Data Science newsletter – March 25, 2020

Newsletter features journalism, research papers, events, tools/software, and jobs for March 25, 2020


Data Science News

New sensor could help prevent food waste – Monitoring the plant hormone ethylene could reveal when fruits and vegetables are about to spoil.

MIT News


As flowers bloom and fruits ripen, they emit a colorless, sweet-smelling gas called ethylene. MIT chemists have now created a tiny sensor that can detect this gas in concentrations as low as 15 parts per billion, which they believe could be useful in preventing food spoilage.

The sensor, which is made from semiconducting cylinders called carbon nanotubes, could be used to monitor fruit and vegetables as they are shipped and stored, helping to reduce food waste, says Timothy Swager, the John D. MacArthur Professor of Chemistry at MIT.

“There is a persistent need for better food management and reduction of food waste,” says Swager. “People who transport fruit around would like to know how it’s doing during transit, and whether they need to take measures to keep ethylene down while they’re transporting it.”

Episode 981: How To Test A Country

NPR, Planet Money, Karen Duffin


The coronavirus feels like it came out of nowhere, but the rules for developing tests have been around for a century. In this episode, we take you inside the pandemic testing system to try and understand the coronavirus tests we’ve all been hearing so much about: how they work, who makes them, and why it’s all taking so long. [audio, 21:31]

This paper is really interesting, I think, and gets at a lot of these questions.

Twitter, Dan Larremore, Stephen Kissler


How fast *could* you develop immunity in the population without a vaccine or therapeutic intervention?

A new app would say if you’ve crossed paths with someone who is infected

MIT Technology Review, Will Douglas Heaven


Private Kit: Safe Paths shares information about your movements in a privacy-preserving way—and could let health officials tackle coronavirus hot spots.

The effects of communicating uncertainty on public trust in facts and numbers

Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Anne Marthe van der Bles et al.


Uncertainty is inherent to our knowledge about the state of the world yet often not communicated alongside scientific facts and numbers. In the “posttruth” era where facts are increasingly contested, a common assumption is that communicating uncertainty will reduce public trust. However, a lack of systematic research makes it difficult to evaluate such claims. We conducted five experiments—including one preregistered replication with a national sample and one field experiment on the BBC News website (total n = 5,780)—to examine whether communicating epistemic uncertainty about facts across different topics (e.g., global warming, immigration), formats (verbal vs. numeric), and magnitudes (high vs. low) influences public trust. Results show that whereas people do perceive greater uncertainty when it is communicated, we observed only a small decrease in trust in numbers and trustworthiness of the source, and mostly for verbal uncertainty communication. These results could help reassure all communicators of facts and science that they can be more open and transparent about the limits of human knowledge.

Brown just announced they are suspending new hiring for this year and for the next fiscal year (faculty and staff, seasonal and temporary hiring).

Twitter, Jim McGrath


I imagine lots of other schools are / will be making similar calls. So that’s fun. [thread]

The Professors Who Call ‘Bullshit’ on Covid-19 Misinformation

WIRED, Science, Tom Simonite


A few years ago, Jevin West told fellow University of Washington professor Carl Bergstrom that he was starting a new course on big data. “Oh yeah,” Bergstrom joked, “I’m starting a course called ‘Calling bullshit on big data.’”

The pair worked together to develop a course, Calling Bullshit, broadening the scope to offer tips on how to detect and disarm spurious appeals to data and science in anything from TED talks to medical papers. The syllabus went viral, and dozens of universities around the world now draw on the UW material. Bergstrom and West reoriented their careers around bullshit detection, wrote a forthcoming book, and in December established a new Center for an Informed Public.

A month later, the novel coronavirus arrived.

Researchers develop early warning system to fight disinformation online

University of Notre Dame, Notre Dame News


Researchers at the University of Notre Dame are using artificial intelligence to develop an early warning system that will identify manipulated images, deepfake videos and disinformation online. The project is an effort to combat the rise of coordinated social media campaigns to incite violence, sow discord and threaten the integrity of democratic elections.

The scalable, automated system uses content-based image retrieval and applies computer vision-based techniques to root out political memes from multiple social networks.

“Memes are easy to create and even easier to share,” said Tim Weninger, associate professor in the Department of Computer Science and Engineering at Notre Dame. “When it comes to political memes, these can be used to help get out the vote, but they can also be used to spread inaccurate information and cause harm.”

Peer-to-peer AI-tracing of COVID-19

Yoshua Bengio


Social distancing works but in its simplest form it is brutal and economically very damaging. We have already seen how tracing and testing can greatly improve it by applying social distancing at the right places, around infected people. Technology can help further. We need a social distancing approach that allows for our economies to re-start soon and be practiced easily for another 18-24 months, the probable time required for vaccine clinical trials and mass vaccination campaigns. At the same time, we want to avoid creating tools which can later be abused by governments and companies to track us and control us.

Now, imagine that an app in your phone would keep track of the probability that you are infected based on where you have been and the encounters you made and would share that risk information with people you encounter so their app could update their own risk estimation.

A Note from Kinsa’s CEO, Inder Singh



Many of you know that Kinsa was started with a public health mission at its core, to help track and stop the spread of infectious illness. Today we advance that vision as we launch what I believe is a critical tool to help respond to the current public health crisis facing our country and the world.

We’ve built an early warning system showing where there are unusually high and growing levels of fever. This system is meant to guide public health first-responders to the areas needing further investigation and resources, because something outside of the ordinary is happening.

A-list tech engineers team up with Boston Children’s Hospital on coronavirus tracking tool

MobiHealthNews, Laura Lovett


Looking to better track the spread of the novel coronavirus, a team of engineers from some of Silicon Valley’s most notable companies has joined forces with Boston Children’s Hospital’s Chief Innovation Officer John Brownstein on a new tool dubbed The platform aims to gather data from people at home and report it back to public health organizations like the CDC.

“[We] were thinking about how participatory surveillance could be valuable, and especially in the light of the lack of testing and having a say in what happens in the community,” Brownstein told MobiHealthNews.

Since the platform launched on Sunday night, over 50,000 users have entered their symptoms and location. When a user goes to the site, they are asked if they are healthy or sick, about their flu shot status, and their zip code. Those reporting that they feel ill are asked additional questions about symptoms and travel history.

From cheating to pregnancy reveals, wearables know what you’re doing intimately

Inverse, Becca Caddy


Remember when wearable devices could only track your 10,000 steps a day goal and little else?

Now wearables can track your location, stress levels, blood oxygen levels, heart rate, and much more. Smartwatches can even do all this while taking calls and receiving texts.

But it’s an unintended consequence of wearable devices that could prove to be the most interesting – their effect on relationships. Users have been sharing stories of wearables driving both positive and negative discoveries in intimate relationships via social media. Experts also report that this same technology could one day advance to prevent conflict between couples — or even tell you how connected you are to your significant other.

As wearable technology advances in scope, demand has risen. Statistics show the number of connected wearable devices on the market globally has doubled from 325 million in 2016 to 722 million in 2019. More than 81.7 million adults in the United States now own one.

Technology brands want people to buy their wearables and use them regularly. One way users are motivated to strap their smartwatch on day after day (and not leave it in a drawer) is with competitive elements. Research suggests that social competition can motivate people to work out more — that’s why major wearable brands, including Fitbit, Apple, and Garmin, make wearables that track your data and make it easy to share that data.

AI Device Listens for Coughs and Sneezes to Monitor and Forecast Pandemics

Medgadget, Conn Hastings


Researchers at the University of Massachusetts Amherst have developed a portable AI device that can listen for coughs and sneezes and count the number of people present in public places to make predictions about levels of flu-like illnesses. The system, called “FluSense,” could be useful in the current COVID-19 pandemic in helping researchers to monitor the situation and determine where and when intervention is needed most.

SF Hospitals Test mHealth Wearables for Coronavirus Monitoring

mHealth Intelligence, Eric Wicklund


A project launched by UCSF will allow hospital officials to monitor front-line care workers through an mHealth wearable that measures heart and respiration rate as well as changes in body temperature.

From Laura Baldwin – O’Reilly Media

O'Reilly Media


It has been a rough few weeks as we’ve seen the COVID-19 virus take a toll on our livelihoods, our families and the world economy. People are losing their lives, and businesses are suffering in the shadow of revenue losses and a volatile stock market. The virus has had a material impact on O’Reilly’s in-person Events division as well. We previously made the painful decision to cancel our Strata California and Strata London events. Today, we’re sharing the news that we’ve made the very difficult decision to cancel all future O’Reilly in-person conferences and close down this portion of our business.



Blue Compass Strategies, George Mason University


Online March 28-29. “Blue Compass is honored to partner again with George Mason University’s Schar School of Policy and Government-Terrorism, Transnational Crime and Corruption Center (TraCCC) on a second hackathon to combat human trafficking as a part of our #ExpeditionHacks series.” [tickets required]

AI Events And Conferences Moving Online

Forbes, Ron Schmelzer


“So, what is happening in the world of AI and machine learning events? Fortunately, some of the biggest, best, and well-known conferences and events are moving online, rather than canceling. In this evolving guide, you can see who has moved online so you can continue your AI knowledge, networking, and information goals.”

2020 Genetic and Evolutionary Computing Conference

Association for Computing Machinery Special Interest Group on Genetic and Evolutionary Computation (SIGEVO).


Online July 8-13. “Given the current situation with COVID-19 around the world and because nothing is more important than the health and safety of our attendees, the GECCO organizing committee has decided that GECCO 2020 will be an electronic-only conference.”

HIMSS20 Digital



Online On demand. “You told us what you wanted for HIMSS20 Digital—and we’re bringing it to you. We’ve got education, thought leadership, special learning opportunities and more… everything you need to transform global health and wellness—and be the change.”


Help graduate students at NYU gain insights about business news readership in the US.

“If you are based in the US and you are an FT subscriber, a former subscriber, or an aspiring subscriber, we want to hear from you.” … “Two ways you can participate: talk to us one-on-one” … “or take a survey. We have one that takes about 5 minutes and one that is 20.”

NYU Survey – College in the Time of Coronavirus

Survey for **STUDENTS** about what is and isn’t working for them as class move online.
Tools & Resources

We’ve digitized the @WHO ‘s Minimum Reporting Form for COVID-19 and made it freely available for anyone to use in ODK.

Twitter, Open Data Kit


“This form ensures that case investigation data can be systematically collected and shared across many different settings. Get the form at”

The COVID Tracking Project – Homepage

Jeff Hammerbacher, Robinson Meyer and Alexis Madrigal,


The COVID Tracking Project collects information from 50 US states, the District of Columbia, and 5 other US territories to provide the most comprehensive testing data we can collect for the novel coronavirus, SARS-CoV-2. We attempt to include positive and negative results, pending tests, and total people tested for each state or district currently reporting that data.

About –

Katherine McConachie, Charlie DeTar, Philipp Schmidt, Yumiko Murai


“Unhangout is an open source platform for running large-scale, participant-driven events online.”

Today, Screen is in launching in public beta.

Twitter, Screen


If you need a way to WFH like you’re in the same room, check out Screen today.

How to talk to your older parents about the coronavirus

Futurity, Duke University


“Like many of us, Cathleen Colón-Emeric, chief of the Division of Geriatrics at the Duke University School of Medicine, has older parents who live nearby. She’s familiar with the decisions facing many families, including her own, right now.”

“Here she talks about extroverted elders, professional caretakers, and other factors.”

Tidying the new Johns Hopkins Covid-19 time-series datasets

R-bloggers, An Accounting and Data Science Nerd's Corner blog


“Just hours after my old blog post about tidying Johns Hopkins CSSE Covid-19 data the team has changed their time-series table data structure. The data of the old post is still available but won’t be updated. This new blog post is based on the new times-series data structure. Currently, they only seem to provide time series data on confirmed cases and deaths.”

“The main reason for me sharing this code is that I did not find code that merges standardized country level identifiers to to the data in a semi-automatic way.”


Full-time positions outside academia

Senior UX Designer

CCC Information Services; Chicago, IL

UX Researcher

TomTom; Farmington Hills, MI

Postdoctoral Research Associate

University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign; School of Information Sciences; Champaign, IL

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