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10 Bits: The Data News Hotlist

by Joshua New
Photo from Sentinel-2a

This week’s list of data news highlights covers July 25-31, 2015 and includes articles about how Kenya plans to improve its film industry with data and how Google is mapping pollution while it maps roads.

1. Open Data Goes International

The governments of the United Kingdom and France have established a joint task force to improve how businesses in both countries use open government data. The task force will focus on making open data more accessible and available for reuse by small and medium businesses, which make up over 99 percent of the UK and French private sector. The ultimate goal of the task force, which will submit its recommendations by the end of 2015, is to unlock some of the $66 billion in estimated value that could be gained from better use of data in the European Union.

2. Building Better Health Records for Veterans

The Department of Defense has awarded medical records firm Leidos a $4.3 billion contract to carry out the Defense Healthcare Management System Modernization program, which will deploy a new electronic health record system for testing by the end of 2016. The program will utilize commercial software that emphasizes interoperable data standards, the lack of which have plagued other electronic health record systems. The contract specifies that Leidos must adhere to the national data standards put forth by the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology.

3. Boosting the Kenyan Film Industry with Data

The Kenyan Ministry for Sports, Culture, and the Arts is developing a policy designed to grow the Kenyan film industry with better data on the sector. Compared to more established sectors, such as tourism and agriculture, data on the film industry is lacking. The ministry secretary Hassan Wario cited the need for such a policy after a recent report from the Pan African Federation of Filmmakers, an international filmmaker advocacy organization, criticized African countries for making policies that affect the industry without sufficient data to inform the decisionmaking process.

4. Analytics Shows Minnesota Billions in Healthcare Savings

By analyzing the state’s all-payer claims database, a repository of medical claims from public and private payers, the Minnesota Department of Public Health has identified nearly 1.3 million unnecessary hospital visits amounting to $2 billion in extra spending. This analysis revealed that two thirds of all emergency department visits in 2012 were avoidable, as well as identified certain conditions likely to result in a high number of unnecessary emergency department visits, which are more cost-effectively treated by a primary care doctor. With this data, the Departments of Public Health will work with healthcare providers to ensure that patients are more consistently placed in the best and most cost effective care.

5. Opening Federally Funded Research to the Public

The Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs unanimously voted to approve the Fair Access to Science and Technology Research (FASTR) Act, which requires research papers funded by U.S. science agencies be made available to the public. The FASTR Act would apply to all agencies that award $100 million a year or more for research and require them to make all peer-reviewed researchers freely available to the public within 12 months of the papers’ publication in a journal. Though the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy has already issued such requirements, FASTR is designed to ensure that agencies continue to adhere to these requirements under future presidential administrations.

6. Giving Cancer Data Directly to Researchers

The California Department of Public Health (CDPH) and St. Joseph Health, which operates a network of private hospitals in California, have partnered to transmit cancer data directly to the the California Cancer Registry, a CDPH research program. The registry will require participating St. Joseph hospitals to store diagnostic data in electronic and easily transferable formats, rather than as text in a hospital’s database, so the hospitals can more easily and rapidly share this data with researchers.

7. Mapping Pollution on the Streets

Google has partnered with environmental sensor company Aclima to install air pollution sensors on its Google Street view cars, which will allow the company to map pollution levels as it maps streets. The sensors monitor pollutants like carbon monoxide, methane, nitrogen dioxide, and particulate matter, to determine air quality on a block-by-block basis. Google is currently testing the pollution-sensing cars in the San Francisco Bay area, after an experiment last year with just three cars driving for 750 hours in total successfully logged 150 million air quality data points.

8. Counting Calories with Twitter Data

Researchers at the University of Vermont have developed a tool they call the Lexicocalorimeter to analyze Twitter data for words related to food and exercise. The tool’s algorithms rank words by their frequency and caloric implications—i.e. “cake” means more calories, “running” means less—to reveal geographic trends in healthiness in the United States. After analyzing 50 million tweets, researchers were able to identify a correlation between states with high obesity rates and tweets that indicated the amount of calories consumed is higher than calories burned.

9. Europe Puts a New Eye in the Sky

The European Union’s Sentinel-2a satellite program, launched in June, has released a series of highly detailed images of Earth that indicates what researchers can expect when the satellite is fully operational in October. Sentinel-2a’s data will complement the U.S. Landsat satellite program, but its imaging capability will be substantially greater, incorporating more bands of light and focusing on larger areas of ground at a time. Among the 1.7 terabytes of data Sentinel-2a will process per day are images focusing on light wavelength that can indicate the health of plants, and geospatial data useful in urban planning and disaster relief efforts.

10. Encouraging Open Data in Boston

Boston Mayor Martin Walsh issued a new open data policy for the city’s government designed to encourage agencies to publish their datasets on the city’s open data portal by providing guidance on how to safeguard sensitive data. Called the Open and Protected Data Policy, the rules incorporate best practices for publishing open data from cities like New York and San Francisco to address agency concerns about how they could adhere to open data publishing requirements without exposing personal information.

Image: European Space Agency.


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