Northeastern University College of Computer and Information Science Wed, 17 Dec 2014 21:21:14 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Social network’s hidden resources Fri, 12 Dec 2014 14:24:24 +0000 wellesarmy-740x493People’s social net­works can be quite exten­sive, often bigger than they realize. So Brooke Fou­cault Welles, an assis­tant pro­fessor of com­mu­ni­ca­tion studies in the Col­lege of Arts, Media and Design, says it’s not sur­prising that past research indi­cates people can’t always recall everyone in their net­work and every­thing they know about them.

For her part, Fou­cault Welles is pur­suing a new line of research she describes as helping people “acti­vate their net­works.” She says people’s social groups, par­tic­u­larly in the work­place and other pro­fes­sional set­tings, con­tain valu­able con­nec­tions and resources that are under­uti­lized. For instance, a col­league could be a useful resource on a work project or someone in your pro­fes­sional net­work could be the ideal con­nec­tion for a new job. Often, the people who are most rel­e­vant to an individual’s needs are those at the edge of his or her net­work, she explained.

I like to think of these net­works as resources that are hidden in plain sight,” said Fou­cault Welles, whose research focuses on how social net­works shape and con­strain human com­mu­ni­ca­tion. “If you don’t have a good sense of who is in your net­work then you can’t leverage what people have to offer.”

Mea­suring and iden­ti­fying the con­se­quences of an individual’s ability to accu­rately acti­vate his or her net­works is a social psy­cho­log­ical con­struct that Fou­cault Welles calls “net­work thinking.” This approach, she says, can be par­tic­u­larly valu­able for the U.S. mil­i­tary, which relies on effi­cient and effec­tive networks.

This fall, Fou­cault Welles received a U.S. Army Research Lab­o­ra­tory young inves­ti­gator grant, with which she will spend the next three years mea­suring and iden­ti­fying “net­work thinking.”

Learning how well someone knows his or her net­work and detecting errors in the person’s rec­ol­lec­tions has tra­di­tion­ally been time-​​consuming and labor-​​intensive, she says. That’s why Fou­cault Welles, with her new grant, will develop a self-​​reporting scale for mea­suring “net­work thinking.”

Over the next year, she will survey North­eastern under­grad­u­ates with ques­tions about their social net­works and then com­pare those responses to what she per­ceives and observes from data gath­ered from their Face­book accounts.

For this project Fou­cault Welles has teamed up with Christo Wilson, an assis­tant pro­fessor in the Col­lege of Com­puter and Infor­ma­tion Sci­ence, who will develop a method­ology for col­lecting this Face­book data. Wilson’s research focuses on online social net­works, secu­rity and pri­vacy, and algo­rithmic society.

Once about 200 North­eastern stu­dents have been sur­veyed, Fou­cault Welles will use the scale to deter­mine how “net­work thinking” affects indi­vidual and team performance.

Fou­cault Welles said this research could have tremen­dous trans­la­tional poten­tial for mil­i­tary prac­tices. She also views the scale as a tool to mea­sure how quickly people adapt to new sit­u­a­tions, such as col­lege life. “Stu­dents who are quicker to rec­og­nize a col­lege sup­port net­work are more likely to have an easier tran­si­tion,” she said.

Col­lab­o­rating with Wilson will also create an oppor­tu­nity to set the social sci­ences stan­dards for col­lecting data from social net­works such as Face­book, Fou­cault Welles said. “Right now there are few eth­ical guide­lines for col­lecting data from Face­book,” she said. “We want to estab­lish a track record of researchers doing this eth­i­cally to gen­erate social sci­en­tific insights.”

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Ebert, S’15 Wins Marshall Scholarship Thu, 11 Dec 2014 13:53:57 +0000


Julia Ebert, S’15, has won a Mar­shall Schol­ar­ship to pursue a one-​​year master’s of research in bio­engi­neering at Impe­rial Col­lege London starting in the fall.

Founded by the British gov­ern­ment in 1953 to com­mem­o­rate the Mar­shall Plan, the post­grad­uate schol­ar­ship allows up to 40 intel­lec­tu­ally dis­tin­guished Amer­ican stu­dents to study in the United Kingdom each year.

Ebert is Northeastern’s second stu­dent to receive the award, whose 2015 win­ners were announced last week.

“It’s an honor to receive the Mar­shall Schol­ar­ship and it shows that all the work

I have done up to this point has paid off,” said Ebert.

Ebert is a fifth-​​year behav­ioral neu­ro­science major who applied for the schol­ar­ship through the University Scholars, which houses the university’s Office of Fel­low­ships.

Her aca­d­emic journey began in high school, when her pas­sion for learning led her to pursue the Inter­na­tional Baccalaureate’s psy­chology course. “I got really inter­ested in psy­chology,” she said, “and I wanted to take a more sci­en­tific approach to under­standing the brain.”

Over the past four years, Ebert has fine-​​tuned her aca­d­emic focus through research posi­tions and co-​​op jobs in campus labs and far-​​flung coun­tries. In the fall of 2011, the honors stu­dent and National Merit Scholar started working as a research assis­tant in Northeastern’s Action Lab, which is ded­i­cated to the exper­i­mental and com­pu­ta­tional study of human motor con­trol. Under the direc­tion of pro­fessor Dagmar Sternad, she col­lected and ana­lyzed data from human par­tic­i­pants in motor con­trol exper­i­ments and sub­se­quently won a Barry Gold­water Schol­ar­ship for her research achieve­ments. She is cur­rently fin­ishing her under­grad­uate thesis on learning and long-​​term reten­tion of a bimanual skill.

Julia has the mak­ings of an excel­lent sci­en­tist,” said Sternad, a pro­fessor of physics, biology, and elec­trical and com­puter engi­neering. “She is extremely bright, works inde­pen­dently, and is self-​​motivated.”

Ebert’s next expe­ri­en­tial learning opportunity—a research co-​​op in the autonomous motion depart­ment at the Max-​​Planck Insti­tute for Intel­li­gent Sys­tems in Tübingen, Ger­manykin­dled her interest in robotics and machine learning. There, she designed exper­i­ments using the Cyber­Glove, an input device that mea­sures 19 joint angles in the hand and can be used to test how humans learn to con­trol a high-​​dimensional system. “Con­ducting research has given me insight into how my course work fits together,” said Ebert, who added a com­puter sci­ence minor fol­lowing her ini­tial expe­ri­ence in the Action Lab. “I started taking more math classes and learned how to pro­gram, which has enabled me to do more tech­nical modeling.”

As a Mar­shall Scholar, Ebert hopes to work in Dr. Eti­enne Burdet’s human robotics lab, which aims to design assis­tive devices and vir­tual reality-​​based training for reha­bil­i­ta­tion and surgery. After London, she plans to return to the U.S. to earn her doc­torate in bio­med­ical engi­neering with the goal of becoming an aca­d­emic researcher.

Ebert summed up her career ambi­tions in her per­sonal state­ment for the Mar­shall Schol­ar­ship appli­ca­tion, writing that “My desire to learn has already led me to a field that draws on my inter­ests in every­thing from music to math. Now I want to expand on my pas­sion for neu­ro­science not only to solve the mys­tery of learning, but to employ that infor­ma­tion to improve lives.”

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To Halt Ebola’s Spread, Researchers Race for Data Fri, 05 Dec 2014 14:06:02 +0000 At a burial in Freetown, Sierra Leone, on Nov. 19, a member of the burial team struggles to regain his footing. Photo by Nikki Kahn/The Washington Post

The Ebola virus has consistently stayed several steps ahead of doctors, public officials and others trying to fight the epidemic. Throughout the first half of 2014, it spread quickly as international and even local leaders failed to recognize the severity of the situation. In recent weeks, with international response in high gear, the virus has thrown more curve balls.

The spread has significantly slowed in Liberia and beds for Ebola patients are empty even as the U.S. is building multiple treatment centers there. Meanwhile the epidemic has escalated greatly in Sierra Leone, which has a serious dearth of treatment centers. And in Mali, where an incursion was successfully contained in October, a rash of new cases has spread from an infected imam.

Predicting the trajectory of Ebola rather than playing catching-up could do much to help prevent and contain the disease. Some experts have called for prioritizing mobile treatment units that can be quickly relocated to the spots most needed. Figuring out where Ebola is likely to strike next or finding emerging hot spots early on would be key to the placement of these treatment centers.

But such modeling requires data, and lots of it.  And for stressed healthcare workers on the ground and government and non-profit agencies scrambling to combat a raging epidemic, collecting and disseminating data is often not a high priority.

Air traffic connections from West African countries to the rest of the world. Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone are not well connected outside the region; Nigeria, in contrast, is. Image source

Population Flows

The crux to combating Ebola is understanding how people move between different cities, villages and countries. Such data are already captured in a variety of metrics. On the macro level, records of border crossings and airline flights create clear pictures. On a more local level, trucking and bus routes and traffic flows help. But especially in rural areas like the forests of Guinea where the epidemic started, even more detailed information is needed.

Alessandro Vespignani is one researcher trying to gather that information. Vespignani seeks population data at the most granular level possible, trying to determine numbers of people and types of dwellings within five by five mile boxes, for example. He uses local census numbers plus data from the LandScan program out of Oak Ridge National Laboratory and Worldpop, a UK-based project to map populations in Africa, Asia and Latin America with a focus on development and health. He integrates that information with Ebola data provided by health agencies, and with data on the movement of people from airlines, borders, transportation records and other sources. In early September he published a high-profile projection of the potential international spread of Ebola, using these data sources.

Mapping with Mobile Phones

Mobile phone records are another promising way to track the movements of people at a more localized level. Phone data stripped of users’ identities helped researchers understand past epidemics including the cholera outbreak following the 2010 Haiti earthquake.

Researchers involved in the Swedish non-profit organization Flowminder have been trying to use mobile phone records to shed light on Ebola’s spread. However they’ve been so far stymied by a lack of cooperation from phone companies and from government regulators in West Africa, who have not made the data available. To demonstrate the potential of its approach, Flowminder created a model showing people’s movements in Senegal and Ivory Coast using several-year-old data from Orange Telecom. Flowminder board member Andy Tatem, a Reader at the University of Southampton, says that negotiations are ongoing with government regulators and companies which could provide the mobile phone data, but it has been slow going.

“This kind of data can give you information about population level movements, how they change over time, how they change over space,” says Tatem, who is also director of Worldpop and an expert in modeling population movements related to malaria. (There is no talk of using phone data to track individual people infected by Ebola. That would be considered a major breach of privacy, and would also likely be impossible given the high number of cases.)

“It’s an area of the world where there are huge seasonal movements, mobility patterns changing month by month. People cross borders between countries, people are moving to the cities looking for alternative work.”

And unlike conventional disease surveillance, Tatem notes, once companies and regulators give the green light, using mobile phone data is basically “free” and involves no continuous action from companies and regulators.

Data Gaps

However even mobile phone data isn’t a perfect relay of what’s going on on the ground. A dense city could have numerous phone towers, allowing fairly precise modeling of human flows, even down to specific neighborhoods. But in rural areas, one tower might cover a radius of 50 miles or more, making it less useful in estimating movements between small villages.

And in the impoverished and often geographically isolated areas decimated by Ebola, many people don’t have mobile phones. As a whole, mobile phone usage in Africa is high and growing. But Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia have among the lowest mobile phone usage rates in Sub-Saharan Africa, with between 51 and 54 percent of households having phones, compared to 78 percent for Nigeria and 96 percent for Mauritania, according to a Gallup poll this year. In the U.S., nine in 10 adults have a mobile phone.

Capturing Clinical Data

Using data for a dynamic understanding of the epidemic also naturally involves information compiled by health care workers on the ground, including counts of cases, deaths and people in isolation. Record-keeping during the epidemic has been notoriously flawed and incomplete, and getting records from far-flung clinics that may not have computers is a daunting undertaking.

“We are talking about very weak health care systems in the region that were right away overwhelmed by the situation,” says Vespignani. “In that case you cannot ask people who are really struggling to save lives, to get data.”

But Vespignani is hopeful that as the epidemic ebbs, as it has at least in Liberia, staff and officials will be able to focus more on compiling and providing data from Ebola treatment centers.

For instance, researchers could compare predicted caseloads with actual caseloads in specific areas where initiatives around safe burials, prevention, isolation or other best practices have been implemented. That could reveal whether such efforts have significantly reduced infections compared to what otherwise would have been expected. Another aspect not currently captured in models, he says, is “social behavior” like  community perception of the disease and rate of compliance with government and agency warnings.

And such data could be key to making sure the epidemic is really stamped out, and doesn’t resurface catching people unaware.

“When I hear people saying the epidemic is subsiding I always shiver,” he says. “We see improvement, there’s a slowing down and things are improving in certain places, but we need to have the last battle to really try to contain it. Any decrease of effort, any arrogance to say we are good, could really backfire and we could find ourselves with a disaster.”

Article from Discover Magazine

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New graduate programs aim to prepare future data scientists Mon, 01 Dec 2014 14:10:52 +0000

North­eastern Uni­ver­sity will launch a new suite of inter­dis­ci­pli­nary data sci­ence pro­grams aimed at training the next gen­er­a­tion of data man­agers and ana­lysts, a par­tic­u­larly pressing need in light of the field’s ongoing talent shortage.

The suite will com­prise four dis­tinct pro­grams, including grad­uate cer­tifi­cates in data sci­ence and urban infor­matics as well as master’s degrees in urban infor­matics and busi­ness ana­lytics. In the future, North­eastern plans to offer addi­tional grad­uate pro­grams in fields like game analytics.

The pro­grams will align with Northeastern’s focus on pur­suing use-​​inspired, inter­dis­ci­pli­nary research to solve the world’s most pressing prob­lems. Indeed, the cur­riculum will har­ness the exper­tise of fac­ulty mem­bers in three col­leges: the Col­lege of Com­puter and Infor­ma­tion Sci­ence, the Col­lege of Social Sci­ences and Human­i­ties, and the D’Amore-McKim School of Busi­ness.

Prospec­tive stu­dents who have earned a bachelor’s degree may apply to any one of the four cur­rently avail­able pro­grams, which will begin in either the spring or fall of 2015. Those who com­plete the cer­tifi­cate pro­gram in data sci­ence may transfer their credit to either of the master’s degree pro­grams, while those who earn the cer­tifi­cate in urban infor­matics may transfer their credit to its grad­uate program.

Depending on the pro­gram, the courses will be deliv­ered exclu­sively online or through a com­bi­na­tion of online and on-​​campus instruc­tion. In either case, all classes will leverage Northeastern’s sig­na­ture expe­ri­en­tial learning model, drawing on stu­dents’ pro­fes­sional expe­ri­ences to make real-​​world con­nec­tions with the sub­ject matter.

A team of North­eastern fac­ulty mem­bers designed the program’s cur­riculum to appeal to stu­dents who have little famil­iarity with data ana­lytics. “Under­standing and effec­tively pre­senting large vol­umes of data is one of the greatest chal­lenges and oppor­tu­ni­ties faced by indus­tries today,” added Bryan Lackaye, assis­tant dean of grad­uate pro­grams at North­eastern. “The university’s data sci­ence pro­grams were devel­oped to address these emerging and crit­ical needs.”

The pro­grams will be rolled out at a par­tic­u­larly crit­ical time, for the rapid evo­lu­tion in the way busi­nesses, research insti­tu­tions, and gov­ern­ments pro­duce, process, and ana­lyze data has cre­ated a dearth of data sci­ence experts. According to the McK­insey Global Insti­tute, the demand for data ana­lysts will exceed the supply by up to 60 per­cent by 2018, cre­ating a need for 140,000 to 190,000 positions.

Northeastern’s new data sci­ence pro­grams will train stu­dents to excel in these types of positions—which range from actu­aries and internal audi­tors to data­base admin­is­tra­tors and sta­tis­tical mod­eling analysts—and pre­pare them to make an impact on how people view and under­stand data.

The grad­uate cer­tifi­cate in data sci­ence, for example, aims to improve stu­dents’ abil­i­ties to manage, ana­lyze, and draw action­able insights from large vol­umes of data—core capa­bil­i­ties that can be applied to data driven decision-​​making in many disciplines.

We designed the cer­tifi­cate pro­gram to appeal to a wide variety of stu­dents across the country and even around the world,” said machine learning expert Nick Beauchamp, an assis­tant pro­fessor in the Depart­ment of Polit­ical Sci­ence who helped create the cur­riculum for the data sci­ence cer­tifi­cate. “We want North­eastern to become known as the place where you can learn a wide variety of skills for ana­lyzing Big Data systematically.”

For more infor­ma­tion on Northeastern’s data sci­ence pro­grams, please visit http://​www​.north​eastern​.edu/​d​a​t​a​s​c​i​e​n​ce/

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New Center Targets Nursing Research, Self-Care Technologies Thu, 20 Nov 2014 14:33:42 +0000 Home nurse taking blood pressure of her patient on sofa

North­eastern Uni­ver­sity has received a five-​​year, $1.5 mil­lion grant from the National Insti­tutes of Health to estab­lish a new center designed to advance nursing sci­en­tists’ research and effec­tive tech­nology inter­ven­tions for improving self-​​care and self-​​management for America’s older adults.

The grant, from the NIH’s National Insti­tute of Nursing Research, pro­vides the sup­port to launch the North­eastern Center for Tech­nology in Sup­port of Self Man­age­ment and Health, also known as NUCare, at the School of Nursing. The center is also closely aligned with the Col­lege of Com­puter and Infor­ma­tion Sci­ence.

Terry Fulmer, dean of the Bouvé Col­lege of Health Sci­ences, is the prin­cipal inves­ti­gator for NUCare. Pro­fessor Holly Jimison, who holds joint appoint­ments in Bouvé and CCIS, is the co-​​principal inves­ti­gator. Both are nation­ally rec­og­nized experts in geri­atrics. Jimison also directs the Northeastern-​​based Con­sor­tium on Tech­nology for Proac­tive Care, a col­lab­o­ra­tive effort by fac­ulty researchers and health clin­i­cians nation­wide to develop eco­nom­ical, technology-​​based solu­tions to health­care challenges.

By 2020, one in five people in America will be over the age of 65, and the fastest growing seg­ment of this aging group are the people over 85,” says Fulmer. “We won’t have the capacity to pro­vide the care this pop­u­la­tion will need, so it’s crit­ical that we develop self-​​care tech­nology solu­tions for older adults and their care­givers that help max­i­mize their quality of life.”

NUCare will pro­mote nursing research in self-​​management, tech­nolo­gies for home mon­i­toring and coaching, and team-​​based care that involves family and care­givers. It will also serve as the infra­struc­ture to train nurse scientists—specifically Bouvé nursing fac­ulty and doc­toral students—in state-​​of-​​the-​​art mon­i­toring and com­mu­ni­ca­tions tech­nolo­gies to con­duct research on health­care inter­ven­tions that are scal­able and effec­tive. Exam­ples of these inter­ven­tions include com­puter games that mea­sure cog­ni­tion; unob­tru­sive body sen­sors that mea­sure sleep quality; and smart­phone apps that use coaching to encourage seniors to be more active in their daily lives.

Another point of emphasis for NUCare is the inter­dis­ci­pli­nary teams’ focus on cre­ating novel solu­tions to improve the quality of life and inde­pen­dence for older adults, with a spe­cific emphasis on pop­u­la­tions with health disparities.

North­eastern is uniquely posi­tioned to inno­vate in these areas, says Fulmer. Health is one of Northeastern’s pri­mary research themes, and the uni­ver­sity is excep­tion­ally well posi­tioned to con­duct use-​​inspired research across dis­ci­plines to address health and healthy aging.

Jimison noted that the center’s efforts also dove­tail with a national push toward devel­oping health ser­vices that are proac­tive and pre­ven­ta­tive. NUCare researchers will be able to pro­vide an evi­dence base to inform how best to imple­ment this new model of care.

NUCare will also fund North­eastern nurse sci­en­tists’ pilot projects and pro­vide men­toring and other ser­vices to these researchers on a range of topics. The North­eastern fac­ulty leading the first two pilot projects are Dr. Alice Bonner, who is exam­ining the impact of an inte­grated care model that engages patients and their fam­i­lies to improve out­comes when tran­si­tioning from the hos­pital to the home; and Dr. Betsy Howard, who is exam­ining the effect of an assess­ment and well­ness coaching system on low-​​income adults living in sub­si­dized housing in Boston.

This presents an oppor­tu­nity for our nurse sci­en­tists to be leaders in this area,” says Fulmer, adding that seniors’ family mem­bers are an untapped resource to engage with these coaching, mon­i­toring, and other high-​​tech interventions.

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Boston Globe: Online retailers found to shift offerings and prices Thu, 20 Nov 2014 13:48:07 +0000 Travel websites and other Internet retailers may be giving your friend better deals than you.

You know that friend who always scores hotel deals you never seem able to find? The reason might not be her skill at ferreting out online bargains.

Travel websites and other Internet retailers may be giving your friend better deals than you as part of a high-tech experiment called price steering that gives consumers different search results based on their buying histories, tastes — even the types of digital devices they shop on.

When browsing shoes, for instance, a connoisseur of handmade leather may get different Internet search choices than someone who typically buys knockoff brands.

And in some cases two consumers may actually get different prices for the exact same item, a practice known as price discrimination: That friend of yours may have been quoted $202 a night for a weekend stay at a Miami hotel, while you got $243 for identical accommodations.

New research to be unveiled by Northeastern University Thursday found that major travel websites and general merchandisers are testing price steering and discrimination in small doses. The techniques can make it easier for online consumers to find what exactly they want, or conversely, harder to get the best deal.

“You do a search for an item and you’re shown some results, but you don’t know if those are all the results,” said Christo Wilson, a computer science professor at Northeastern and coauthor of the study. “Maybe there’s more stuff or better prices that are being hidden from you.”

The Northeastern researchers focused mostly on travel, an industry known for variable — and sometimes mysterious — pricing. But they also tested general merchandisers, finding instances where similar searches for dinner tables, for example, yielded different results: Some shoppers were shown expensive options with gilded mahogany, others got the cheap plastic. [Read the full article here]

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Wall Street Journal: Why You Can’t Trust You’re Getting the Best Online Deal Thu, 20 Nov 2014 13:45:57 +0000 The Web is full of personalized content, whether it’s a Netflix recommendation or the results of a Google search.

But consumers have protested when e-commerce companies have extended their behind-the-scenes personalization to prices, charging different sums for the same goods, or… [read more]

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Local Researchers Forecast Spread of Ebola Tue, 18 Nov 2014 14:51:17 +0000 Don’t be surprised if there are a few more Ebola cases in the United States in the next couple months.

That’s according to a Northeastern University researcher who’s created a forecasting map to predict the spread of the deadly disease. He warns it’s not an exact science, and says a vaccine could change everything.

“We have projections for one or two cases at the most during November, December,” Alessandro Vespignani said.

He’s leading a team of Northeastern researchers who use a computer mapping model to crunch census data with airport activity and countless other factors.

“We do not expect a large outbreak in the United States,” he said.

He compares the Ebola outbreak to a forest fire that sometimes shoots off sparks far away. The only way to contain the fire, he says, is to stop it in its source, West Africa.

That becomes more difficult as doctors return home sick or worse. The death of aid worker Martin Salia has the Ebola medical community sounding alarms.

UMass Memorial Medical Center Dr. Steven Hatch recently returned from Liberia without any symptoms. He’s staying away from patients while he self-monitors for a few weeks, just to be safe.

“We feel as if we are involved in a sacred mission to put this thing out,” he said.

Link to WBZ-TV Video

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Global Entrepreneurship Week Fri, 07 Nov 2014 20:41:20 +0000 Don’t miss out on Global Entrepreneurship Week 2014 at Northeastern. We’ll be celebrating global innovation and Northeastern’s entrepreneurial ecosystem November 17-20 with a series of fun and engaging events, speakers, workshops, and panels. The week will culminate in NEXPO, a showcase of Northeastern’s student, faculty, and alumni startups. For more details, and to register, visit


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A New Tool to Follow Ebola News on Twitter Thu, 06 Nov 2014 14:17:50 +0000

As the global Ebola crisis con­tinues to evolve, each day brings new updates and news on the sit­u­a­tion, from health offi­cials inves­ti­gating a poten­tial new case in the U.S. to gov­ern­ment leaders dis­cussing response plans.

Not sur­pris­ingly, Twitter has been a pri­mary source for people to follow and dis­cuss the latest Ebola news, but “there have been times when it’s felt like if you’re away from the Internet for three hours, you come back and it’s dif­fi­cult to under­stand every­thing that’s going on,” said North­eastern net­work sci­en­tist Alessandro Vespig­nani, the Stern­berg Family Dis­tin­guished Pro­fessor of Physics and who holds joint appoint­ments in the Col­lege of Sci­ence, the Col­lege of Com­puter and Infor­ma­tion Sci­ence, and the Bouvé Col­lege of Health Sci­ences.

This has moti­vated Vespignani’s team in Northeastern’s MoBS lab—in col­lab­o­ra­tion with the Italy-​​based ISI Foun­da­tion, the Insti­tute for Sci­en­tific Interchange—to create Ebo­la­Tracking, a Web tool that allows the public to follow in real time all the latest news and Twitter dis­cus­sion on Ebola.

The “sit­u­a­tional aware­ness tool,” as Vespig­nani calls it, pulls men­tions of Ebola and related key­words from Twitter and dis­plays them on an inter­ac­tive world map. The map groups tweets by loca­tion, whether that loca­tion is men­tioned in the tweet or is from a news outlet in that loca­tion. It also fil­ters out the junk and spam tweets.

Ebo­la­Tracking is a Web inter­face that lever­ages Twitter data,” he explained. “Twitter is very quick; it picks up on sig­nals right away, so we decided to con­struct a plat­form that is able to dis­till these sig­nals in a mean­ingful way.”

Vespig­nani stressed that the tool only tracks news and dis­cus­sions about Ebola on Twitter based on loca­tion; it doesn’t track the virus or pre­dict where it will spread.

How­ever, his team’s ongoing research at the MoBS lab is focused on that. For months now the lab has been tracking the epi­demic in West Africa and its poten­tial to spread glob­ally. The team has devel­oped a cutting-​​edge com­pu­ta­tional model using Big Data that allows them to visu­alize the spread of Ebola, a project com­bines real-​​world pop­u­la­tion and human mobility data with elab­o­rate models on dis­ease trans­mis­sion.  The team has used these models to pre­dict the pro­gres­sion of Ebola and is reg­u­larly updating its pre­dic­tion assess­ments to reflect new trends in the disease’s spread as more infor­ma­tion becomes available.

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