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SEATTLE, WA, AUGUST 12, 2015 The growing popularity and use of social media around the world is presenting new opportunities for statisticians to glean insightful information from the infinite stream of posts, tweets and other online communications that will help improve public safety.
Two such examplesone that enhances systems to track foodborne illness outbreaks and another designed to improve disaster-response activitieswere presented this week at the 2015 Joint Statistical Meetings (JSM 2015) in Seattle.
Tracking Foodborne Illness Outbreaks
In a presentation titled Digital Surveillance of Foodborne Illnesses and Outbreaks presented yesterday, biostatistician Elaine Nsoesie unveiled a method for tracking foodborne illness and disease outbreaks using social media sites such as Twitter and business review sites such as Yelp to supplement traditional surveillance systems. Nsoesie is a research fellow in pediatrics at Boston Childrens Hospital.
The studys purpose was to assess whether crowdsourcing via online reviews of restaurants and other foodservice institutions can be used as a surveillance tool to augment the efforts of local public health departments. These traditional surveillance systems capture only a fraction of the estimated 48 million foodborne illness cases in the country each year, primarily because few affected individuals seek medical care or report their condition to the appropriate authorities.
Nsoesie and collaborators tested their nontraditional approach to track these outbreaks. The results showed foodsfor example, poultry, leafy lettuce and mollusksimplicated in foodborne illness reports on Yelp were similar to those reported in outbreak reports issued by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Online reviews of foodservice businesses offer a unique resource for disease surveillance. Similar to notification or complaint systems, reports of foodborne illness on review sites could serve as early indicators of foodborne disease outbreaks and spur investigation by local health authorities. Information gleaned from such novel data streams could aid traditional surveillance systems in near real-time monitoring of foodborne related illnesses, said Nsoesie.
The lack of near real-time reports of foodborne outbreaks reinforces the need for alternative data sources to supplement traditional approaches to foodborne disease surveillance, explained Nsoesie. She added Yelp.com data can be combined with additional data from other social media sites and crowdsourced websites to further improve coverage of foodborne disease reports.
Enhancing Disaster Response by Analyzing Social Media
As part of a team of statisticians from Statistics without Borders (SWB)an outreach group of the American Statistical AssociationMichiko Wolcott and several colleagues evaluated social media traffic posted during and the days following Typhoon Haiyan striking the Philippines in November 2013 to develop a set of social media analytics best practices for emergency response managers.
The project was conducted in coordination with Humanity Road, a volunteer-based charity that delivers disaster preparedness and response information to the global mobile public before, during and after a disaster. The collaboration led to the development of an informational resource for emergency management professionals titled A Guide to Social Media Emergency Management Analytics. SWB and Humanity Road are both members of the Digital Humanitarian Network, consisting of volunteer and nonprofit organizations that support leveraging of digital technology in humanitarian response situations.
Wolcott today presented a summary of SWBs recent work with DHN network organizations, as well as the findings and key recommendations in the guidebook during an invited presentation titled Worldwide Statistics without Borders Projects: SWB Helping Organiza....
The projects overall objective was to analyze the tweets to identify best practices for data handling, identify analysis approaches for emergency response and recommend data management approaches. Important considerations and challenges were identified regarding the use and analysis of Twitter-based data sets for disaster response, noted Wolcott.
Social media can play a critical role in the dissemination of the information, as well as collection of relevant data during natural disasters. The idea of leveraging social media data such as Twitter is intuitively attractive, given their natural ties to mobile devices with obvious disaster response implications, explained Wolcott.
The guidebook notes there are a number of key considerations to ensure the analysis of social media during a natural disaster is designed to meet the objective. The opportunity for data analysis must be properly and promptly identified, and the disaster response resources and analytical resources must work together to determine how to best house, extract and analyze the data.
Among the recommendations for analysis of social media included in the guidebook are the following:
The guidebook also offers a list of questions that will help emergency management professionals start a dialogue about social media emergency management analysis. Broad areas covered in the questions are the handling and storage of data; creating a baseline and identifying the type of content and trends; and planning the reporting time window, location and language.
In recognition of its work on this project, SWB was honored with Humanity Roads 2014 Da Vinci Award, presented to a patron or contributor who supports the organizations programs.
JSM 2015 is being held August 813 at the Washington Convention Center. More than 6,000 statisticiansrepresenting academia, business and industry, as well as national, state and local governmentsfrom numerous countries are attending North Americas largest statistical science gathering.
About JSM 2015
JSM, which has been held annually since 1974, is being conducted jointly this year by the American Statistical Association, International Biometric Society (ENARand WNAR), Institute of Mathematical Statistics, Statistical Society of Canada, International Chinese Statistical Association, International Indian Statistical Association, Korean International Statistical Society, International Society for Bayesian Analysis, Royal Statistical Society, and International Statistical Institute. JSM activities include oral presentations, panel sessions, poster presentations, continuing professional development courses, an exhibit hall, a career service, society and section business meetings, committee meetings, social activities and networking opportunities. Click here for more information about JSM 2015.
About the American Statistical Association
The ASA is the worlds largest community of statisticians and the second-oldest continuously operating professional society in the United States. Its members serve in industry, government and academia in more than 90 countries, advancing research and promoting sound statistical practice to inform public policy and improve human welfare. For additional information, please visit the ASA website at www.amstat.org.