Russian data scientist unable to claim £12,000 prize in Brit competition

Defence Science and Tech Lab accused of 'discriminatory' rules


A data scientist claims the UK's Defence Science and Technology Laboratory (DSTL) diddled him out of a £12,000 research competition prize because he is Russian – despite assurances he'd be able to claim the money.

Vladimir Iglovikov entered DSTL's Data Science Challenge earlier this year. The section of the challenge he entered focused on detecting and classifying vehicles in satellite imagery.

Yet, in spite of finishing second in the preliminary results and believing he had won the £12,000 prize for that section, Iglovikov was told he could not claim it "due to your Russian citizenship".

The data scientist was told that clause 2.3b of the competition rules excluded him because Russia had a score of less than 37 on the Transparency International Corruption Perceptions Index for 2014.

Before the competition started Iglovikov asked DSTL about the rule. He said to us: "We asked about this discriminatory rule and organisers said that it will be changed."

Iglovikov's theory is that competition organisers picked 37 (out of 100) as the cutoff point because China had a score of 36 that year. Russia's score for 2014 was 27, ranking it equal 136th alongside such havens of transparency as Nigeria and Iran.

"I am not upset because I did not get money," Iglovikov told El Reg. "But the fact that there is a part of the rule in which scientists (and this was an Artificial Intelligence competition) are divided into first and second class people based on the country of origin makes me extremely frustrated," he said via email.

For its part DSTL blamed BAE Systems, which it said runs the Data Science Challenge on its behalf. The government science institute added: "The rules of the competition have been published on the competition website since its launch and have been publicised to entrants regularly throughout. In submitting solutions to the competition, individuals were signing up to these terms and conditions."

BAE Systems repeated the DSTL line about the competition rules verbatim when we asked for their explanation.

We have also asked them why they chose the corruption index for 2014, given that the 2016 index was published in January this year, and will update this article if we hear back from them. Neither Russia nor China's rankings relative to each other changed in the 2016 index.

Competition entries, once submitted, become the property of the British government. Such challenges are fairly routine in the world of defence science and technology research as the government tries to slurp the fruits of private-sector thinkers. ®

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