4 thoughts on “Social Media Science

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    The CDC is slow because it tracks confirmed flu cases. Meaning that someone had to go to a doctor and get a flu test. That is a map of people who think they have the flu and informed the Internet. They may not have the flu. There are also still people lurking out there that did not inform the Internet of their flu symptoms.

    I would say then that Google/Twitter are good for real-time predictions of concentrations of people who think they’re sick. Flu or not, I want to avoid sick people if I can manage it. But I don’t necessarily see Google/Twitter flu maps as hardcore scientific method.

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      It makes me wonder — if it consistently works and is very accurate (things I am unsure of), does that make it “rigorously” scientific? I am totally unsure how I feel about that. Unless there’s an argument to be made about Big Data making things “rigorous” by volume of information crushing problematic bits.

  2. 2

    I think it’s “rigorous” depending on what you claim it does. If the claim is that it’s a real-time map of people who think they are sick, it’s totally legit. I can go look for tweets myself and see that those people think they’re sick and the map is monitoring the Internet and updating as fast as possible. Verified.

    If the claim is that it’s a map of the spread of the flu…well, I can’t verify that those people have the flu unless they got a flu test. And from my personal experience, even if you go to a doctor and say you have the flu, they don’t always give you a test for it. Assuming you even went to a doctor. And then your doctor has to report your test to the CDC, taking time. So, you can’t really claim it’s a flu map, and the way things are right now, I don’t think anyone can make a real-time flu map.

    It’s not so much about the volume of data. It’s whether or not that data is real and truly reflects information you’re trying to convey, i.e. the spread of the flu. If there were a home flu test I could take and then tweet a picture of my positive result for the map, it would then be better scientific method, IMHO. Then you have better support for a claim of a real-time flu map.

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