Data Science newsletter – March 17, 2020

Newsletter features journalism, research papers, events, tools/software, and jobs for March 17, 2020


Data Science News

The Coronavirus’s Economic Effect On Sports Could Be Staggering

FiveThirtyEight, Neil Paine


… The NBA makes about $8 billion a year, most of which comes from television contracts, merchandising, sponsorships and gate receipts. Unpacking each of those areas reveals how much the COVID-19 crisis could affect the business of basketball.

Most obviously, gate revenue would be missed (or refunded) regardless of whether games were canceled or simply played in empty arenas. Tickets are not the largest source of income for the league; according to Forbes data gathered by sports economist Rodney Fort, they made up somewhere between 20 and 25 percent of league revenues in 2018-19. But that still works out to nearly $2 billion over a full schedule, meaning a 21 percent reduction in games could cost between $350 million and $450 million before the playoffs are even factored in. And playoff ticket sales can be much more lucrative — which is probably why league bosses like NHL commissioner Gary Bettman have emphasized they will preserve the playoffs if at all possible.

Harvard and other major universities still charging full tuition as classes go online amid coronavirus outbreak

MarketWatch, Jacob Passy and Andrew Keshner


Harvard and Tufts aren’t giving students a break on tuition. Some colleges are partially refunding room and board fees

Not all young people are ‘digital natives’ – inequality hugely limits experiences of technology

The Conversation, Simeon Yates


Our project has highlighted three key areas of data literacy. These are data thinking, data doing, and data participation.

“Data thinking” covers critical skills – being able to assess and check data in the online environment. For example, this includes being able to understand how social media companies might use information about us, and thinking about the reliability of information we find online.

“Data doing” focuses on practical skills involving data handling and data management. For example, it might cover social media users being able to identify and highlight the source of the information they share with others. Or it might involve identifying reliable data from the internet that will help you in your everyday life.

“Data participation” covers our shared experience of digital society. Examples might include a person who actively contributes to online forums, or helps others to engage with digital systems.

We have found that social and media users have much lower levels of data thinking, doing and participating than all other groups bar limited users. Limited users are much older – post retirement – and are likely to have very few if any school qualifications.

What is your college or university doing about its ongoing faculty searches in light of the COVID-19 outbreak?

Dynamic Ecology blog, Jeremy Fox


Many colleges and universities in the US and elsewhere are switching to remote classes for the rest of the term, in light of the COVID-19 outbreak. My own university just asked faculty to start planning in case we decide to do the same.

But of course, teaching classes isn’t the only thing profs have to do. For instance, right now, I’m sitting on a search committee for a tenure-track faculty position in evolutionary/comparative biomechanics in my department. The application deadline is coming up Mar. 18. We were hoping to arrange on-campus interviews ASAP after the deadline, with the goal of having the successful applicant start by Sept. 1.

Here’s the question we’re currently thinking about: What if we can’t hold on-campus interviews? How should we run the search? Any suggestions?

Bias In Recruitment Software To Be ‘Illegal’ in New York, Vendors Will Need Bias Audit

Artificial Lawyer


A new law by New York’s City Council will in effect make algorithmic bias in recruitment software illegal. It demands that vendors of such candidate filtering tools submit to a bias audit, with Civil penalties for those who fail to conduct an ‘impartial evaluation‘.

The new rules will come into force in just under two years and add weight to the strengthening legal position around the world that algorithms must be transparent and their designers – or in this case the sellers – should be held accountable.

The move could generate a new stream of work for lawyers as New York, and other parts of the US (see more below), legislate against automated decision making’s imperfections.

Q&A: When misinformation spreads faster than the virus itself, trusted sources are key

USC Annenberg, Center for Health Journalism, Kellie Schmitt


In an era where the news and social media cycles are spinning faster than ever, it’s very tempting for the public to constantly search for new information, said University of Washington professor Carl Bergstrom, an infectious disease biologist who tracks the spread of misinformation. … I recently chatted with Bergstrom about the types of coronavirus misinformation he’s tracking, the potential impact on the spread of the virus, and how journalists and the public can better sift through contradictory claims.

What cyber security can teach us about COVID-19 testing

Medium, Hagit Grushka Cohen


TL;DR By using 10–20% of the testing capacity for Covid19 governments can learn about the virus spread in the population and act accordingly even while the testing capacity is still being built. This solution comes from a famous statistics problem, Multi-Armed Bandits.

Wharton School Launches New Course, Delivered Remotely, on the Impact and Implications of Coronavirus/COVID-19

University of Pennsylvania, Wharton School, News


As the world grapples with the social and economic impact of the COVID-19 outbreak, the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania has developed a new course, conducted remotely, to address in real time how global business and financial uncertainty can be managed in the wake of such dramatic events. The course is available to all Penn degree-seeking students.

The six-week, half-credit course is titled “Epidemics, Natural Disasters, and Geopolitics: Managing Global Business and Financial Uncertainty.” It begins March 25, 2020 after an extended spring break resulting from the University’s recent announcement that courses will move to remote instruction to limit the effects of the coronavirus. Students will join the course via livestream. Over 450 students from across the University have already expressed interest and pre-registered.

UMD students will soon be able to major in biocomputational engineering

University of Maryland, The Diamondback student newspaper, Chloe Goldberg


After gaining approval from the Board of Regents education committee last Friday, a new major in biocomputational engineering is set to roll out next fall.

The University of Maryland will become one of the first universities to offer such a degree — which combines the fundamentals of bioengineering, including biology, physics and chemistry, with a foundation in data science.

Coronavirus will also cause a loneliness epidemic

Vox, Ezra Klein


Deborah Johnson Lanholm, 63, lives in Sicklerville, New Jersey. A retired nurse, she’s the primary caretaker for her older sister, Helen Palese, who lives with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or Lou Gehrig’s disease. “She’s nonverbal,” Deborah says. “I do her speaking for her. So every other day, we do something together. We go to the movies. I take her to my crocheting group. We go out to dinner or the mall. But she’s with other people. All of that will have to stop because she’s too compromised.”

And it won’t just stop for Helen. It’ll stop for Deborah, too. “I’ll have to change my routine because I have to care for her,” Deborah says. “I won’t go out in crowds or be in places where I’ll be exposed.”

Make no mistake: The rapid implementation of social distancing is necessary to flatten the coronavirus curve and prevent the current pandemic from worsening. But just as the coronavirus fallout threatens to cause an economic recession, it’s also going to cause what we might call a “social recession”: a collapse in social contact that is particularly hard on the populations most vulnerable to isolation and loneliness — older adults and people with disabilities or preexisting health conditions.

Israel takes step toward monitoring phones of virus patients

Associated Press, Josef Federman


Israel has long been known for its use of technology to track the movements of Palestinian militants. Now, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu wants to use similar technology to stop the movement of the coronavirus.

Netanyahu’s Cabinet on Sunday authorized the Shin Bet security agency to use its phone-snooping tactics on coronavirus patients, an official confirmed, despite concerns from civil-liberties advocates that the practice would raise serious privacy issues. The official spoke on condition of anonymity pending an official announcement.

The UK Only Realised “In The Last Few Days” That Its Coronavirus Strategy Would “Likely Result In Hundreds of Thousands of Deaths”

BuzzFeed News, Alex Wickham


The UK only realised “in the last few days” that attempts to “mitigate” the impact of the coronavirus pandemic would not work, and that it needed to shift to a strategy to “suppress” the outbreak, according to a report by a team of experts who have been advising the government.

The report, published by the Imperial College COVID-19 Response Team on Monday night, found that the strategy previously being pursued by the government — dubbed “mitigation” and involving home isolation of suspect cases and their family members but not including restrictions on wider society — would “likely result in hundreds of thousands of deaths and health systems (most notably intensive care units) being overwhelmed many times over”.

New Genetic Screening Platform Using CRISPR Technology for Targeting Thousands of Genes in a Massively Parallel Fashion

New York University, News Release


CRISPR-based genetic screens have helped scientists identify genes that are key players in sickle-cell anemia, cancer immunotherapy, lung cancer metastasis, and many other diseases. However, these genetic screens are limited in scope: They can only edit or target DNA. For many regions of the human genome, targeting DNA may not be effective, and other organisms, such as RNA viruses like coronavirus or flu, cannot be targeted at all with existing DNA-targeting CRISPR screens.

Now, in an important new resource for the scientific community published today in Nature Biotechnology, researchers in the lab of Neville Sanjana at the New York Genome Center and New York University have developed a new kind of CRISPR screen technology to target RNA.

The researchers capitalized on a recently characterized CRISPR enzyme called Cas13 that targets RNA instead of DNA. Using Cas13, they engineered an optimized platform for massively parallel genetic screens at the RNA level in human cells. This screening technology can be used to understand many aspects of RNA regulation and to identify the function of non-coding RNAs, which are RNA molecules that are produced but do not code for proteins.

SAT and ACT college tests canceled because of virus fears

PBS, Associated Press, Jeff Amy


Spring dates for college admissions tests are being rescheduled or postponed amid concerns about the coronavirus, while high school seniors may be allowed to take Advanced Placement exams to earn college credit from home.

The groups that give both the ACT and SAT tests announced Monday that they’re putting off the next nationwide examinations. The April 4 ACT test has been rescheduled for June 13 while the May 2 SAT has been canceled.

Coronavirus could hit homeless hard, and that could hit everyone hard

The Conversation, Michael Cousineau


Amid all the planning, and a growing sense of panic, the impact of the spread of COVID-19 among homeless people is not being widely discussed. It should, however, be of special concern to local officials.

I am a professor of preventive medicine and health policy at the Keck School of Medicine at the University of Southern California. USC is in Los Angeles, which has one of the largest homeless populations in the nation. I am concerned about how infectious disease could undermine our efforts to provide humane care to homeless people and assist them to get off the streets and into stable housing.

I am also deeply concerned about infection rates and mortality more generally among vulnerable populations.


ACM RecSys Challenge 2020

“The RecSys Challenge 2020 will be organized by Politecnico di Bari, Free University of Bozen-Bolzano, TU Wien, University of Colorado, Boulder, and Universidade Federal de Campina Grande, and sponsored by Twitter. The challenge focuses on a real-world task of tweet engagement prediction in a dynamic environment. The goal is to predict the probability for different types of engagement (Like, Reply, Retweet, and Retweet with Comment) of a target user for a set of tweets, based on heterogeneous input data.” RecSys Challenge ends on June 7.
Tools & Resources

Introducing the TensorFlow Developer Certificate!

The TensorFlow Blog, Alina Shinkarsky,


We want to help developers showcase their ML proficiency and help companies hire ML developers to solve challenging problems.

This is why we are excited to launch the TensorFlow Developer Certificate, which provides developers around the world the opportunity to showcase their skills in ML in an increasingly AI-driven global job market. This certificate in TensorFlow development is intended as a foundational certificate for students, developers, and data scientists who want to demonstrate practical machine learning skills through building and training of basic models using TensorFlow. This level one certificate exam tests a developer’s foundational knowledge of integrating machine learning into tools and applications. The certificate program requires an understanding of building basic TensorFlow models using Computer Vision, Sequence modeling, and Natural Language Processing.

pycovid: Python package to easily access the most updated Coronavirus data using Python/PIP

GitHub – sudharshan-ashok


The PyCOVID package provides a Pandas Dataframe of the 2019 Novel Coronavirus COVID-19 (2019-nCoV) epidemic based on Rami Krispin’s ‘coronavirus’ package in R. The raw data pulled from the Johns Hopkins University Center for Systems Science and Engineering (JHU CCSE) Coronavirus

New Dataset Makes Coronavirus Research Open and Machine Readable

Chan Zuckerberg Initiative


The Chan Zuckerberg Initiative collaborated with leaders in government, academia, medicine, and technology to create a new, open dataset containing research literature related to the coronavirus. The COVID-19 Open Research Dataset (CORD-19) released today will be available on multiple platforms, and will continue to be updated as new research emerges.



Still time to apply! Two postdoc positions available in the Duffy Lab at Michigan!

University of Michigan, Department of Ecology & Evolutionary Biology; Ann Arbor, MI

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