All the data you can eat
William Farr, 1865
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Shifting disease detection to the left

Jason Norwood-Young
Jason Norwood-Young
2020-06-19

The New York Times features an excellent long-read on data being used to fight epidemics, How Data Became One of the Most Powerful Tools to Fight an Epidemic. The article dives into the history of health data in the UK featuring William Farr, a welcome break from John Snow, who influenced him, and Florence Nightingale, whom he influenced (although he thought she shouldn’t publish her famous graphs).

You could say without exaggeration that the news environment that surrounds us now is one that William Farr invented: a world where the latest numbers tracking the spread of a virus — how many intubations today? What’s the growth rate in hospitalizations? — have become the single most important data stream available, rendering the old metrics of stock tickers or political polls mere afterthoughts.

How Data Became One of the Most Powerful Tools to Fight an Epidemic, NY Times

But it also examines how data usage has changed, and how data can be pro-active, shifting detection to days or even weeks ahead of our current response times to viral outbreaks. (Unfortunately for some data collectors, this may involve poo.) There’s even discussion of how we can stop viral outbreaks before they even start, with the right data: animal surveillance.

The promise of applying Farr’s vital statistics to the realm of animal diseases is a simple one: You can stop an emerging zoonotic disease before it makes the jump from animal to human.

How Data Became One of the Most Powerful Tools to Fight an Epidemic, NY Times
Jason Norwood-Young
  • Journalist, developer, community builder, newsletter creator and international man of mystery, Jason was one of the first South Africans to really grasp the importance of data in the newsroom and has remained one step ahead of the trends in the field all the way. Even Naked Data was conceived before email newsletters were cool again. But what does that tell you about the measure of the man? Nothing, that's what. He hides the superman CV behind a truly mild-mannered and overly modest persona and is best described as "one of the nicest guys in the business". When he's angry, it is righteously so, and his anger always wears velvet mittens. The true signs of his genius include the ability to create multilingual puns on demand (witness the alternative Naked Data strap "Putting the heita in to data") and the fact that he offered me a job. (AO)

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