The List

Handicapping the Nobel Peace Prize

Pundits usually do a terrible job predicting the winner of the world's most prestigious peace award. With that caveat in mind, here goes...


 

The winner of this year's Nobel Peace Prize will be announced in Oslo this Friday, Oct. 12, meaning that it's time for the media's annual round of speculation. The consensus favorite this year seems to be American political scientist and head of the Boston-based Albert Einstein Institution (as well as FP Global Thinker) Gene Sharp, whose writings on nonviolent protest were influential on democratic uprisings in Eastern Europe as well as the recent Arab Spring protests (though some Egyptian activists bristled at the suggestion that they owed their revolution to a political theorist thousands of miles away). Irish betting site Paddy Power gives 6-4 odds for Sharp. He's also considered the favorite by Nobel Peace Prize-watcher Kristian Berg Harpviken of the Peace Research Institute Oslo (PRIO), who publishes an annual shortlist of likely contenders.

One small caveat: These predictions are almost always wrong.

In the 10 years that PRIO has been publishing its list, Al Gore and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change in 2007 are the only favorites who have won. One of last year's winners, Leymah Gbowee, was one of Paddy Power's top names last year, though her co-awardees, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf and Tawakkol Karman, were not. Bizarrely, last year the site gave 4-1 odds for Aung San Suu Kyi, who already won the award in 1991.

But all the same, here's a look at a few of the other possible winners among the 231 names nominated this year.

FAVORITES:

Memorial

Both Harpviken and the betting markets like the chances of the Russian human rights group Memorial, which has worked tirelessly since the late 1980s to both document Soviet-era atrocities and monitor abuses in contemporary Russia. The head of its Chechnya office, Natalya Estemirova, was abducted and murdered in 2009. Mathematician and rights activist Svetlana Gannushkina, one of Memorial's co-founders, has been mentioned as a favorite in the past and was nominated again this year. Harpviken also suggests that the independent Ekho Moskvy radio station could win, if the Norwegian Nobel Committee decides to emphasize media freedom this year.

 

Sima Samar

Sima Samar, a woman's rights activist and burqa opponent who has served as chair of the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission, the U.N. special rapporteur for human rights in Sudan, and Afghanistan's minister of women's affairs, is a perennial favorite for the award and Paddy Power's second favorite at 5-2 odds after Sharp this year. With the United States preparing for withdrawal from Afghanistan, Samar could put the spotlight on the fate of Afghan women.


Mideast Internet activists

The betting markets like the odds of Tunisian blogger Lina Ben Mhenni (10-1), Egyptian Google executive-turned-revolutionary Wael Ghonim (12-1), and April 6 Youth Movement co-founder Israa Abdel Fattah (25-1). They would be the first primarily online activists to win, and their wins could be seen as a message to their countries' new governments about the importance of freedom of speech. On the other hand, both Mhenni and Ghonim were nominated last year, which might have seemed the more logical time to recognize their efforts.

DARK HORSES

Nigerian peacemakers

Harpviken thinks Archbishop John Onaiyekan and Mohamed Saad Abubakar, sultan of Sokoto (pictured) -- leaders of Nigeria's Christian and Muslim communities, respectively -- have a good shot of winning this year for speaking out against religiously motivated violence, though given that this violence has continued to worsen this year, it's unclear how effective their advocacy has been.

Thein Sein

Harpviken also writes that Myanmar's president, Thein Sein, has a good shot "for spearheading a gradually evolving peace process in the country." But given how fragile that process is and the ongoing violence in Kachin state, this would be a risky and controversial choice.

 


Bill Clinton

Former U.S. President Bill Clinton's Democratic predecessor, Jimmy Carter, and his Democratic successor, Barack Obama, as well as his vice president, Al Gore, all have Nobel Peace Prizes. Could this be the year Clinton is recognized for his work with the Clinton Global Initiative? Such a move might look nakedly partisan during a U.S. election season, but that hasn't stopped the Norwegian Nobel Committee before.



Cuban dissidents

Cuban activist Oswaldo Paya, who was nominated this year, was killed in a suspicious car crash in July, but blogger Yoani Sánchez, imprisoned doctor Óscar Elías Biscet, and the "Ladies in White" group of jailed dissidents' wives are also options if the committee wants to put some pressure on the rickety Castro regime.


Maggie Gobran

Maggie Gobran, the nun known as the "Mother Teresa of Cairo," has been generating some media buzz. She gave up a promising academic career to become a nun and work with children and families in Cairo's slums. She's not a particularly well-known figure internationally, or even in Egypt.

 

Helmut Kohl

Former German Chancellor Helmut Kohl is doing surprisingly well on Paddy Power (20-1 odds). Although widely respected for his leadership during the reunification of Germany, he may seem a bit too distant from today's headlines.

 


John Githongo

Former journalist and whistle-blower John Githongo, who was forced to flee his country after investigating fraud and has since returned to work on community governance issues, might be a possible choice if the committee wants to put the focus on corruption.



Srdja Popovic

Harpviken thinks that Popovic, a veteran of OTPOR -- the youth movement that was instrumental in bringing down Serbian dictator Slobodan Milosevic -- and leader of the Center for Applied NonViolent Action and Strategies, which has been "instrumental in disseminating knowledge of non-violence globally" is a possible candidate to share a Nobel with Sharp.

LONG SHOTS

WikiLeaks/Julian Assange/Bradley Manning

These nominations have gotten a lot of media attention but don't really fit with the Norwegian Nobel Committee's usual left-of-center but not anti-establishment politics. There is the potential for high drama if Julian Assange gives an acceptance speech via satellite from the Ecuadorean Embassy in London.

The European Union

Think of it as the #slatepitch of Nobel Peace Prize nominees. In a year of horrifically bad press for the European Union, the committee could take a stand in favor of the ideals of European integration and highlight the positive role the EU has taken in encouraging democratic reforms and the rule of law in its recently joined members in Eastern Europe.

Facebook/Twitter/Wikipedia

The websites and their founders have reportedly all been nominated. Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg might like the distraction from his company's flagging stock price, but I wouldn't count on it.

Willie Nelson

At John Mellencamp's urging, the Red Headed Stranger's fans have launched a campaign to have him awarded for his work on the Farm Aid campaign and promoting sustainable agriculture. Makes about as much sense as some of the people they've given it to.

Human Rights Watch; SHAH MARAI/Getty; LIONEL BONAVENTURE; Joe Raedle/Getty; KHALED DESOUKI/Getty; Oli Scarff/Getty Images

The List

10 Big Data Sites to Watch

The websites that are changing the way we understand everything from higher education to climate patterns.

As Uri Friedman points out in his Anthropology of an Idea on "Big Data" in Foreign Policy's November issue, the Internet has sparked an information explosion -- to the point where the amount of new data created last year alone surpassed an estimated 1.8 trillion gigabytes, growing by a factor of nine in just five years. But while Web-based household names such as Facebook and Google may have pioneered the Big Data revolution by developing new technologies to help store, process, and mine the trillions of bits making up the foundation of their businesses, numerous startups and established technology companies have followed in their footsteps and discovered new ways of mining data.

After surveying a number of data scientists about their favorite Internet destinations and excluding websites of companies developing and selling Big Data technologies, I've selected ten sites that explore this information revolution in interesting and innovative ways. By visiting them, you'll get a chance not only to play with Big Data but also to learn more about this much-hyped phenomenon and its potential impact on society.

Data.gov

Is the U.S. presidential campaign drivel making you hungry for facts? Data.gov, which was launched by the Obama administration as part of its Open Government Initiative in 2009, offers access to data generated by the Executive Branch of the Federal Government. Enterprising government agencies and private citizens have built on the site's hundreds of thousands of data sets (and other sources) to help you find everything from the most on-time flight between two airports to the latest product recalls.

Coursera

I know what you're thinking. You, too, would like to get in on the Big Data payday, if only you had some "computing for data analysis" skills. Or maybe studying improvisation with a renowned jazz musician is more your speed. Coursera offers these and 196 other online courses from top universities for free. But unlike other initiatives that simply make classroom lectures available on the Internet, Coursera has developed an educational platform at Big Data scale. "We see a future where world-renowned universities serve millions instead of thousands," Coursera co-founder Daphne Koller told ReadWriteWeb. LinkedIn's Monica Rogati has called Coursera's approach to assessment (tests are either computer-graded or peer-graded) and use of machine learning to provide feedback to students and instructors "a very interesting application of data science."

Kaggle

Last month, sports fans in the Big Data world could ease their frustration with NFL replacement referees by turning their attention to Kaggle, the people who "make data science a sport." The site allows users to participate in competitions, show off their data science skills, and even win fame and fortune. Or you can bait the data gladiators with a rich data set, a challenging question, and a generous prize. California's Heritage Provider Network (HPN), for example, recently offered $3 million (and other prizes) to the data science team that can create an algorithm that predicts how many days a patient will spend in a hospital in the next year, based on (anonymized) historical claims data supplied by HPN. If the competition is successful, HPN hopes to use the winning algorithm to both keep people healthy and lower the cost of care.

Recorded Future

Do predictions have a future? Philip Tetlock has demonstrated that experts are not very good at making predictions. But the folks at Recorded Future think they have found a substitute for experts: clever algorithms that unlock predictive signals from web chatter. You can sign up for free (premium service is $149 per month) and explore -- with the help of nifty visualization tools -- a comprehensive index of past, present, and predicted events discussed on the web. Take a look, for instance, at the data the site has collected on protests around the world over the last 12 months and planned demonstrations after the deadly attack on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi. If all this makes you worried about computers replacing prognosticators, trust my gut-based prediction: We'll always have pundits. 

Indeed.com

With over 80 million unique visitors and 1.5 billion job searches per month, Indeed.com knows a lot about where jobs are and which are in high demand -- a valuable service during tough economic times. Indeed is also the biggest employer-review site in the world with more than 1 million reviews, and people in search of jobs now upload over 1 million new resumes each month. What's more, the site offers easy access to some of the information it is amassing on employers and job-seekers; users, for example, can play with Indeed's database to find out whether their skills are in demand or not. The most competitive job market (by city) in the United States today? Washington, D.C.

DataMarket

Which country has the highest ratio of sheep to humans? DataMarket provides the answer to this and other (more or less) urgent questions by housing thousands of data sets with hundreds of millions of facts and figures from a wide range of public and private sources, including Eurostat, the Economist Intelligence Unit, the International Monetary Fund, the United Nations, and the World Bank. You can search it all, visualize the data in a variety of ways, download your findings, and even publish your own data. Oh, and the country with the highest ratio of sheep to humans? It's New Zealand.

Census.gov

Last July, the U.S. Census Bureau released its first-ever public Application Programming Interface (API), allowing developers to design web and mobile apps that explore and display data from the 2010 Census and the 2006-2010 American Community Survey. "This opens up our statistics beyond traditional uses," Census Bureau Director Robert Groves noted at the time, expressing hope that developers would create applications that show commuting patterns for American cities or provide local governments with socioeconomic statistics on their population (applications are now posted to the Census' "App Gallery"). The Bureau, in other words, is transitioning from providing access to data to facilitating its consumption. A government agency that made waves in the late 19th century by using an electric machine to tabulate census data is still finding ways to innovate.

The Twitter Political Index

The first presidential debate generated 10.3 million tweets in 90 minutes, "a political-event record," according to Twitter. But even before that Big Data milestone, there was no dearth of Twitter commentary on the presidential race. Four hundred million tweets are posted to the social media site each day, and some of them -- to a casual observer, it looks like all of them -- mention Barack Obama and Mitt Romney. The Twitter Political Index displays the results of daily sentiment analysis conducted by Twitter's @gov team to track the Twitterverse's fluctuating feelings about each candidate.

ManyBills

ManyBills not only lets you search all the legislation passing through Congress but also employs machine-learning algorithms to analyze and categorize different parts of bills. Users help by organizing the legislation into thematic collections and color-coded sections. You can save your collection, share it with others, or even embed it in your blog or website.

Climate.com

Armed with mountains of climate data and machine-learning algorithms, the Climate Corporation predicts the unpredictable weather and offers customized insurance plans to U.S. farmers. Even if you have no desire to farm, you can still delve into the site's 30 years of historical data on precipitation and temperatures to learn more about the weather where you live.

Data.gov