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10 Bits: The Data News Hot List

by Travis Korte
An electron microscope image of a solar cell. The Materials Genome initiative aims to shorten the pipeline in the development of new materials.

This week’s list of data news highlights covers September 21-27 and includes articles on a new crackdown on companies that put up fake reviews online and a data-driven study of the historical development of complex societies.

1. Big Data for Economic Research

Japan’s Cabinet Office, which is responsible for much of the country’s economic analysis, has proposed an index of economic indicators that would include supermarket transactions and search data. Using these data sources could provide a real-time glimpse into certain indicators. The Bank of England and European Central Bank have also looked into using online search data for economic analysis, but neither has implement any initiatives yet.

2. Cracking Down on Fake Reviews

New York state regulators announced this week a crackdown on fake internet reviews. Agreements have been reached with 19 companies, which will pay a total of $350,000 in penalties and cease posting misleading reviews. In some cases, dedicated reputation management firms bribed clients’ customers to write fake reviews, and used a network of contributors in Bangladesh, the Philippines and Eastern Europe to write fake reviews for as little as a dollar per review.

3. Using Data to Study History

An interdisciplinary team of researchers is using data to study the origins of complex societies. After building models to test the hypothesis that civilizations developed more due to war than to agriculture, the researchers compared their results with data from historical atlases to determine how well their models predicted the way different states and empires really evolved.

4. What Stands Between Patients and Their Health Data?

Providing patients access to their health data is complicated. An evaluation of three regional health exchanges in New York found that, in additional to technical barriers such as insufficient adoption of data standards, legal as well as cultural issues ultimately prevented the initiatives from achieving their initial goals.

5. Hedge Funds Using FOIA to Gain an Edge

A review of 100,000 Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests filed over the past five years found that hedge funds have made significant use of the government service to try to gain an edge over their competitors by using information that is publicly available but not yet publicly announced. In one case, a fund that was considering an investment in a pharmaceutical company paid only $72.50 for a FOIA request concerning the health effects of a particular drug, and it subsequently bought over 13,000 shares with options for 25,000 more when the publicly available data came back without any red flags.

6. Study Reveals “Big Data” Disconnect

IT executives may be overestimating the progress that has been made on their “big data” projects. A study by IT staffing firm TEKsystems revealed a large discrepancy between the views of IT leaders and their staff on the progress of their initiatives, as well as the prospects for overcoming future data-related challenges. The two groups agreed, however, on the need for more skilled “big data” experts.

7. More Data Than Utilities Know What to Do With

Some electric utilities are generating more data from the smart grid than they know what to do with, say some industry experts. In addition, while more data may help utilities better manage their networks, it may also identify problems that the utilities would rather not know about, especially if the knowledge results in the need for expensive upgrades or redesigns.

8. Materials Genome Initiative Aims to Spur Innovation

For the past two years, physicists at the National Institute of Standards and Technology have been working on the Materials Genome Initiative, a project that is using high-performance computing to model the properties of both known and unknown materials. The goal of this project is to cut in half the time it takes to develop new materials and encourage more innovation. Already the project has resulted in some successful ventures, such as the Materials Project at MIT and the Harvard Clean Energy Project.

9. State of the Art Hospital Computing Center

New York City’s Mount Sinai Medical Center is building a $3 million computing cluster to conduct large-scale analyses of medical data in hopes of dramatically cutting health care costs. The cluster, spearheaded by former Facebook data czar Jeff Hammerbacher (who coined the term “data science”), will run a version of Hadoop and conduct “big data” analyses on various hospital variables.

10. Open Data Benefitting the Private Sector

A team of open government advicates has launched Open Data 500, an initiative to find 500 examples of open government data spurring profits in the private sector. The initiative, part of New York University’s GovLab, will look primarily at U.S.-based companies using federal data. The goal of the initiative, according to GovLab, is to engender a stronger partnership between government and the public.

Photo: ZEISS Microscopy / Creative Commons

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