Big Data: Google Flu

Google Flu trends uses aggregated Google search data to estimate current flu activity in near real-time as compared to the results from confirmed cases via CDC epidemiologists. Bob Groves mentioned this site in his 50th Anniversary talk at PSC as an example of “wild” data, which can be merged with or compared to data collected via traditional methods. [See this post for more examples of wild data in social science research.]

Google Flu Trends | United States
This site allows one to see trends over time for the US, e.g., how this year, compares to the pattern in previous years. One can also get reports for specific states or metro areas. Note that this is the methodology used in an Economics dissertation on the under performance of Obama in selected states.

Google Flu Trends | World
This shows the same results, but based on the entire world. The first thing that is clear is the striking difference in flu trends between the Northern and Southern hemispheres (totally expected). One can select a specific country, included the United States, and examine the flu trends for that country.

Google Dengue Trends | World
This shows the results of an aggregated search for dengue fever. The first thing that is apparent is that dengue fever is not a search that folks in the US or England make or make often enough to register.

250,000 Social Media Users in U.S. Said They Got the Flu
Chris Taylor | Mashable
January 16, 2013
If you mentioned you had the flu on either Twitter or Facebook, your post got analyzed by Crimson Hexagon, a firm that does sentiment analysis.

Below are several articles that describe the methodology and usefulness of these big data techniques for disease surveillance purposes:

Detecting influenza epidemics using search engine query data
Ginsberg, Jeremy, | Nature
February 2009

Using Web Search Query Data to Monitor Dengue Epidemics: A New Model for Neglected Tropical Disease Surveillance
Chan, Emily, | PlosOne
May 2011

The following articles are nice examples to use in a class, illustrating the concept, without going into the details of the above articles:

Unless You Live in Takoma Park, Beverly Hills, or Reno, You’re Probably Going to Get the Flu
Henry Grabar | The Atlantic Cities
January 10, 2013

The Year’s Flu Season is the Worst in a Long Time, Google GIF Edition
Alexis Madrigal | The Atlantic
January 9, 2013

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