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10 Bits: The Data News Hotlist

by Joshua New

This week’s list of data news highlights covers August 1-7, 2015 and includes articles about how NASA wants to detect earthquakes with electromagnetic sensors, and how the U.S. Census Bureau plans to implement modern technologies.

1. Watson Can See What Is Wrong with You

IBM has acquired medical-imaging software company Merge Healthcare to give its cognitive computing platform Watson the ability to analyze medical images alongside health records. Medical images, such as x-rays and mammograms, make up the vast majority of medical data, but are typically decoupled from a patient’s electronic health records. With medical-imaging technology, Watson will be able to interpret images while taking into account an individual patient’s medical history to allow for a more nuanced understanding of his or her health.

2. Building Better Earthquake Detection

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) has launched its Quest for Quakes challenge to call on data scientists to develop algorithms that can identify electromagnetic pulses that may indicate an oncoming earthquake. Participants have access to 3 terabytes of data from QuakeFinder, an electromagnetic sensor network deployed at tectonic faults around the world, to identify a theorized relationship between changes to local magnetic fields and earthquakes. The challenge for these data scientists will be devising methods to differentiate between earthquake-signaling electromagnetic pulses and many other factors that could obscure this data, such as lightning and passing trains.

3. Helping States Track Diseases

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has announced $110 million in funding—a $13 million increase from last year—to help states better track and respond to infectious diseases such as measles and Lyme disease. $17.4 million of this funding will support CDC’s PulseNet surveillance system, which links data on foodborne illnesses to genetic data from bacteria. Other portions of these funds will support states develop advanced molecular detection technology, which combines genomic sequencing and bioinformatics, to rapidly identify and respond to disease outbreaks.

4. Eight Cities Win Expert Data Assistance

Bloomberg Philanthropies, former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s charity organization,  has selected the first eight winners of its $42 million, 100 city competition to promote innovation in city government. The cities—Jackson, Mississippi; Mesa, Arizona; Tulsa, Oklahoma; Chattanooga, Tennessee; Louisville, Kentucky; Seattle, Washington; Kansas City, Missouri; and New Orleans, Louisiana—will receive assistance and funding from Bloomberg Philanthropies to make their data more accessible and useful to people both inside and outside city government.

5. Yelp Takes On Healthcare Data

Crowdsourced-review website Yelp has partnered with nonprofit news organization ProPublica to include data on medical businesses to increase the amount of information available to consumers about their healthcare options. Users can now examine emergency room wait times, fines paid by nursing homes, and readmission rates for various treatments of 46,000 hospitals, 15,000 nursing homes, and 6,300 dialysis clinics in the United States. While much of this information is already public, it has traditionally been hard for users to access or interpret.

6. Bring Analytics to the Whole Government

The government of New South Wales will build a data analytics center designed to improve bureaucratic processes and regulatory efforts throughout the whole government—a first-of-its-kind program in Australia. The analytics center will be hosted at the University of Technology Sydney and will be governed by the Department of Innovation and Better Regulation. Once complete, the program will facilitate data sharing between government agencies and help improve the effectiveness of government programs, in accordance with the New South Wales Government’s strategy to improve government services through technology.

7. Research Data Gets a Fast Lane

University of California San Diego and University of California Berkeley have received a $5 million grant from the National Science Foundation to begin work on a high-bandwidth network, called the Pacific Research Platform, to allow researchers in data-intensive fields such as particle physics and genomics to quickly share large amounts of data with each other. The Pacific Research Platform will eventually connect to 10 University of California campuses, as well as other universities on the west coast and national laboratories.

8. Modernizing the U.S. Census

The Census Bureau has announced a 2016 test run for new technologies the agency plans to incorporate for the 2020 decennial census. The 2016 pilot will allow residents to participate in the census via Internet, and Census workers will be equipped with mobile devices for door-to-door canvassing efforts. The test will take place in Harris County, Texas due its dense and diverse populations, and the agency will use the pilot to evaluate how to most cost-effectively implement these new technologies.

9. Fighting Childhood Cancer with Precision Medicine

The University of California Santa Cruz’s Genomics Institute has launched its California Kids Cancer Comparison project, a data sharing platform for genetic data designed to improve the treatment of childhood cancers. The project, which will run for 18 months, will allow clinicians and researchers to compare child patients’ health data, such as tumor sequencing data, against a large pool of cancer data from children and adults around the world. With greater access to pediatric cancer data, clinicians and patients alike should be able to make more informed treatment decisions.

10. Giving the Government Feedback

The General Services Administration (GSA) has launched a pilot called Feedback USA to collect data on customers’ experiences to improve government services. Feedback USA will deploy small kiosks at State Department passport centers and Social Security Administration offices that let users rate their experience using a simple happiness rating system. GSA launched the pilot in response to agency concerns that they were not collecting enough useful data on how users feel about interacting with the government.

Image: Zackstarr.

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