University News

Event – MDI Distinguished Lecture “The Unpredictability of Life Outcomes” by Dr. Matthew J. Salganik

On October 26, 2022 from 3:00-4:00pm at Copley Formal Lounge, the McCourt School of Public Policy’s Massive Data Institute (MDI) will host the inaugural MDI Distinguished Lecture Series. The first lecture will be given by Dr. Matthew J. Salganik, Professor, Department of Sociology at Princeton University and author of “Bit by Bit: Social Research in the Digital Age.” The lecture will be followed by a reception.

Abstract: Researchers have long theorized about the processes through which family background and childhood experiences shape life outcomes. However, statistical models that use data on family background and childhood experiences to predict life outcomes often have poor predictive performance. In this talk, we present results from three interrelated studies of the predictability of life outcomes: a scientific mass collaboration involving hundreds of participants, a high-throughput study using hundreds of machine learning pipelines to predict hundreds of life outcomes, and a qualitative study involving in-depth interviews with 40 families.  Collectively these studies help to assess and understand the limits to predictability of life outcomes, which has implications for social science theory and for algorithmic decision-making in high-stakes settings.

About Matthew J. Salganik, Ph.D.: Matthew Salganik is Professor of Sociology at Princeton University. He is also affiliated with several of Princeton’s interdisciplinary research centers including the Center for Information Technology Policy, the Office of Population Research and the Center for Statistics and Machine Learning. His research interests include computational social science and social networks. He is the author of Bit by Bit: Social Research in the Digital Age. During the 2022-23 academic year, he is on sabbatical at the Institute for Advanced Study.

About the MDI Distinguished Lecture Series: The Distinguished Lecture Series sponsored by the Massive Data Institute (MDI) brings leading scholars from around the world to Georgetown University to share cutting edge research at the intersection of technology and policy. The lecture is followed by a reception.

About the Massive Data Institute (MDI): At Georgetown’s McCourt School of Public Policy, the Massive Data Institute (MDI) is an interdisciplinary research institute that connects experts across computer science, data science, public health, public policy, and social science to tackle societal scale issues and impact public policy in ways that improves people’s lives through responsible evidence-based research. For more information on MDI, please visit

Accommodations: Please indicate accessibility requests by October 19, 2022 in the RSVP Form.

Transportation: Georgetown University is accessible for faculty, staff, students and visitors through many convenient transportation options, including our free university shuttle, public transportation, bicycling, carsharing and other means. Learn more about transportation options here.
See here (Interactive map) or here (PDF) for a Georgetown University campus map.

Members of the Public: Georgetown University looks forward to your upcoming visit. To help protect the health and safety of the Georgetown community, including our guests, all visitors ages 12 and older to University-owned or operated buildings must be up to date on COVID-19 vaccination (i.e., primary series and, when eligible, an additional dose), or attest to having a medical or religious exemption from being vaccinated. Please complete Step #1 now, and you will be notified about Step #2 the morning of October 26, 2022.

Questions? Please contact

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