Just over a year ago, Political Computer Science at Berkeley launched with six executive committee members and 42 eager general members ready to tackle the intersection of two vastly different fields: politics and technology. As politics and government move into the digital age, and technology is used to improved traditional processes, spurring unprecedented change in both public and private spheres, new and unexpected opportunities arise for advancing our collective knowledge and capacity to make a political impact in our world. PCS@Berkeley aims to leverage students’ interests in technology and government affairs to address current problems within the United States’ legal and political systems. Through meaningful collaboration in various project teams, our organization aims to do our civic duty and participate politically using non-traditional methods.
Over the course of just three semesters, we’ve taken on a wide variety of projects. In our first semester, we worked on the development of an Amazon Alexa Skill, an analysis of President Trump’s tweets and its perceived effect on the stock market, among other fascinating projects. In our second semester, after the tragic Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting in February, one of our teams dove into data analysis concerning the impact of differing gun control laws in the United States. Another team investigated the potential for the implementation of blockchain in government procedures. Currently, now in our third semester, our members are concerned with a larger question: how can citizens be made better informed in order to best interact with the legislative process? Our projects this year reflect that curiosity and drive to participate.
As we continue to grow as an organization, we are constantly learning from our members. One obstacle that we were seeing was a deep interest in the intersection between politics and technology, without the technical skills to pursue larger coding projects. This semester, we decided that this obstacle presented a new opportunity: setting up a blog, PolitiCS, where young and inexperienced members could tackle issues that matter to them (e.g. fake news, education, environment, healthcare, etc.) using both qualitative and quantitative analysis. There’s no surprise here, but all of this was clearly inspired by Nate Silver’s award-winning blog FiveThirtyEight, which combines both of his passions for statistics and political races.
In 2018, open source tools for data analysis are easily accessible, and this blog project aims to take advantage of that reality. Through this blog, we are endeavoring to make sense of all the data around us; now, more than ever, there’s never been more exposure of diverse opinions, and political polarization has made honest debates on policy issues extremely rare, with substance being so easily lost in rhetoric. We want to be interacting and exploring data directly, and in this way, be active members of our political community, divining truth from abstraction, and doing our civic duty. Everything’s there in the data — and that’s where we’ve decided to start.