Data Science newsletter – March 24, 2020

Newsletter features journalism, research papers, events, tools/software, and jobs for March 24, 2020


Data Science News

The Dangers of Relying on Philanthropists During Pandemics

WIRED, Ideas, Rob Reich and Mohit Mookim


In April 2018, Gates met with President Donald Trump to urge him to follow past presidents and bolster the U.S. pandemic response infrastructure. In response to Ebola outbreaks in 2014, President Barack Obama launched the Global Health Security Agenda, directing over $1 billion to global disease prevention and response. President George W. Bush before him echoed Gates’ talking points—the importance of detecting outbreaks, stockpiling vaccines, and emergency planning—in announcing $7.1 billion plans on pandemic influenza preparations. Exactly the threat we face today in Covid-19.

Instead of bolstering or even maintaining these initiatives, Trump disbanded the National Security Council Directorate for Global Health Security and Biodefense. Even before meeting with Gates, Trump declined to renew $600 million of funding to the Center for Disease Control to prevent global pandemics, which had been approved under Obama. The Trump administration also pushed out homeland security advisor Tom Bossert, who reportedly called for “comprehensive biodefense strategy against pandemics.”

WHO launches global megatrial of the four most promising coronavirus treatments

Science, Kai Kupferschmidt and Jon Cohen


A drug combo already used against HIV. A malaria treatment first tested during World War II. A new antiviral whose promise against Ebola fizzled last year.

Could any of these drugs hold the key to saving coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) patients from serious harm or death? On Friday, the World Health Organization (WHO) announced a large global trial, called SOLIDARITY, to find out whether any can treat infections with the new coronavirus for the dangerous respiratory disease. It’s an unprecedented effort—an all-out, coordinated push to collect robust scientific data rapidly during a pandemic. The study, which could include many thousands of patients in dozens of countries, has been designed to be as simple as possible so that even hospitals overwhelmed by an onslaught of COVID-19 patients can participate.

Instead of social distancing, try distant socializing

Futurity, Stanford University


Social distancing—voluntarily limiting physical contact with other people—has been vital to help slow the spread of the novel coronavirus.

It’s important that people remain connected during social distancing, however, otherwise a long-term mental and physical health crisis might follow the viral one, says Jamil Zaki, an associate professor of psychology at Stanford University’s and director of the Stanford Social Neuroscience Laboratory and author of The War for Kindness: Building Empathy in a Fractured World (Penguin-Random House, 2019).

Zaki’s research examines how empathy works and how people can learn to empathize more effectively.

‘I’m going to keep pushing.’ Anthony Fauci tries to make the White House listen to facts of the pandemic

Science, Jon Cohen


Anthony Fauci, who to many watching the now-regular White House press briefings on the pandemic has become the scientific voice of reason about how to respond to the new coronavirus, runs from place to place in normal times and works long hours. Now, the director of National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases has even less time to sleep and travels at warp speed, typically racing daily from his office north of Washington, D.C., to his home in the capital, and then to the White House to gather with the Coronavirus Task Force in the Situation Room. He then usually flanks President Donald Trump addressing the media—and when he isn’t there, concerned tweets begin immediately. Shortly before he planned to head to the White House for a task force meeting today, he phoned ScienceInsider for a speedy chat. This interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.

Q: The first question everyone has is how are you?

A: Well, I’m sort of exhausted. But other than that, I’m good. I mean, I’m not, to my knowledge, coronavirus infected. To my knowledge, I haven’t been fired [laughs].

The perils of planning a funeral during the age of coronavirus concerns

Fort Worth Star Telegram, Mac Engel


A funeral is an inherently awful and stressful event to plan, navigate and manage. Now do it when you can only invite a small number of people, and everyone is supposed to “social distance,” and you are not 100 percent sure the deceased didn’t actually have the coronavirus.

“We had scheduled a funeral at the church and a party but we were told we couldn’t do it,” Phyllis Stouffer said. “So we’re going to do a burial service for just family and friends at the grave site. We were told no more than 10 people, but we invited 20. We don’t care what they say.”

In normal circumstances, far more than 20 people would have attended the services for Rachel Jackson.

“You Can’t Speak in Strong Enough Dystopian Words to Describe It”: Why the Coronavirus Pandemic Could Change Dining as We Know It, Forever

Vanity Fair, Lisa Abend


Restaurants have achieved unprecedented cultural prominence in the last several decades, but the COVID-19 outbreak is hitting the industry especially hard. Chefs from Noma to Alinea to your local burrito joint are struggling to adapt.

Automated speech recognition less accurate for blacks

Stanford University, Stanford News


The technology that powers the nation’s leading automated speech recognition systems makes twice as many errors when interpreting words spoken by African Americans as when interpreting the same words spoken by whites, according to a new study by researchers at Stanford Engineering.

‘Dodgeball’ drone flies fast and avoids incoming stuff

Futurity, University of Zurich


“For search and rescue applications, such as after an earthquake, time is very critical, so we need drones that can navigate as fast as possible in order to accomplish more within their limited battery life,” says Davide Scaramuzza, who leads the Robotics and Perception Group at the University of Zurich as well as the NCCR Robotics Search and Rescue Grand Challenge.

“However, by navigating fast drones are also more exposed to the risk of colliding with obstacles, and even more if these are moving. We realized that a novel type of camera, called Event Camera, are a perfect fit for this purpose.”

Unity Technologies launches cloud-based game simulations for developer playtests

VentureBeat, Dean Takahashi


Unity Technologies has launched a cloud-based game simulation service for game developers so they can playtest and balance their games more easily.

The Unity Game Simulation is a cloud service that will enable game studios to complement their prelaunch playtests through the power of simulation.

Reanalysis of global amphibian crisis study finds important flaws

University of California-Berkeley, Rausser College of Natural Resources


In a Comment published today in Science, the group conducting the reanalysis—including lead authors Max Lambert and Molly Womack, who are postdocs in the lab of professor Erica Rosenblum in the Department of Environmental Science, Policy, and Management (ESPM)—identified a number of data deficiencies and methodological issues in the Scheele et al. study. Working through the methods and datasets, they faced challenges in reproducing conclusions while identifying numerous instances of missing data. In some cases, data gaps failed to link Bd to species declines—even for many species which were previously reported with high certainty that Bd was the cause.

Conversation: ANL’s Rick Stevens on DoE’s AI for Science Project

HPC Wire, John Russell


The report itself is fascinating. Written by six prominent DoE researchers – Rick Stevens and Valerie Taylor (Argonne National Laboratory); Jeff Nichols and Arthur Barney McCabe (Oak Ridge National Laboratory); and Kathy Yelick and David Brown (Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory) – the AI for Science reports seeks to summarize and prioritize the core ideas discussed by more than 1000 attendees to DoE’s series of town hall meetings held between July and October of last year. (HPCwire coverage)
Rick Stevens, Argonne National Laboratory

HPCwire recently had a chance to talk with Stevens, one of the report’s authors and associate laboratory director at ANL, about the scope of the potential AI project and a few particulars regarding the AI opportunity and challenge.

1/2 Over 88,000 people tested to date at prov + nat’l public health labs across Flag of Canada ; that’s over 33,000 more tests over the past two days to investigate-isolate #COVID19 cases & trace-manage contacts.

Twitter, Dr. Theresa Tam


2/2 #PublicHealth authorities and laboratory professionals have been working day & night across
Flag of Canada
to find cases, trace contacts and interrupt transmission to #SlowTheSpread of #COVID19. [thread]

Role of #technology

Twitter, Victor Bahl


“Microsoft’s Healthcare Bot service is being used by the #CDC to assess the symptoms & risk factors for people worried about #COVIDー19 infection & to provide information & recommendations on course of action”

How to redesign America’s safety net

Fast Company, Evan Nicole Brown


With restaurants, bars, and other businesses closing across the United States to slow the spread of COVID-19, people are applying for unemployment in such large numbers that states’ websites are crashing. America’s safety net has never been more critical, and it’s faltering.

How can government agencies make it easier for people to receive public benefits online and through mobile? The San Francisco nonprofit Code for America has a blueprint called “Human-Centered Safety Net.” It’s a set of five design principles that government agencies can use to improve the usability of a range of programs and application processes. Though a few years old, the project is newly relevant as the fallout for COVID-19 will no doubt thrust scores of Americans onto public assistance. “A time when people have heightened need is the worst time for people to be experiencing administrative burden,” says Lou Moore, interim co-CEO and chief technology officer. “When we design and deliver products based on our principles of a human-centered safety net, we can reduce that burden and allow people to get through with less friction.”

How ProMED Crowdsourced the Arrival of Covid-19 and SARS

WIRED, Science, Maryn McKenna


It was about 8:30 pm on December 30, and Marjorie Pollack, a physician and epidemiologist, was working in her home office in Cobble Hill, Brooklyn.

Her email pinged. In her inbox was a note from a frequent and reliable contributor to ProMED, an email list of disease alerts for which Pollack serves as deputy editor. The contributor, who speaks and reads Chinese, wanted her to know about a new post that was getting some attention on Weibo, a within-China social media network. The post said that a few hours earlier, the Wuhan Municipal Health Committee had issued “an urgent notice on the treatment of pneumonia of unknown cause.”

It was the sort of note that ProMED gets every day. The low-tech list and site relies on a worldwide network of readers who funnel notices and tips—social media chatter, health department announcements, stories from small media outlets—to its roughly 50 very part-time employees. Almost all of them are medical or public health or research professionals in real life, and they share an ethos of strict standards of evidence, never publishing anything for which they cannot find confirmation through at least one other source.


ICML 2020 Conference

Thirty-seventh International Conference on Machine Learning


Online July 12-18. “ICML 2020 will be a virtual conference. We have plans to enable most normal conference events virtually. We will continue to post refined plans as we make decisions, in conjunction with other conferences.” [registration opens April 20]

Tools & Resources

Tips on remote teamwork from the Coop

Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, Bioinformatics & Data Science Cooperative, Carly Strasser


“The Coop is community-focused; we run events, host office hours, teach courses through, and connect with researchers to help them with their data-related questions. Needless to say, the COVID-19 situation has impacted our ability to connect, both with researchers and within the Coop team itself.” … “Here are some ways the Coop team is staying engaged and productive during this period of remote work.”

covid19-r repo

GitHub – mine-cetinkaya-rundel


“This repo links to a collection of analyses on and representations of COVID19 data in R. Inclusion on the list does not mean the analysis was verified by me or that I endorse the findings. It should also be noted that some of the analysis / data might be out of date, so these should not be viewed, by default, as current findings.”

Teach Remotely – Learn best practices, available tools, and how to get support for teaching your classes online.

Harvard University


  • Get Started
  • Best Practices: Online Pedagogy
  • Technology and Tools
  • Library Resources
  • Get Help

  • How to Move Past Elasticsearch’s Scaling Challenges

    The New Stack, Ryan Staatz


    “At LogDNA, we developed a solution for scaling Elasticsearch to petabyte scale. Our solution leverages Kubernetes to automate the deployment, scaling and maintenance of Elasticsearch nodes across many cloud and on-premise platforms.”

    We’re making free subscriptions available to all #COVID19 researchers

    Twitter, Globus


    “We’re making free subscriptions available to all #COVID19 researchers: We hope this small gesture helps alleviate the huge data sharing/management burden being placed on institutions around the world.”



    Postdocs/Research Scientists in Digital and Computational Demography

    Max Planck Institute for Demographic Research, Lab of Digital and Computational Demography; Rostock, Germany

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