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Handy with software? UU is holding a hackathon this weekend

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Utrecht University is organising an online hackaton on November 26-28. Registrations are still open. A team led by UU Professor Rens van de Schoot has created an artificial intelligence software that can help investigative journalists read the so-called Shell Papers. The hackaton aims to find out how best to load documents to that software.

Read in Dutch

The investigative journalists from Dutch platform Follow the Money are looking to find out just how connected Shell and the Dutch government are. By invoking the Goverment Information Act, the news organisation has managed to acquire a significant amount of e-mails, memos, policy documents and even WhatsApp messages sent by the government to Shell, or that are about Shell. 

The hackaton participants are not going to be reading any of those documents. Instead, they will investigate if open-source software ASReview, developed by a team led by Statistics for Small Data Sets Professor Rens van de Schoot, can be used for this purpose. "We want to verify if we can use scripts to load documents such as e-mails to ASReview," explains the hackaton's coordinator, Sofie van den Brand. A script contains a series of instructions on which data files the computer should perform tasks with.

Artificial Intelligence
ASReview uses artificial intelligence to efficiently search through an extensive dataset of articles by title and summary, displaying the most relevant articles. The software was originally developed to save scientists' time when searching for academic literature for reviews or meta-analyses. "But, in theory, ASReview can be used to process any type of text," says Van de Schoot. "That's why we're now setting up our software to help Follow the Money go through the so-called Shell Papers as efficiently as possible."

Coding
For those interested in joining the hackaton, coding skills are desirable but not required. Anyone can participate using their own laptops at home, says Van den Brand. "You can also join if you're good at visualising or presenting, or if you have creative ideas about the order of words."

If successful, the hackaton will enable the journalists from Follow the Money to use the software to carry out a thorough search through the Shell Papers. The hackaton starts on Friday (November 26) evening and goes to Sunday (November 28) afternoon.

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