Monday, 17 November 2008

Google and influenza (flu)

One of my email signatures uses the following quotation:
In the information age, somebody has to specialize in the development and presentation of really useful information. Doing that for management and decision-making applications is the core role of Operational Research scientists. (Randy Robinson, the first executive director of INFORMS)
Throughout my working life, I have worked alongside some excellent statisticians, and been part of some wonderful data collection exercises. Randy R's comment sums up an important aspect of the work of O.R. people -- taking data which has been collected and making sense of that data for other people to use intelligently.
Over the past week, Google's work on modelling influenza epidemics has been made public. Essentially, the company is monitoring the fraction of search queries that they judge to be related to flu, week by week, and region by region in the USA. The results so far show that the fraction of queries that are related to flu increases during an epidemic, and the change can be seen more quickly than is possible by conventional means of epidemiological monitoring. So here is "really useful information" for "management and decision-making". Google's work can be read here.

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