Evidence-based research boosts human rights work


The application of scientific methods, research, and evidence are contributing to the documentation efforts of human rights movements, according to a recent meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. The meeting, dedicated to “A Scientific Approach to Human Rights,” brought together Margaret Satterthwaite of the New York University School of Law, Ann Marie Clark of Purdue University, and Paul Gorski of George Mason University for a plenary panel on evidence-based human rights movements, moderated by Louisa Greve of the National Endowment for Democracy, the Washington-based democracy assistance group:

Human rights fact-finding has become increasingly evidence-based, according to Satterthwaite, who contributed to the panel via Skype. In comparing research reports by Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch from 2000 and 2010, she found that the 2010 reports relied more explicitly on field research and included more types of primary and secondary data and more methods of data collection.

Additionally, the proportion of reports that used primary interviews increased between 2000 and 2010, as did the number of reports that included a discussion of methodology used or a formal methodology section, Satterthwaite said. She also noted a small increase in reports that identified the limits or uncertainties of the research – which almost none of the reports from 2000 included.


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