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10 Bits: the Data News Hotlist

by Joshua New
Gun Sales

This week’s list of data news highlights covers January 2-8, 2016 and includes articles about a new method of predicting when patients do not take their medicine and how cognitive computing could transform health apps.

1. Using Mental Health Data for Better Gun Background Checks

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has modified a provision of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) to allow certain healthcare organizations to share mental health data with the National Instant Criminal Background Check System, which licensed firearms dealers use to determine whether or not a person is legally allowed to purchase a gun. The background check system includes data about criminal history that could prevent the sale of a gun, but until now did not reliably provide firearms dealers information about a person’s mental health conditions that could also disqualify him or her from purchasing a gun, such as whether or not a person has been involuntarily committed to a mental institution or if authorities have deemed a person a danger to themselves and others.

2. Tracking How the World Tests Students

The United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization’s (UNESCO) Institute for Statistics has developed the “Database on Learning Assessments” to compile standardized data about how different countries assess student attainment. The publicly available database houses information about student testing for 61 countries, which can help policymakers and educators better understand the differences in how different countries track student learning. UNESCO created the database as part of its Education 2030 initiative to comprehensively monitor global progress on education.

3. Building the Brains of Self-Driving Cars

Computer chip manufacturing company Nvidia has developed the Drive PX2, a powerful computer designed to designed to handle the computing-power intensive deep learning algorithms that self-driving cars will rely upon. The Drive PX2 is capable of simultaneously analyzing data from 12 video cameras and a host of other sensors that autonomous vehicles will use to navigate their environment, and it has a processing power equivalent to 150 high-end laptops. Nvidia has partnered with Volvo to begin testing the computer in self-driving car prototypes.

4. Learning When People Miss Their Medicine

Researchers from Thomas Jefferson University and Christiana Care, a private hospital network, have developed a method of identifying medication non-adherence rates and flagging patients likely to not stay on track for treatment regimens. The researchers analyzed electronic health record data of hypertension patients alongside pharmacy claims data to determine when patients failed to fill their prescriptions and identify factors that might contribute to why certain patients did not, such as lower blood pressure that might reduce a patient’s sense of urgency to fill a prescription. Identifying patients that fail to adhere to treatment regimens is a crucial first step in developing strategies to reduce medication non-adherence rates, which cost the United States $337 billion in 2013 and exacerbate existing health risks.

5. Supporting Open Transportation Data App Development

The Bristol City Council has released an application programming interface (API) to encourage the development of technologies that use the city’s open data on transportation. The API makes it easier for members of the public to work with data, such as real-time bus schedules, the location of electric vehicle charging stations, and parking space availability. The Bristol City Council commissioned software development company UrbanThings to develop the API after it developed the popular BusChecker app, which provides users in cities around the world real-time data about bus schedules.

6. Bringing Cognitive Computing to Health Apps

IBM announced a series of new personal health apps that use its Watson cognitive computing platform. One app uses a combination of genetic data about metabolism, signals from wearable health monitors, and information on dietary habits to provide users with personalized guidance on improving their health. Another, built in partnership with medical device manufacturer Medtronic, gives users with diabetes a three-hour advanced warning about a potential hypoglycemic attacks based on their habits and medical history. And IBM has partnered with sports apparel company Under Armour to create an app that lets users record their eating habits by simply taking photos of their food and using Watson’s visual recognition software automatically log the nutrition information.

7. Understanding Changing Human Needs

Researchers at Indiana University have partnered with the Salvation Army, a charity, to create the Human Needs Index (HNI), an online tool that analyzes data about the services and financial assistance Salvation Army provides to those in need. The tool scores U.S. states on the level of human needs based on seven categories: energy, furniture, clothing, meals, healthcare, groceries, and housing. Users can examine changing HNI scores for every state on a monthly basis dating back to 2004 and see the poverty effects of specific events, such as Hurricane Sandy, as well as seasonal trends. The researchers hope HNI will help policymakers make more informed decisions about how to reduce poverty.

8. Fighting Cancer with 3D Models

The Institute for Cancer Research in London has updated its canSAR database, the world’s largest database for cancer drug discovery, with data on three-dimensional structural information for the 110,000 molecules in the database. With ready access to data about molecular structure, researchers can make more informed decisions about drug interactions and design better experiments and clinical trials. The canSAR database is freely available to cancer researchers and has over 140,000 users around the world.

9. Shining Light on Politicians’ Tweets (Again)

Twitter has announced it will restore API access to Politwoops, a service run by transparency organization Sunlight Foundation to record and display the deleted tweets of elected officials. Twitter had shut down access to its API for Politwoops in June 2015 due to concerns that the third-party service violated its privacy policy, making it impossible for Politwoops to continue to automatically log politicians’ tweets. Twitter reversed the decision in response to concerns that what politicians say online is a matter of public record, and the public’s ability to monitor and analyze this information benefits government transparency and accountability.

10. Bringing Smart Buses to Smart Cities

Computer-vision-based automotive safety company Mobileye has partnered with the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) to provide its collision avoidance system for city buses for free to the winner of DOT’s Smart City Challenge announced in December 2015. Mobileye’s technology will help the winning city improve the safety and efficiency of public transportation by allowing the city to monitor data about bus operations in real time and use bus-mounted sensors to help drivers avoid accidents. DOT will pick five finalists for the challenge in March 2016, and the winning city will receive $50 million to implement its proposed large-scale smart city projects in June 2016.

Image: M&R Glasgow.

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