithms have an equity problem that is often attributed to humans, rather than equations. But according to RAND's Irineo Cabreros, there's more to this issue than human bias. A growing field of research reveals fundamental and insurmountable limits to algorithmic equity. “Even if you strip away all of humanity's shortcomings, equity would still be an elusive goal,” he says.

Officers of the Vietnamese Marine Guard monitor a Chinese coast guard vessel in the South China Sea, about 130 miles offshore of Vietnam, May 15, 2014, photo by Nguyen Minh/Reuters

Officers of the Vietnamese Marine Guard monitor a Chinese coast guard vessel in the South China Sea, about 130 miles offshore of Vietnam, May 15, 2014

Photo by Nguyen Minh/Reuters

Breaking Down China's Gray Zone Tactics

Gray zone tactics—coercive actions that fall shy of armed conflict but go beyond normal diplomacy and trade—play an increasingly important role in China's efforts to advance its interests in the Indo-Pacific. In a new report, RAND researchers examine what drives Beijing's gray-zone tactics, how it uses them, and opportunities for the United States to respond.

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