The other day I heard an interview with Cathy O’Neil on NPR. She was talking about some of the dangers of algorithms derived from the masses of data that we are now able to collect. I was intrigued, so I read her book, Weapons of Math Destruction: How Big Data Increases Inequality and Threatens Democracy. Her analysis is a good example of the ways in which rational agents within a structure can still act in ways that are ultimately harmful, even when they don’t have bad intentions. For example, even though employers may be right that a good credit score is correlated with being a responsible employee, the end result of using credit score in hiring practices is that people who have lost their job and can’t pay their bills then also can’t get a job.
For those of use who are clinicians working the tradition of social work, social justice is a key component of our outlook. And so we have to examine the ways in which we ourselves are contributing to the propagation of structures that disempower and marginalize people. In the mental health industrial complex, are there practices that, while good intentioned, systematically leave out certain groups of people? I’d be interested if anyone sees examples of it in their daily lives.