Saturday, January 12, 2013

A New Approach to Data?

We all know that new technologies are changing how we do research. One of the most interesting was first introduced to me several years ago by a student of mine, who was particularly interested in how social media spread information about health-related issues. The first goal was to see how accurate the information was, but I think it's becoming more and more obvious that social media can be used to identify things more quickly than traditional research methods.

A post by kottke shows a fascinating result of using Google to identify disease breakouts. This picture is the interesting point:

The Orange is US data, Blue is Google-based data.

The tracking of certain Google search terms is very, very close to CDC data. What appears to be happening, though, is that Google identifies the trends a couple of weeks before CDC data.

Potentially more interesting, though, is what this could mean for other types of disease outbreaks. The US has a good system for tracking certain infectious diseases, particularly flu. But what about for diseases or problems that are newly emerging? Can we use Google, or other social media, to identify problems before we even know there is a problem we should be looking for?

We haven't even begun to understand how we can make use of all of the data that are being generated by millions of individuals across the world. This is the true "new frontier" of research.

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