The rise of the digital epidemiologist: Using big data to track outbreaks and disasters

We are seeing a major change in the way diseases are discovered, tracked and addressed. Matthew Braga from the Financial Post has been looking at this nascent field of digital epidemiology and reports on its leading edge. I was interviewed for this and spoke about how social media is playing a role in this new vanguard of public health science and practice.

Financial Post | Business

There exists an organization that, using nothing more than the cellphone in your pocket, can track where you are – and, with a certain degree of certainty, where you soon will be.

But it isn’t the National Security Agency (NSA), nor Canada’s own surveillance analogue, CSEC (Communications Security Establishment Canada) though both are certainly capable of this too.

Rather, it’s a Swedish project called Flowminder, designed to map population movements in the aftermath of natural disasters for the sake of emergency rescue and relief.

It’s just one of many projects that is part of what some are referring to as digital epidemiology – a field of otherwise traditional scientific research that, increasingly, has come to rely on digital or computational methods to measure health and the spread of disease.

But while epidemiology has always been about using big datasets – long before the somewhat ambiguous buzzword “big data” came into…

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