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10 Bits: The Data News Hotlist

by Joshua New

This week’s list of data news highlights covers August 15-21, 2015 and includes articles about how the United Kingdom is jumpstarting smart transportation and how open data can help combat illegal fishing practices.

1. A State of the Union for Data

U.S. Chief Data Scientist DJ Patil published a memorandum giving a progress update on the federal government’s data initiatives since he started his job six months ago. Patil highlighted three areas—the Precision Medicine Initiative, open data,  and criminal and social justice—where the administration has made progress on using data to benefit Americans. Patil also called for public feedback on how the U.S. could better use data, inviting suggestions and ideas and encouraging public participation in future initiatives.

2. Predicting Hospital Readmissions

Researchers at the University of Washington Tacoma Center for Data Science have created an analytics tool called the Risk-O-Meter that can predict the likelihood that a patient will have to revisit the hospital for heart issues within 30 days of his or her original visit, with 82 percent accuracy. The researchers analyzed electronic health record data on heart failure readmissions for five hospitals to develop the tool. Existing readmissions analytics tools are typically 60 percent accurate, substantially lower than the Risk-O-Meter.

3. Expanding Crime Database Access to Tribes

The Department of Justice has launched the Tribal Access Program for National Crime Information (TAP) to expand access to national criminal databases to federally recognized tribes. TAP will allow tribes to contribute criminal records to databases managed by the Criminal Justice Information Services Division of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, as well as pull information to support background checks for foster care and law enforcement efforts.  

4. Making Transportation Smarter

The United Kingdom’s innovation agency Innovate UK has helped launch oneTRANSPORT, a two-year initiative to develop smarter transportation networks with the use of open data and the Internet of Things. The project, run by a consortium of private sector technology and transportation companies, local authorities, and academics, will focus on improving transportation by sharing data with developers to create new tools and services.

5. Reinventing the Hard Drive for Faster Data

Intel has developed a new type of storage technology called Optane drives that could eventually operate up to 1,000 times faster than existing flash memory technology, such as those used in hard drives and memory sticks. Slow data storage speeds have historically limited how quickly computers can process data. Intel’s current prototype Optane drive is already seven times faster than leading high-end flash drives on the market, but the company expects to improve performance substantially by the time they hit the market in 2016.

6. Predicting Suicide with an App

Researchers at Indiana University’s School of Medicine have developed a novel method of predicting suicide risk by combining data from a mood- and anxiety-measuring app with a system of blood tests. The app asks users questions topics like their energy level and their positivity and the blood tests identify certain biomarkers believed to be linked to suicidal thinking. With this data, the researchers were able to predict with 90 percent accuracy whether a user would think about or attempt suicide.

7. Data-Driven People-Watching to Improve Public Spaces

Researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Center of Urban Design are developing a sensor network called Placelet to collect data on how pedestrians and vehicles move through public spaces, as well as data on noise levels and air quality. The goal of Placelet is to understand the scale and speed of movement through spaces, which can indicate the likelihood that pedestrians feel safe in and enjoy a space—factors that urban planners have historically struggled to quantify. The researchers are currently testing Placelet in downtown Boston.

8. Open Data Makes Fishing More Accountable

A new website called WhoFishesFAR, run by the European Union’s Fishing Authorisation Regulation (FAR), has made data on European fishing vessels publicly available for the first time, including vessel’s country of origin, operating period, and the trade agreement that allows it to operate. WhoFishesFAR, conceived by environmental groups including the World Wildlife Federation and the Environmental Justice Foundation, is designed to help combat illegal fishing practices, which range from skirting environmental regulations to abusive labor policies and slavery.

9. Building a Better Census App

New York City’s Department of City Planning has launched a new version of its Census FactFinder tool to allow users such as city planners and government personnel to better utilize and map data from the Census Bureau. The previous version of the app only provided data on the decennial Census and users could only analyze predefined geographic areas. The updated website allows users to create customized maps and use visualization and analytics tools with data from both the decennial Census and the more granular American Community Survey.

10. Banks Ally for Better Data

Major banks J.P. Morgan Chase, Goldman Sachs, and Morgan Stanley are cooperating to create a company to consolidate and improve data that each bank uses to determine pricing and transaction costs. The initiative, called Securities Product Reference Data (SPReD) will centralize the processing and storing of reference data for financial instruments, which each bank currently does independently. Though these banks are traditionally competitors, the cost savings of consolidating this data processing will be mutually beneficial for each.

Image: Pablo Valerio.

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