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10 Bits: The Data News Hot List

by Daniel Castro

This week’s list of data news highlights covers March 1-7 and includes articles on Major League Baseball’s recent initiative to significantly increase the amount of data it collects about games and a company that is trying to change how doctors and patients use blood lab test data by making it more affordable.

1. Using Data to Save Water

Communities in California facing record droughts this year are hoping to leverage data to conserve water. One study found that participants in a pilot program who received feedback about their water consumption compared to their neighbors reduced their own usage by about 5 percent. Companies in Silicon Valley are exploring other data-driven solutions as well, such as sensors placed in a home’s plumbing system to help detect water leaks or a running toilet.

2. A Database to Combat Heroin Addiction

Sen. Charles Schumer (D-NY) has proposed creating a statewide database to help law enforcement officials and treatment providers combat New York’s growing heroin problem. The proposed database, called DrugStat, would be modeled off of “NYC RxStat”, a database created by New York City to monitor, analyze, and combat prescription painkiller abuse.

3. El Niño Warning System Goes Dark Just When Scientists Need It Most

Since the 1980s, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has operated a network of buoys in the Pacific Ocean to monitor for signs of El Niño and La Niña weather events. However, as a result of budget cuts and bureaucratic headaches, only one-third of the buoys are reporting on a regular basis. NOAA issued an El Niño alert on Thursday, but forecasters worry that without additional funding to restore the system to full functionality, they will be unable to accurately predict future weather problems in the region.

4. Major League Baseball Doubles Down on Big Data

Major League Baseball is planning to deploy a new high performance camera system to three ball parks this year that will precisely track players on the baseball diamond. The data produced by the system, totaling about seven terabytes per game, will help teams better evaluate player performance. Teams will receive raw data and must decide for themselves how best to use it.

5. Precision Tracking of Air Pollution

Air pollution is a global problem, particularly in some densely-populated urban areas. While cities have begun to monitor air quality, they usually only have a dozen or so sensors collecting data, so the actual air quality outside someone’s home or business might be better or worse. Researchers from MIT have created small wearable sensors to let individuals track the fluctuations in air pollution along popular commutes. Their goal is to give citizens data so they can have more control over their own exposure to bad air quality.

6. Using Data to Solve Major Social Problems

Dan Wagner, one of the gurus behind President Obama’s successful data-driven campaign strategy, has turned his focus to applying big data to solve big social problems. In particular, he argues that organizations should use personalized communication to individuals to help them have better lives. For example, in education he wants to help identify low-income students who are applying to and enrolling in colleges below their potential and help these students get matched to colleges actually at their level.

7. Next Version of Office 365 Will Integrate Machine Learning

Microsoft has announced that the next version of Office 365, its cloud-based software service, will leverage a new technology called the “Office Graph.” By analyzing content, user interactions, and activity streams of its users, the software company can create the Office Graph—a map of the relationships between these items. Applications can then be built to make use of the data. For example, an application code-named “Oslo” will use machine learning techniques to help users discover the information most relevant to them.

8. Careers in Statistics Evolve and Expand

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics projects that statistics jobs in the United States will grow 27 percent between 2012 and 2022, rising much faster than the average for all occupations. But not only are the number of jobs growing, the range of statistics jobs is also expanding as the need for statistical skills grows not only in traditional fields like life sciences and engineering, but also in areas like sports, politics, and journalism.

9. Giving Patients Affordable Access to Lab Test Data

Theranos, a start-up in Palo Alto, is trying to do for blood lab tests what 23andMe has done for genetic tests, namely make it faster, cheaper, and more convenient than traditional methods. The potential savings are substantial: the company, which lists pricing for all of its tests on its website, estimates it could save Medicare $98 billion and Medicaid approximately $104 billion over the next decade. In addition, by substantially lowering the costs of lab-test data, the company hopes to spur greater use of trend data in medicine, as well as adaptive clinical trials, where the dosing for a patient are adjusted in real time based on lab data.

10. Music Industry Is Listening to Data

The music streaming service Spotify announced Thursday that it had acquired Echo Nest, a company started by MIT computer scientists that analyzes what songs users like and then makes recommendations on what else they may enjoy. This acquisition is the latest in a series of moves by the music industry to leverage data to improve the customer experience, connect artists with fans, and help record labels identify new artists.

Photo credit: Flickr user Gregory Hauenstein

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