Data Science newsletter – March 16, 2020

Newsletter features journalism, research papers, events, tools/software, and jobs for March 16, 2020


Data Science News

Purdue launches online analytics degree

Purdue University, News


Purdue University’s Krannert School of Management will begin offering an online Master of Science in Business Analytics in fall 2020.

The degree is aimed at working professionals. Students will receive broad exposure to various functional areas of business and how they use information to make more informed decisions. The United States Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates the need for business analysts to increase 14% by 2024, and this degree will prepare participants for a wide variety of roles within the industry.

Apple sets restrictions for COVID-19-related apps

TechCrunch, Brian Heater


Apple today put in place more COVID-19-related safeguards — this time centered on its App Store. In a note posted to its developer community, the company explains that it will take steps to vet submissions of apps focused on the global pandemic that has begun to impact nearly every aspect of life across the globe.

“To help fulfill these expectations, we’re evaluating apps critically to ensure data sources are reputable and that developers presenting these apps are from recognized entities such as government organizations, health-focused NGOs, companies deeply credentialed in health issues, and medical or educational institutions,” the company explains. “Only developers from one of these recognized entities should submit an app related to COVID-19.”

Reflecting on the Covid-19 Infodemic as a Crisis Informatics Researcher

Medium, UW Center for an Informed Public, Kate Starbird


Crisis informatics is the study of how information flows during crisis events, especially how information flows across what we call “technology-mediated” environments like the internet and social media. It is also the study of human behavior — in other words, how people respond to crisis events. It builds from previous research in the sociology of disaster that reaches back into 1960s. And it integrates insight from the psychology of rumor, another field with a long history.

Many of the lessons from these related fields are relevant to conversations we are all having right now about Covid-19.

Crisis events such as natural disasters, industrial accidents, terrorist attacks, and emergent pandemics are often times of high uncertainty — about what is happening and what we should do about it. In these cases, there are often information voids (things we just don’t know yet). And the “facts” of the situation are dynamic. In other words, they change as new information forces us to update our understanding of what is going on.

Harvard experts say Massachusetts may need 1.4 million COVID tests

Harvard Gazette


Massachusetts may ultimately need 1.4 million tests for COVID-19 and have to conduct tens of thousands a day, Harvard infectious disease experts said Friday, adding their voices to a nationwide chorus calling to increase dramatically the pace of testing across the country.

“This is a scale that’s not anywhere near where we’re at right now,” said Pardis Sabeti, professor of immunology and infectious diseases at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health and a researcher at the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard. Sabeti added that Americans have refused to learn preparedness lessons offered by Ebola, SARS, and other prior epidemics. “The fundamental fact is … that we don’t focus on preparedness; we focus on reaction. Every time, again and again, we wait. And there’s so many things that we could have in place so that we could move quickly.”

Method detects new PFAS in the atmosphere

Chemical & Engineering News, Katherine Bourzac


Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) have been used as fire retardants and nonstick coatings for decades. Previous research has shown that some of the molecules can be persistent organic pollutants that pose health risks. However, getting a handle on those risks—and coming up with appropriate regulations for the chemicals involved—is challenging because most PFAS structures are proprietary, and they get transformed in the environment into unknown products.

To fill in the PFAS picture, environmental chemists have been developing methods to sample these compounds. Now, for the first time, researchers at Nanjing University and the National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology have developed a method to capture PFAS in both the gaseous and particulate phases of the atmosphere (Environ. Sci. Technol. 2020, DOI: 10.1021/acs.est.9b05457). Their samples, collected from a rooftop in Nanjing using a cryogenic system to select for PFAS homologues and analyzed using high-resolution mass spectrometry, turned up 117 PFAS-like molecules, including several that had not been found in the air before.

Bill Gates Steps Down from Microsoft’s Board

WIRED, Business, Steven Levy


This current move appears to be the culmination of a 20-year process of Gates’ attention shifting to philanthropy. In 2000, I was summoned to Microsoft, ostensibly to join several reporters for a debrief of the company’s product vision. Instead we were ushered into a television studio for the surprise announcement that Gates was yielding the CEO post to his longtime lieutenant Steve Ballmer. (He still held the post of executive chair and created a role for himself as chief software architect. At that time, he was just beginning to ramp up his philanthropy through the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, which evolved from earlier charitable efforts, and pledging to give the bulk of his fortune to the organization. (Since Gates was the world’s richest man at the time, that fortune was considerable.)

The Elegant Mathematics of Social Distancing

WIRED, Science, Aarian Marshall


What is safe right now? What isn’t?

The answer isn’t clear, given what researchers know—and don’t know—about the disease. And even experts aren’t united in their responses.

“This is not black and white,” says Ben Lopman, an infectious disease epidemiologist at Emory University’s Rollins School of Public Health. “We’re trying right now to increase social distancing to slow down transmission of this infection. But that doesn’t mean no human contact for the foreseeable future. It means us all taking sensible steps and doing our part to reduce the amount of interactions we have.”

Flu Watchdog Spots More With Fever and Cough, But It’s Not Flu

Bloomberg Business, Drew Armstrong


A U.S. disease surveillance network that monitors doctors’ offices and hospitals has picked up a rise in people with a fever and cough, but who don’t test positive for influenza.

It’s not clear if the increase represents a rise in coronavirus cases that are being missed because of a shortage of testing in the U.S. It’s possible that worried people with some other respiratory illness are showing up for care in greater numbers.

But it’s another piece of evidence as academics, public health experts and the government try to answer what none knows so far — how many people in the U.S. have been infected by the new coronavirus, and how fast is it spreading?

Thermo Fisher to produce millions of coronavirus diagnostic tests

STAT, Matthew Herper


Thermo Fisher, the largest maker of scientific tools, said Friday it plans to produce up to 5 million of a new test to detect the novel coronavirus that causes Covid-19.

The company, based in Waltham, Mass., plans to reach that level of production by the week of April 3, according to Ron O’Brien, a company spokesman.

How AI could unravel the fate of plastics in the ocean

Anthropocene, Prachi Patel


Many of us have heard the statistics by now: 8 million metric tons of plastic enter the oceans each year. What happens to these plastics in salty, sunny seas? To find out, researchers at the Pennsylvania State University turned to artificial intelligence.

Using a machine-learning algorithm, the researchers analyzed how 110 different types of plastic, including commercial and experimental varieties, will degrade in the ocean. The results, published in Nature Communications, show that certain types of plastics break down quicker than others when subjected to the conditions found in the oceans.

The Real Threat to Business Schools from Artificial Intelligence

Knowledge@Wharton, Anne Trumbore


We anticipate AI will change the way we learn and work in the near future. Nearly 400 million workers globally will change their occupations within the next 10 years. Because business schools not only prepare students for the workforce but also create scholarship about business practices, they are uniquely situated to respond to the shifts coming to the future of work. But our recent study, “Implications of Artificial Intelligence on Business Schools and Lifelong Learning,” shows that business schools are mostly cautious in adapting management education to satisfy the coming needs of students, workers and organizations. This circumspect approach begs the question: Will MBAs educated today using methods from the past be employable for the jobs of the future?

‘Uber of deliveries’: Innovative U of T startup is purchased by its biggest customer

University of Toronto, U of T News


A University of Toronto startup that uses crowdsourcing to deliver goods to small businesses has been acquired by its biggest customer.

Blip Delivery, founded in 2018 by U of T Mississauga students affiliated with ICUBE’s accelerator program, is the Uber of deliveries, says co-founder and CEO Srikanth Srinivas, who is in his final year of studying computer science.

Blip uses machine learning algorithms to effectively route drivers through the city to provide same-day delivery service to local Canadian businesses. Drivers open the app and accept pick-up requests – but instead of ferrying passengers as Uber does, they deliver goods, explains Srinivas.

Texas Democrats unveil technological ‘X factor’ for 2020 election

Austin American-Statesman, Jonathan Tilove


The Texas Democratic Party Thursday unveiled its new “Texas Partisanship Model,” which party officials say will allow them to predict with greater accuracy the partisan leanings of virtually every registered voter in Texas.

Party officials said that includes some 600,000 registered voters for whom they previously lacked so-called partisanship scores but nearly two-thirds to three-fourths of whom they believe to be likely Democratic voters.

“We are building the biggest Democratic movement this state has ever seen. Our Texas Partisanship Model is going to be our X factor in November,” said Texas Democratic Party Targeting Director Hudson Cavanagh.

The U.K.’s Coronavirus ‘Herd Immunity’ Debacle

The Atlantic, Ed Yong


With the peak of the pandemic still weeks away, the time hadn’t come yet for stricter measures, Johnson and his advisers said. They worried about “behavioral fatigue”—if restrictions come into force too early, people could become increasingly uncooperative and less vigilant, just as the outbreak swings into high gear. (As of yesterday, the U.K. has identified 1,391 cases, although thousands more are likely undetected.) And while suppressing the virus through draconian measures might be successful for months, when they lift, the virus will return, said Sir Patrick Vallance, the U.K.’s chief scientific adviser.

To avoid a second peak in the winter, Vallance said the U.K. would suppress the virus “but not get rid of it completely,” while focusing on protecting vulnerable groups, such as the elderly. In the meantime, other people would get sick. But since the virus causes milder illness in younger age groups, most would recover and subsequently be immune to the virus. This “herd immunity” would reduce transmission in the event of a winter resurgence. On Sky News, Vallance said that “probably about 60 percent” of people would need to be infected to achieve herd immunity.

How coronavirus is changing restaurant policies

Restaurant Dive, Emma Liem Beckett


Restaurant chains and food delivery platforms are responding to the rapid spread of coronavirus, or COVID-19, by making changes to their employee benefits and operations. While nearly all are implementing similar cleaning processes, many are rolling out additional solutions to try and solve the issues beyond hygiene that matter to their workers and customers.

From social distancing policies to new paid sick leave and medical coverage, Restaurant Dive will regularly update this tracker with our own coverage and aggregated news from major U.S. restaurants to map the virus’ impact on the foodservice industry.


Join us for the digital Google for Games Developer Summit

Google Developers Blog, Games Team


Online March 23, starting at 9 a.m. Pacific time. “Last month, Game Developers Conference (GDC) organizers made the difficult decision to postpone the conference. We understand this decision, as we have to prioritize the health and safety of our community. GDC is one of our most anticipated times of the year to connect with the gaming industry. Though we won’t be bringing the news in-person this year, we’re hosting the Google for Games Developer Summit, a free, digital-only experience where developers can watch the announcements and session content that was planned for GDC.” [free]


Rapid Micro-grant for Projects to Inform the Public about COVID-19

“Recognizing a profound need for accurate information about the COVID-19 virus, the Brown Institute for Media Innovation is offering a “rapid” micro-grant to help support journalists, technologists, health researchers, data scientists, social scientists, and any and all communities involved in covering the virus.” Deadline for applications is March 20.


“It’s time again for science communication to meet sugary confection, for innovators in medicine to be immortalized in gelatin, for the thrill of discovery to be depicted all marshmallowy—it’s time to make a science diorama out of Peeps.” Deadline for entries is March 30.

Given shift to virtual classes and events, am interested to explore Sloan support for research on outcomes/experience as well as new models beyond Zoom/Slack paradigms.

Can turn around funding at small scale fast. Email me Letters of Inquiry; DMs open for leads/pointers.

Apply for Frontier Development Lab’s 2020 Summer Program

“Frontier Development Lab (FDL) is looking for researchers at the PHD and Post Doc level with expertise in machine learning/artificial intelligence/data science as well as those with expertise in science domains including heliophysics, planetary science, Earth science, disaster management, astrophysics and astronaut health.” Deadline to apply is April 6.

2nd Marketing Science-FTC Conference on Marketing and Consumer Protection

Washington, DC October 2. “The Federal Trade Commission Bureau of Economics and the journal Marketing Science will co-organize the second edition of a one-day conference to bring together scholars that are interested in issues at the interface of marketing and consumer protection policy and regulation.” Deadline for submissions is July 31.
Tools & Resources

Google Cloud for Student Developers: G Suite APIs (intro & overview)

Google Developers Blog, Wesley Chun


Students graduating from STEM majors at universities with development experience using industry APIs (application programming interfaces) have real-world practice that can prove valuable in terms of career readiness.

To that end, the Google Cloud team is creating a “Google Cloud for Student Developers” YouTube video series crafted specifically for the student developer audience.

How to Talk to a Business Owner about COVID-19

Medium, Nate Duncan


Hi everyone, this is a guide for talking to the people in your life, particularly owners of a business you work at, about social distancing and why it’s a good idea to temporarily close their business that could be a hotspot for infection. This is based on a few successful conversations my wife and I have had in our lives. A lot of these points can be adapted for that friend or relative who is still going out like normal as well.



NEON Postdoctoral Fellows

Battelle, National Ecological Observatory Network (NEON); Boulder, CO

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