Chinese Canadian Comp Sci Prof. asks students to write a program: “Will a rape victim commit suicide?”

Dr. Shieh with a graduate student.
Dr. Shieh (left) with a graduate student.

Dr. John S. Shieh, a computer science professor at Newfoundland’s Memorial University, is in hot water after asking his student’s to write an algorithm that determines whether or not a rape victim will kill herself after cyber-bullying. Here is an image of the exam question from Jezebel:

An image of the exam question.
An image of the exam question.

Giving Shieh the benefit of a doubt, perhaps this was a ripped-from-the-headlines effort by the professor to engage his students in contemporary social issues. Giving Shieh the benefit of a doubt, perhaps this was an effort to show how programming concepts can be broadly applied to the real world.

Yeah, no. It’s not.

This exam question is an insensitive and over-simplification of the complex issues surrounding rape and rape survivors. It reimagines difficult and personal subjects like mental health and suicide as mere variables in a hypothetical algorithm.  And those who might argue that perhaps Shieh was just not used to how Canada discuss topics like this would do well to remember that Shieh has been in Canada for a number of years, having obtained his PhD at Simon Fraser University before accepting his teaching position at Memorial.

I’m all for students of STEM developing a broader education in sociopolitical issues. But this isn’t the way to do it.

For shame, Dr. Shieh, for shame.

Interestingly, Dr. Shieh’s research interests is building artificially intelligent computer software. He is quoted in an article as saying:

“Expert systems are computer systems that show intelligence or reasoning capabilities based on the knowledge supplied by domain experts,” explained Dr. John Shieh, a Computer Science professor, specialises in expert systems research.

Too bad some of that reasoning capability hasn’t rubbed off yet.

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