Big Data – Spring 2017

In 2012, discount retailer Target caused a minor controversy by sending maternity coupons to a pregnant teenager who had not yet disclosed this fact. What really happens when you scan your loyalty card at a retailer, when you type something into your browser’s search bar, or when you “like” something on Facebook? Everything that exists can be measured, from whole-genome sequences to consumer behavior. We are, as novelist Don DeLillo put it thirty years ago, “the sum total of our data.” Our fall 2017 theme will explore questions such as: Who is collecting this data? What are they doing with it? What implications does this have for privacy and individual liberty? Can Big Data transcend the biases and prejudices inherent in human decision making, or merely provide a quantitative justification for the reinforcement of systemic inequalities? Included will be topics such as privacy and social media; genomics and personalized medicine; climate and economic modeling; the spread of viral and fake news; and the psychological aspects of data-driven decision making.

Michael Snyder

Stanford University

Using Your Genome and Big Data to Manage Your Health

Tuesday, November 28, 2017
Anita Tuvin Schlechter Auditorium, 7 p.m.

New technologies that determine DNA sequencing means we can now profile people over time to better predict and diagnose disease. Snyder will share his work in these new technologies and the power they hold to transform how we manage human health. A book sale and signing will follow the presentation.

This event is sponsored by the Clarke Forum for Contemporary Issues and co-sponsored by the Department of Biology and the Health Studies Program. It is also part of the Clarke Forum’s semester theme, Big Data.

Biography (provided by the speaker)

Michael Snyder is the Stanford Ascherman Professor and chair of genetics and the director of the Center of Genomics and Personalized Medicine at Stanford University. Snyder received his Ph.D. training at the California Institute of Technology and carried out postdoctoral training at Stanford University. He is a leader in the field of functional genomics and proteomics, and one of the major participants of the ENCODE project. His laboratory study was the first to perform a large-scale functional genomics project in any organism, and has developed many technologies in genomics and proteomics. These including the development of proteome chips, high resolution tiling arrays for the entire human genome, methods for global mapping of transcription factor binding sites (ChIP-chip now replaced by ChIP-seq), paired end sequencing for mapping of structural variation in eukaryotes, de novo genome sequencing of genomes using high throughput technologies and RNA-Seq. These technologies have been used for characterizing genomes, proteomes and regulatory networks. Seminal findings from the Snyder laboratory include the discovery that much more of the human genome is transcribed and contains regulatory information than was previously appreciated, and a high diversity of transcription factor binding occurs both between and within species. He has also combined different state-of–the-art “omics” technologies to perform the first longitudinal detailed integrative personal omics profile (iPOP) of person and used this to assess disease risk and monitor disease states for personalized medicine. He is a cofounder of several biotechnology companies, including Protometrix (now part of Life Technologies), Affomix (now part of Illumina), Excelix, and Personalis, and he presently serves on the board of a number of companies.

Video of the Lecture


Jonathan Albright

Tow Center for Digital Journalism, Columbia University

The Shadow of “Fake News”

Thursday, November 9, 2017
Anita Tuvin Schlechter Auditorium, 7 p.m.

Albright will explore the emerging arms race in how “fake news” is being used to target and track individuals and the implications this has for media, the tech industries, and democracy itself.

This event is sponsored by the Clarke Forum for Contemporary Issues and co-sponsored by the Writing Program and Student Senate.  It is also part of the Clarke Forum’s semester theme, Big Data.

Biography (provided by the speaker)

Jonathan Albright is the research director at Columbia University’s Tow Center for Digital Journalism and a faculty associate at the Berkman Klein Center for Internet and Society at Harvard University. His work focuses on the analysis of socially-mediated news events, misinformation/propaganda, and trending topics, applying an exploratory, mixed-methods, and data-driven approach. He is a co-author of the Pew Internet report, “The Future of Free Speech, Trolls, Anonymity and Fake News Online.”  Albright’s work uncovering and mapping the news ecosystem has been featured in The Washington Post, The Guardian, Fortune, and cited in The New Yorker, AP Technology, BuzzFeed, Fox Business, Quartz, and the BBC. He holds an M.S. from the University of Oregon’s School of Journalism and Communication, and a Ph.D from The University of Auckland. He is an alumnus of the Oxford Internet Institute’s Summer Doctoral Programme, a past participant at the University of Amsterdam’s Digital Methods Initiative, and has worked for Yahoo, Google, and McClatchy.

Video of the Lecture

danah boyd

Founder and President, Data & Society

Fairness and Accountability in Algorithmic Culture

Monday, October 23, 2017 
Anita Tuvin Schlechter Auditorium, 7 p.m.

Data-driven and algorithmic systems increasingly underpin many decision-making systems, shaping where law enforcement are stationed and what news you are shown on social media. In this talk, boyd will unpack some of the unique cultural challenges presented by “big data” and machine learning, raising critical questions about fairness and accountability.

The event is sponsored by the Clarke Forum for Contemporary Issues and co-sponsored by the Department of Mathematics & Computer Science and Student Senate. It is also part of the Clarke Forum’s semester theme, Big Data.

Biography (provided by the speaker)

danah boyd is the founder and president of Data & Society, a research institute focused on understanding the role of data-driven technologies in society. She is also a principal researcher at Microsoft Research and a visiting professor at New York University. Her research is focused on addressing social and cultural inequities by understanding the relationship between technology and society. Her most recent books – It’s Complicated: The Social Lives of Networked Teens and Participatory Culture in a Networked Age – examine the intersection of everyday practices and social media. She is a 2011 Young Global Leader of the World Economic Forum, a member of the Council on Foreign Relations, a director of both Crisis Text Line and Social Science Research Council, and a trustee of the National Museum of the American Indian. She received a bachelor’s degree in computer science from Brown University, a master’s degree from the MIT Media Lab, and a Ph.D in information from the University of California, Berkeley.

Video of the Lecture

H. Andrew Schwartz

Stony Brook University

The Power of Big Social Media Data

Wednesday, September 6, 2017
Anita Tuvin Schlechter Auditorium, 7 p.m.

Schwartz will focus on what large-scale social media data can reveal about the users generating it and how this is changing social science.

The event is sponsored by the Clarke Forum for Contemporary Issues and co-sponsored by the Department of Mathematics & Computer Science and the Department of American Studies. It is also part of the Clarke Forum’s semester theme, Big Data.

Biography (provided by the speaker)

H. Andrew Schwartz is an assistant professor of computer science at Stony Brook University (SUNY), where he runs the HLAB: Human Language Analysis Beings, and teaches courses in data science. His interdisciplinary research focuses on large and scalable language analyses for health and social sciences. Utilizing natural language processing and machine learning techniques he seeks to discover new behavioral and psychological factors of health and well-being as manifest through language in social media. He received his Ph.D. in computer science from the University of Central Florida in 2011 with research on acquiring lexical semantic knowledge from the Web, and he was previously a visiting assistant professor at the University of Pennsylvania and lead research scientist for the World Well-Being Project, a multi-disciplinary team of computer, health, and social scientists seeking to measure and advance our understanding of human well-being using big data. His work has been featured in The New York Times, Wired, and The Washington Post.

Related Links

Personality, Gender, and Age in the Language of Social Media: The Open-Vocabulary Approach

Yelp Reviews Of Hospital Care Can Supplement And Inform Traditional Surveys Of The Patient Experience Of Care

Transparency and Trust — Online Patient Reviews of Physicians

Twitter Can Predict Rates of Coronary Heart Disease, According to Penn Research

Video of the Lecture