This Week in Data – March 20

This Week in Data – March 20:

Each week, we compile the best stories in data. Get up to speed on this week in data, without having to search for it.


Open data sharing is being used to kill COVID-19

What a week. And while doctors, nurses, and other health heroes are the frontlines helping fight back the COVID-19 threat, scientists are using data sharing methods to help analyze the virus itself. This Wired article highlights one tool, called Nextstrain, that tracks how viruses evolve. Only one problem: moving too fast can lead to mistakes.

Overall, though – it’s fantastic to see data sharing being used as a tool to literally save humanity.


“Skipping the traditional peer review phase has disadvantages. On March 3, Nextstrain cofounder Trevor Bedford, a researcher at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle, wrote on Twitter that a strain circulating in Lombardy, Italy, was related to one found in Munich, Germany, that public health officials had said was contained.”


…but those systems aren’t always reliable

There are plenty of these open source tools everywhere, and it’s good to see them getting attention. Like the Seattle Flu Study, which used a tool called Gisaid. This article also references the mistake made in the previous Wired article, but it also points out another issue: this type of tool isn’t being used at the highest levels. And there may be reasons for that.


“As of now, the CDC isn’t using platforms like Nextstrain to significantly shape how it responds to the COVID-19 outbreak. However, as the pandemic continues to evolve, that could change.”


COVID-19 data sharing “unprecedented”

We aren’t sure if this is the first global problem to be solved with large help from data sharing…but it’s certainly up there as a contender. As the CBC points out, the amount of information being shared globally is simply “unprecedented”. This piece focuses on a PhD student who created a dashboard of outbreaks to keep people informed. And keep a sense of normalcy. 


“Another Canadian effort to collate and simplify information is, started by a project manager in Toronto. The world’s largest maker of mapping software, Esri, is using the daily data from ViriHealth to power its own Canadian dashboard, released last Friday, which has the most granular geographic breakdown of cases.”


Google is a bit wary, though

And with good reason. The giant says it’s nervous about letting location data be used in an attempt to combat the COVID-19 pandemic. Google has been slammed for sharing location data inadvertently, so it makes sense it’s being cautious. That being said, it’s under pressure right now to share information about where infected people may have been.


“During a March 3 Senate hearing, an official from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said the agency was using Google location data for “travel patterns and for other means.””


People want to be paid for sharing DNA data

I mean, don’t you too? According to a new survey, 50% of people want to be compensated for sharing genomic data. There’s definitely a market out there for this type of information, but with a warning: 38% say they’re unwilling to share information even if the payment was available, but perhaps a little more information about what it’s used for might change their minds.

So, the story isn’t over yet.


“The three policies that made them most willing to provide it were the ability to request their data to be deleted; assurance that their data wouldn’t be sold or shared; and requiring specific permissions to use the data.”



That’s our wrap for this week. Thanks for reading – we hope you found it entertaining and informative. We’d love to hear your thoughts on these articles and anything else data related!

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Until next week,

Team Data Republic

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