Data Science newsletter – March 12, 2020

Newsletter features journalism, research papers, events, tools/software, and jobs for March 12, 2020


Data Science News

Comparative twin study: Access to healthcare services in the NHS and the American private insurance system

The BMJ, Opinion


What the NHS will ultimately look like under Conservative party leadership has yet to be determined. But the potential impact of American private healthcare interests remains part of the discussion. There continues to be ongoing conversation around the strong interest the American health industry has in the UK market. [1] During his visit earlier in the year, US President Donald Trump again raised the issue of opening the National Health Service (NHS) to the American private health insurance market. [2] This revives ongoing debates about the benefits of universal health coverage systems like the NHS compared to the benefits of America’s largely private, insurance-driven model.

This is of particular concern because while Americans are assured that they receive the world’s best healthcare, review of health outcomes show Americans’ health often fares comparatively poorly to other high-income countries, despite the US spending significantly more. [3,4] Furthermore, there is mounting evidence that the US healthcare system can bankrupt even well insured individuals. [5]

However, there is little in the literature to reflect comparative experiences of those using the two systems. That’s where we come in. Our experiences are highly idiosyncratic, of course—but we are identical twins, both having been treated for breast cancer within the past five years. Nora, a London-based university professor, received her care through the NHS; Nancy, a US government employee (with what is considered in the US an excellent employer insurance plan), was treated in the US. We both received treatment at well-regarded university teaching hospitals. Here’s our experience:

Think your smartwatch is good for warning of a heart attack? Turns out it’s surprisingly easy to fool its AI

The Register, Katyanna Quach


Like all deep learning models, ECG ones are susceptible to adversarial attacks: miscreants can force algorithms to misclassify the data by manipulating it with noise.

A group of researchers led by New York University demonstrated this by tampering with a deep convolutional neural network (CNN). First, they obtained a dataset containing 8,528 ECG recordings labelled into four groups: Normal, atrial fibrillation – the most common type of an irregular heartbeat – other, or noise.

Houston Is Not Prepared for the Oil Bust

Texas Monthly, Evan Mintz


“The oil and gas business is not likely to be the same engine for Houston’s growth over the next 25 years that it’s been in the past 25 years,” he told the crowd in a Hilton Americas ballroom. He even raised the specter of how climate change concerns have put Houston’s economic lifeblood “out of favor at the moment, in most every corner of the investing and political world.”

As an example of efforts to diversify the Houston economy, Tudor pointed to Rice University’s Ion project, which will anchor a planned Midtown innovation district. The 270,000-square foot facility—built out of a former Sears store—is supposed to serve as a “nucleus for innovation.” They’ll need to finish the project in a rush. The Ion still looks like an abandoned Sears store—except with holes in the walls. Student activists are fighting its construction, which they see as accelerating gentrification. And an assessment by Rice University’s McNair Center for Entrepreneurship and Economic Growth determined they were building the whole thing in the wrong part of town.

Coronavirus vaccine clinical trial starting without usual animal data

STAT, Eric Boodman


As they race to test an experimental coronavirus vaccine, researchers aren’t waiting to see how well it prevents infection in animals before trying it in people, breaking from the usual protocol.

“I don’t think proving this in an animal model is on the critical path to getting this to a clinical trial,” said Tal Zaks, chief medical officer at Moderna, a Cambridge, Mass.-based biotech that has produced a Covid-19 vaccine candidate at record speed. He told STAT that scientists at the National Institutes of Health are “working on nonclinical research in parallel.” Meanwhile, the clinical trial started recruiting healthy participants in the first week of March.

That isn’t how vaccine testing normally happens.

Wake Forest, Kaplan partner on financial services certifications

Education Dive, Kate Tornone and Hallie Busta


  • Wake Forest University will open a center for financial services and technology education in Charlotte, North Carolina, a growing fintech hub.
  • The program, developed in partnership with Kaplan, is designed for working professionals and will offer noncredit courses that lead to industry certifications and designations.
  • Courses will cover topics including data science, analytics, cybersecurity and financial services licensing, which are growing areas of interest among postsecondary and postgraduate education providers.

  • Radical Collaboration sees new hires, custom approaches

    Cornell University, Cornell Chronicle


    By tying Cornell’s interdisciplinary reputation, institutional advantages and broad-based expertise to a multiyear hiring initiative, the effort aims to “allow people to recruit at a higher level into these areas, gets the individuals who come here excited about the collaborative opportunities, and starts them off in that collaborative frame,” Kotlikoff said.

    Approximately $60 million is being invested in the ongoing Radical Collaboration initiative over the next several years. These funds will help support faculty startup packages, salaries in some cases and core facilities in others.

    Coronavirus Campus Shutdowns Hit Some Groups Especially Hard

    WIRED, Gear, Lauren Goode


    For college students, the disruption has led to intense unease. The mandates around remote learning are coming at a time when midterm and final exams, spring break travel plans, and upcoming graduation ceremonies are colliding. Not every student has access to working WiFi or data plans that allow them to live-stream classes. And some universities have taken an even more extreme step, one that puts some people, particularly low-income students, in fraught situations: Colleges such as Harvard, MIT, Cornell, and now Stanford have asked students to vacate dorms much earlier than planned.

    “These kinds of remote solutions have the effect of doubling down on inequalities that are already in the system, and that’s going to be even more true when it happens, unexpectedly, mid-semester,” says Kate Antonova, an associate professor of history at Queens College in New York, which is part of CUNY public schools. On Wednesday morning, New York governor Andrew Cuomo announced the SUNY and CUNY schools will convert to online classes starting March 19.

    “I’ve already surveyed my students, and I definitely have students who have no internet-connected devices at home,” Antonova says. “And I have even more students who have a smartphone but are paying for their own data, so they wouldn’t be able to stream long lectures.”

    How AI could help translate the written language of ancient civilizations

    University of Chicago, UChicago News


    Twenty-five centuries ago, the “paperwork” of Persia’s Achaemenid Empire was recorded on clay tablets—tens of thousands of which were discovered in 1933 in modern-day Iran by archaeologists from the University of Chicago’s Oriental Institute. For decades, researchers painstakingly studied and translated these ancient documents by hand, but this manual deciphering process is very difficult, slow and prone to errors.

    Since the 1990s, scientists have recruited computers to help—with limited success, due to the three-dimensional nature of the tablets and the complexity of the cuneiform characters. But a technological breakthrough at the University of Chicago may finally make automated transcription of these tablets—which reveal rich information about Achaemenid history, society and language—possible, freeing up archaeologists for higher-level analysis.

    That’s the motivation behind DeepScribe, a collaboration between researchers from the OI and UChicago’s Department of Computer Science. With a training set of more than 6,000 annotated images from the Persepolis Fortification Archive, the Center for Data and Computing-funded project will build a model that can “read” as-yet-unanalyzed tablets in the collection, and potentially a tool that archaeologists can adapt to other studies of ancient writing.

    Acquisition of Purdue-affiliated startup propels computer intelligence to the next level

    Purdue University, Research Foundation News


    FWDNXT, a software and hardware startup that spun out of Purdue, was acquired in October by Micron Technology Inc., an industry leader in innovative memory and storage solutions. Micron is integrating FWDNXT’s artificial intelligence hardware and software technology with its advanced memory to explore deep learning solutions for data analytics, particularly in IoT and edge computing.

    “Purdue provided the entrepreneurial resources to help me achieve my vision of taking our work on machine learning and deep learning technology to a much wider audience where we can have a bigger impact,” said Eugenio Culurciello, Micron fellow and chief machine learning architect. “Micron has the leadership in memory, long history of innovation and drive to deliver power and performance capabilities that address the most complex and demanding edge applications at scale.”

    Coronavirus college closings: US classes move online in droves

    USA Today Education, Chris Quintana


    The coronavirus is upending many of the hallmarks of the American university experience. This may be only the beginning of what is to come.

    In-person classes were canceled or postponed at more than 100 universities by late afternoon Wednesday, according to a list maintained by Georgetown scholar Bryan Alexander. Across the country, dorms were emptying. Fans were banned from sporting events. Graduation plans were up in the air.

    Even campuses that don’t have active cases of the virus shut down their in-person offerings as the virus spreads rapidly across the country.

    US is preparing to ban foreign-made drones from government use

    TechCrunch, Zack Whittaker


    The Trump administration is preparing an executive order to ban federal departments and agencies from buying or using foreign-made drones, citing a risk to national security, TechCrunch has learned.

    The draft order, which was drafted in the past few weeks and seen by TechCrunch, would effectively ban both foreign-made drones or drones made with foreign components out of fear that sensitive data collected during their use could be transferred to adversarial nation-states. The order specifically calls out threats posed by China, a major hub for drone manufacturers that supply both government and consumers, with the prospect that other countries could be added later.

    The order says it’s government policy to “encourage” the use of domestically built drones instead.

    Google’s Android TV terms hurt Amazon’s Fire TV efforts

    Protocol, Janko Roettgers


    Amazon has sold millions of Fire TV streaming devices in recent years, but its efforts to expand the Fire TV platform to smart TVs and cable set-top boxes have been slow-going. That’s not by accident, according to industry insiders: They say Google has long prevented consumer electronics manufacturers from doing business with Amazon.

    Any company that licenses Google’s Android TV operating system for some of its smart TVs or even uses Android as a mobile operating system has to agree to terms that prevent it from also building devices using forked versions of Android like Amazon’s Fire TV operating system, according to multiple sources. If a company were to break those terms, it could lose access to the Play Store and Google’s apps for all of its devices. “They cannot do Android TV and Fire TV simultaneously,” said a senior employee of a major TV manufacturer, who spoke with Protocol on the condition of anonymity because he wasn’t authorized by his employer to discuss the subject.

    The Flatiron Institute: A Home for Computational Sciences – The institute has grown from a beautiful proposal into a bustling hub for computational science in astrophysics, biology, mathematics and quantum physics.

    Simons Foundation, 25th Anniversary


    When the Simons Foundation convened a panel of distinguished scientists at the Buttermilk Falls Inn in upstate New York in June 2012, the goal was to explore the merit of supporting large-scale collaborations in different areas of science. Most panelists described research directions in their own disciplines that seemed ripe for such collaborations. But one attendee — mathematician Ingrid Daubechies of Duke University — proposed something entirely different: an institute dedicated to developing mathematical tools and software to help scientists extract meaning from the gigantic datasets that have become a prominent feature of modern science.

    The idea was outside the scope of what Jim and Marilyn Simons had been looking for — yet it instantly resonated with them. “What was beautiful was that she just came with her best idea,” Marilyn Simons says. “It wasn’t what we had asked for, but what’s great about being a foundation is that we didn’t have to stick to what we had asked for.”

    Jim Simons had built his career developing mathematical models to handle large datasets, first as a cryptanalyst at the Institute for Defense Analyses and later at the hedge fund firm he founded, Renaissance Technologies. So Daubechies’ proposal “was right up my alley,” he says.

    Twitter rewrites Developer Policy to better support academic research and use of ‘good’ bots

    TechCrunch, Sarah Perez


    Twitter today updated its Developer Policy to clarify rules around data usage, including in academic research, as well as its position on bots, among other things. The policy has also been entirely rewritten in an effort to simplify the language used and make it more conversational, Twitter says. The new policy has been shortened from eight sections to four, and the accompanying Twitter Developer Agreement has been updated to align with the Policy changes, as well.

    One of the more notable updates to the new policy is a change to the rules to better support non-commercial research.

    This morning the Cornell University Library Academic Assembly passed a Resolution on Responsible Governance of Student Data.

    Twitter, Eliza Bettinger


    This is a first, small step in a process, but I hope that it can serve as inspiration for other bodies of librarians, faculty, and students to insist on transparent data governance on campus. [thread]

    Tools & Resources

    I’m making the neural activity causality analysis tools I’m working on public – 1) because sharing is caring, and 2) making a pip package is more fun than messy real data analysis at the moment.

    Twitter, Byron Galbraith


    Causality Analysis Tools for Neuroimaging Data

    Teaching Effectively During Times of Disruption – Google Docs

    Stanford University, Jenae Cohn and Beth Seltzer


    Teaching during times of potential disruption requires creative and flexible thinking about how instructors can support students in achieving essential core course learning objectives. This document offers suggestions for instructors in Stanford University’s PWR and Thinking Matters looking to continue offering a student-centered learning experience in a remote or online learning environment.

    While the process will no doubt feel unfamiliar and at times possibly frustrating, try as much as possible to be patient.


    Full-time, non-tenured academic positions

    Program Analyst, Ocean Team

    University of California-Berkeley, Haas School of Business; David and Lucile Packard Foundation; Berkeley, CA

    Visiting Assistant Professor in Learning Engineering

    Boston College, Lynch School of Education; Chestnut Hill, MA
    Full-time positions outside academia

    Data Scientist

    Observable; San Francisco, CA

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