Data Science newsletter – March 27, 2020

Newsletter features journalism, research papers, events, tools/software, and jobs for March 27, 2020


Data Science News

Researchers Use Math Model to Map Echo Chambers on Twitter

Discover Magazine, Inside Science, Yuen Yiu


You may have heard of the terms “echo chamber” and “filter bubble.” While they are sometimes used interchangeably, they mainly refer to two different features in online discussions. The term echo chamber describes a phenomenon where people tend to interact with those whose opinions are similar to their own, and filter bubble describes the phenomenon of people not interacting with opinions different from their own.

“In our model, we looked at homophily, which refers to how people with the same opinion or similar opinions are more likely to interact with each other,” said Fabian Baumann, a physicist from Humboldt University of Berlin in Germany and an author of the paper.

New Partnership Aims to Demystify Artificial Intelligence “Black Boxes”

University of Texas at Austin, College of Natural Sciences


The new partnership, called Understanding the World Through Code, is made possible by a major new grant from the National Science Foundation, through its Expeditions in Computing program. This initiative is focused on “ambitious fundamental research agendas that promise to define the future of computing and information.” These grants, given to just three teams every two years, are the largest given by the NSF’s Directorate for Computer and Information Science and Engineering. … The leading institution for the collaboration is the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. The other institutions involved are the California Institute of Technology, Rice University, Stanford University, the University of Pennsylvania and the University of Texas at Austin.

Social media data could greatly aid in tracking COVID-19 worldwide

Toronto Star, CQ-Roll Call, Dean DeChiaro


Nine days before the World Health Organization announced that it had identified the novel coronavirus, a Toronto-based startup called BlueDot, which uses artificial intelligence to track the spread of diseases, picked up a local news article about an unusual cluster of pneumonia cases in Wuhan, China.

Researchers at Boston Children’s Hospital who have been using similar technology to scrape disease-related chatter from social media and chat rooms since 2006 also flagged the news story. A third machine learning tool picked it up too: The WHO’s own Epidemic Intelligence from Open Sources project, which is now scraping information on the global spread of COVID-19 from up to 120,000 articles each day.

Robot lifeguards? Lehigh Valley YMCA pilots artificial intelligence system to help prevent drownings

Allentown Morning Call (PA), Kayla Dwyer


From a corner of the pool at the Easton/Phillipsburg Branch of the Greater Valley YMCA, the Coral Manta 3000 knows a human head from any old beach ball. The machine, which the branch is testing on behalf of YMCAs across the country, uses artificial intelligence to recognize body parts and learn how humans act in the pool in an effort to prevent drownings.

It’s not that the branch has had any drownings in the last 25 years, branch Executive Director Lori Metz said. Nor will the robot replace lifeguards.

System trains driverless cars in simulation before they hit the road

MIT News


A simulation system invented at MIT to train driverless cars creates a photorealistic world with infinite steering possibilities, helping the cars learn to navigate a host of worse-case scenarios before cruising down real streets.

There’s psychology behind the foods we don’t buy in a crisis

The Counter, Julia Sklar


“The thing about panic-buying is that it gives us a sense of control at a time when we’re lacking that,” says Deborah Small, a psychologist who studies consumer judgment and human decision-making at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School of Business. She adds that things get harried when “people hear that other people are buying something, and they say, ‘Oh, I need that too.’ And it just spirals to this level where we have none.”

But seeing what’s being left behind at grocery stores, like all that unloved Skippy the couple passed over, also tells a compelling story. As beleaguered systems like healthcare, immigration, and labor practices buckle under the weight of an unparalleled pandemic, the cracks being exposed are the ones that have actually always been there—if you knew where to look. The same is true for what the average consumer can now learn about the American food system, plain as day.

All the Coronavirus Statistics Are Flawed

The Atlantic, Derek Thompson


Many of us have heard of “the fog of war,” a term coined by the 19th-century Prussian military writer Carl von Clausewitz. It refers to the idea that war is often conducted in a haze of uncertainty: Militaries do not fully understand either their enemy’s threat or their own capacity to combat it.

What we’re experiencing now is the fog of pandemic. The officials tracking COVID-19 are swimming in statistics: infection rates, case-fatality ratios, economic data. But in these early stages of the fight against the coronavirus, these figures each have their own particular limitations. We are already seeing how, in the haze of confusing data, political leaders are trying to marshal that uncertainty to override the advice of public-health experts. Indeed, President Donald Trump seems eager to seize on anything that can justify his push to reopen public life in mid-April, perhaps while daily cases are still increasing.

Data for Good: Biological Scientist, DSI Member Rafael Yuste on the Ethical Development of Neurotechnology

Columbia University, Data Science Institute


In the wrong hands, [brain computer interfaces] could be used to decode private thoughts, interfere with free will, and profoundly alter human nature.

Rafael YusteTo counter that possibility, Columbia University professor of biological sciences and Data Science Institute member Rafael Yuste founded the NeuroRights Initiative, which advocates for the responsible and ethical development of neurotechnology. The initiative puts forth ethical codes and human rights directives that protect people from potentially harmful neurotechnologies by ensuring the benign development of brain-computer interfaces and related neurotechnologies.

Inside the Story of How H-E-B Planned for the Pandemic

Texas Monthly, Dan Solomon and Paula Forbes


The grocer started communicating with Chinese counterparts in January and was running tabletop simulations a few weeks later. (But nothing prepared it for the rush on toilet paper.)

How coronavirus changed college for 14 million students

CNBC, Abigail Hess


To date, at least 1,102 colleges and universities in the U.S. have closed their campuses due to coronavirus, choosing to move classes online. Georgetown professor Bryan Alexander estimates that college closures have impacted over 14 million students. “At least,” he stresses.

While students, professors, administrators and public health officials agree that school closures will play an important role in limiting the transmission of coronavirus, this bold move is causing a ripple effect throughout the higher education community.

CNBC Make It spoke with over a dozen college students to hear how coronavirus is impacting them.

The Pandemic Has Started Weakening the World’s Weather Forecasts

Bloomberg Green, Brian K. Sullivan


With fewer airplane flights, meteorologists are losing a key source of data just before flood season starts.

NSF Announces New Expeditions in Computing Awards



Previous Expeditions awards covered an expansive breadth of topics, from synthetic biology and behavioral neuroscience to computer vision, robotics, and quantum computing. This year, three more awards are added to the portfolio. These projects have the potential for far-reaching and enduring impacts to advance core science and engineering principles across multiple domains, build and motivate new techniques and tools, and create significant societal value.

Google and the Oxford Internet Institute explain artificial intelligence basics with the ‘A-Z of AI’

VentureBeat, Paul Sawers


Artificial intelligence (AI) is informing just about every facet of society, from detecting fraud and surveillance to helping countries battle the current COVID-19 pandemic. But AI is a thorny subject, fraught with complex terminology, contradictory information, and general confusion about what it is at its most fundamental level. This is why the Oxford Internet Institute (OII), the University of Oxford’s research and teaching department specializing in the social science of the internet, has partnered with Google to launch a portal with a series of explainers outlining what AI actually is — including the fundamentals, ethics, its impact on society, and how it’s created.

During Pandemic, Young Adults Trust Nonprofits More Than Government or Corporations

Chronicle of Philanthropy, Michael Theis


Most young American adults trust nonprofits to “do what’s right” during the coronavirus pandemic, according to a new survey.

Sixty percent of those polled said they trust nonprofits’ responses to the pandemic “a lot” or “some.” In comparison, 57 percent said they trust local governments “a lot” or “some” to do the right thing during a pandemic, while only 49 percent said they trust the federal government to the same extent.

For nonprofits trying to figure out how to or when to approach younger donors, the data suggests they will be receptive to organizations’ messages.

Computing Professor Uses Virtual Reality to Move Major Conference Online

Georgia Institute of Technology, College of Computing


This week, 1,800 scientists, engineers, designers, and other experts gathered for the IEEE Conference on Virtual Reality and 3D User Interfaces (IEEE VR). The event brings together people from around the world to examine the latest research and advancements in the area of virtual reality (VR).

Attendees watched presentations and invited talks and participated in poster and demonstration sessions. It’s a typical academic conference in every way except for one significant change this year: it will take place entirely online, with social events hosted completely in virtual environments.

Blair MacIntyre, a professor in Georgia Tech’s College of Computing and IEEE VR conference co-chair, proposed transitioning to an all-virtual event to support social distancing recommendations related to the COVID-19 pandemic.


The Web Conference 2020

The Web Conference


Online April 20-24. “The Web Conference 2020 Local Organizing Committees has been working very hard behind the scenes in making the 2020 edition a safe and successful one in considering of that the COVID-19 is an extraordinary global public health issue.” [registration required]

NYC Media Lab, Combine Virtual Demo Day 2020

NYC Media Lab


Online April 3, starting at 9:30 a.m. “Join us for the big day… NYC Media Lab’s Combine cohort will pitch their startup concepts virtually! The Combine 2020 startups range from AR/VR to eye-tracking video technology and solar powered chargers. Attend to see how 12 weeks of venture development and market validation shaped each team’s ideas.” [registration required]


#BuildforCOVID19 Global Online Hackathon

“The COVID-19 Global Hackathon is an opportunity for developers to build software solutions that drive social impact, with the aim of tackling some of the challenges related to the current coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.” Deadline for submissions is April 3.

HHMI Opens New Program for Medically Trained Scientists

“HHMI’s Medically Trained Scientists Program (MTS) seeks early career scientists with knowledge of human biology to move discovery science forward. MTS will ultimately invest up to $120 million in up to 40 fellows. MTS fellows are creative and highly committed individuals whose research will impact significant biological problems. Fellows are committed to careers in academic research and will receive long-term support as they transition through mentored postdoctoral training to independent faculty.” Deadline for applications is August 11.
Tools & Resources

COVID-19 Mobility Data Network

Caroline Buckee and Andrew Schroeder


We are a network of infectious disease epidemiologists at universities around the world working with technology companies to use aggregated mobility data to support the COVID-19 response. Our goal is to provide daily updates to decision-makers at the state and local levels on how well social distancing interventions are working, using anonymized, aggregated data sets from mobile device, and to provide them analytic support for interpretation.

USC Researchers Release Public Coronavirus Twitter Set for Academics

University of Southern California, Viterbi School of Engineering


Researchers at the USC Viterbi School of Engineering Information Sciences Institute (ISI) and the Department of Computer Science have released a public coronavirus twitter dataset for scholars.

Emilio Ferrara and Kristina Lerman, the principal researchers on this project, have a history of studying social media and bots to understand how misinformation, fear and influence spread online.

Using Privacy and Federated Learning in Recommendations – Part 1



In this post, we will give a primer on how we can build a federated collaborative filtering model via matrix factorization. Let’s start with regular matrix factorization and build on it.

Fair Use 101: Librarians’ Advice for Educators

American Library Association, ilovelibraries blog, lsimon


As the coronavirus known as COVID-19 continues to spread, schools, colleges, and universities across the country find themselves in an unprecedented position: working to uphold their teaching and research missions while switching entirely to online learning. Libraries are a key resource for educators wondering about the role of copyright in the virtual classroom.

“Libraries have a big role to play both in advocating for the public interest related to copyright, and in being more closely connected to members of the public on a day-to-day basis than lots of the other folks who work on copyright issues,” explains Nancy Sims, Copyright Program Librarian at the University of Minnesota.

With that in mind, Sims and other librarians specializing in copyright have put together a guide for instructors about navigating fair use for remote teaching. In copyright law, fair use refers to circumstances where people can legally use copyrighted works without permission. Fair use can apply to many different situations; historically, courts have often allowed people to use copyrighted materials for educational purposes or to serve the public’s interest.

Ten Simple Rules for Researchers While in Isolation from a Pandemic

Philip E. Bourne


with @goh5987

uploaded to arXiv Available immediately at destined for @PLOSCompBiol

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