The formula to resettle refugees in European countries

How will refugees be dispersed among European countries? This formula:

On Wednesday, shortly after European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker announced a new plan to distribute 120,000 asylum-seekers currently in Greece, Hungary, and Italy among the EU’s 28 member states, Duncan Robinson of the Financial Times tweeted a series of grainy equations from the annex of a proposed European regulation, which establishes a mechanism for relocating asylum-seekers during emergency situations beyond today’s acute crisis. Robinson’s message: “So, how do they decide how many refugees each country should receive? ‘Well, it’s very simple…’”

In an FAQ posted on Wednesday, the European Commission expanded on the thinking behind the elaborate math. Under the proposed plan, if the Commission determines at some point in the future that there is a refugee crisis in a given country (as there is today in Greece, Hungary, and Italy, the countries migrants reach first upon arriving in Europe), it will set a number for how many refugees in that country should be relocated throughout the EU. That number will be “not higher than 40% of the number of [asylum] applications made [in that country] in the past six months.”…

What’s most striking to me is the contrast between the sigmas and subscripts in the refugee formula—the inhumanity of technocratic compromise by mathematical equation—and the raw, tragic, heroic humanity on display in recent coverage of the refugees from Syria, Afghanistan, Eritrea, and elsewhere who are pouring into Europe.

The writer hints at the end here that the bureaucratic formula and stories of human lives at stake are incompatible. How could we translate people who need help into cold, impersonal numbers? This is a common claim: statistics take away human stories and dignity. They are unfeeling. They can’t sum the experiences of individuals. One online quote sums this up: “Statistics are human beings with the tears wiped off.

Yet, we need both the stories and the numbers to truly address the situation. Individual stories are important and interesting. Tragic cases tend to draw people’s attention, particularly if presented in attractive ways. But, it is difficult to convey all the stories of the refugees and migrants. Where would they be told and who would sit through them all? The statistics and formulas help give us the big picture. Just how many refugees are there? (Imagine a situation where there are only 10 refugees but with very compelling stories. Would this compel nations to act.) How can they be slotted into existing countries and systems?

On top of that, you can’t really have the nations of today without bureaucracies. We might not like that they are slow moving or inefficient at times or can be overwhelming. How can you run a major social system without a bureaucratic structure? Would we like to go to a hospital that was not a bureaucracy? How do you keep millions of citizens in a country moving in a similar direction? Decentralization or non-hierarchical systems can only go so far in addressing major tasks.

With that said, the formula looks complicated but the explanation in the text is fairly easy to understand: there are a set of weighted factors that dictate how many refugees will be assigned to each country.

Researchers develop an equation to help predict the next hit song

A team of researchers says they have developed an equation that helps predict which songs will become hit singles. Here is how the equation works:

We represent each song using a set of 23 different features that characterize the audio. Some are very simple features — such as how fast it is, how long the song is — and some are more complex features, such as how energetic the song is, how loud it is, how danceable and how stable the beat is throughout the song. We also took into account the highest rank that songs ever achieved on the chart.

The computer can combine a song’s features in an equation that can be used to score any given song.

We can then evaluate how accurately the computer scored it by seeing how well the song actually did.

Every single week now we’re updating our equation based on how recent releases have done on the chart. So the equation will continue to evolve, because music tastes will evolve as well.

As the researchers note, this equation is based mainly on the musical content and doesn’t factor in the content of the lyrics or budgeting for the song and music group. The equation seems mainly to be based on whatever musical styles and changes are already popular so I wonder how they account for changes in musical periods.

If this equation works well (and the interview doesn’t really say how accurate this formula is for new songs), this could be a big boon for the culture industries. The movie, music, and book industry all struggle with this: it is very difficult to predict which works will become popular. There are ways in which companies try to hedge their bets either by working with established stars/performers/authors, working with established stories and characters (more sequels, anyone?), and trying to read the cultural zeitgeist (more vampires!). But, in the end, the industries can survive because enough of the works become blockbusters and help subsidize the rest.

At the same time, haven’t people claimed they have cracked this code before? For example, you can quickly find people (like this and this) who claim they have it figured out. And yet, revenues and ticket sales were down in 2011. There is a disconnect here…