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10 Bits: The Data News Hotlist

by Joshua New
Shelter Dogs

This week’s list of data news highlights covers January 24-30, 2015 and includes articles about how data analytics could mean for more equitable cancer treatment and how a startup is targeting student debt with data science.

1. Congress Unveils Plan to Improve Medical Research

Members of the House Commerce and Energy Committee announced a set of proposals designed to hasten the development of new treatments by the medical industry. The proposals come as part of the Committee’s 21st Century Cures initiative, which aims to improve medical research through innovative technologies and cutting-edge practices. The Committee’s plan focuses in part on better utilizing data to drive new discoveries and develop target treatments.

2. UK Regulator Announces Plan to Foster the Internet of Things

Ofcom, the independent regulator of the UK’s communications industry, published plans to foster development of the Internet of Things. The regulator developed the plans to ensure that the UK, which is already home to 40 million connected devices, will play a leading role in developing the technology by creating a regulatory environment that focuses on investment and innovation in the sector.

3. Studying Supply Chain Data to Make Food Safer

IBM and food conglomerate Mars have created the Consortium for Sequencing the Food Supply Chain, an effort to study food supply chain data to safeguard against foodborne illness. The consortium will analyze data from factories, farms, grocery stores, and more to establish a baseline for what is safe, as well as sequence the genes of foodborne bacteria and organisms.  The goal of this analysis is to create a system that can detect unsafe conditions that could result in a salmonella or E. coli outbreak before it happens.

4. Fighting Animal Abuse with Data

The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) is creating a database to help the New York Police Department (NYPD) with its animal abuse investigations. The database, which is being developed by a former NYPD captain and a former Bronx prosecutor, will identify hot-spots where animal abuse is more likely to occur and look for citywide patterns in animal cruelty to help police prioritize their resources. The database is expected to have the added benefit of identifying patterns of domestic violence, as the two crimes are often linked.

5. Consolidating Forensic Data for Researchers

The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) is developing a database to aggregate the many disparate datasets of forensic information used by researchers. The database, called the Biometric and Forensic Research Database Catalog, is designed to be a central hub of publicly available forensic data, such as iris and palm print scans. NIST created the database to address the challenge of locating forensic data, which is frequently maintained by state law enforcement agencies.

6. Targeting Variations in Cancer Care with Data Analytics

A new study from Stanford University relies on data analytics to identify variations in treatment that could be responsible for a disproportionate number of deaths of African Americans with colon cancer. Authors of the report analyzed treatment data such as insurance claims and discharge information of 30,000 patients with cancer and found that integrated healthcare systems, rather than standard hospitals, that adhered to national guidelines significantly reduced the racial disparity in survival rates. The study proposes that these integrated healthcare systems, which rely on multiple inputs for healthcare delivery, may be more effective at ensuring minority patients receive improved care

7. Pharmaceutical Company Creates Cancer Treatment Database for Policymakers

Indianapolis-based drug company Eli Lilly and Co. has created a database that could lead to better policy decisions about how treatments are developed. The database is not intended to be used by healthcare practitioners to guide treatment, but rather it is aimed at informing policymakers and advocacy groups. Eli Lilly’s CEO hopes that the database will dispel misleading assumptions about cancer treatment and will educate policymakers about what could be done to drive treatment innovations.

8. Maryland’s Open Data Council Pushes for Free Mapping Data

Maryland’s Council on Open Data, a group of public and private sector data experts formed by Governor Martin O’Malley at the end of last year, is pushing for legislation that would make Geographic Information System (GIS) mapping data free to the public. Currently this data is only available for a fee paid to the government, which the Council says is contradictory to the Open Data Act that Maryland passed in 2014, which encourages government data be made freely available to the public. Legislation that would incorporate the council’s recommendations is expected to be proposed in the current legislative session.

9. How Data can Make Cities Better Manage Urbanization

A new report from the World Bank outlines ways in which data can be used to understand the effects of urbanization on things like employment, education, and public infrastructure. The report relies on satellite and geospatial data to track the massive population movements to cities like Tokyo, Seoul, and Jakarta, and identify challenges posed to governments by this rapid urbanization. The report was designed to illustrate how city planners can use comparable data to better understand the effects of urbanization and address the challenges it poses.

10. Startup Targets Student Debt with Data Science

The San Francisco based startup Earnest is using data science tools to address the consumer finance needs of students with debt. Earnest is using algorithms to address the problem that students, frequently younger and with limited credit history, often pay higher rates on their loans than they should. The company’s software incorporates data not traditionally factored into traditional forms of credit analysis, such as education and savings, which Earnest says can paint a better picture about a student’s financial risk and potentially lower interest rates.

Image: FEMA Photo Library.

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