"Mistaken Analysis"

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David Lazer
"Mistaken Analysis"

It's too easy to be led astray by the lure of big data.

Google Flu Trends has long been the go-to example for anyone asserting the revolutionary potential of big data. Since 2008 the company has claimed it could use counts of flu-related Web searches to forecast flu outbreaks weeks ahead of data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Unfortunately, this turned out to be what i call big-data hubris. Colleagues and I recently showed that Google's tool had drifted further and further from accurately predicting CDC data over time. Among the underlying problems was that Google assumed a constant relationship between flu-related searches and flu prevalence, even as the search technology changed and people began usingit in different ways.

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