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The New Thing in Google Flu Trends Is Traditional Data

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A man wears a surgical mask to prevent the spread of influenza.

Google is adding more traditional medical data to its Flu Trends service.

Credit: trendscout/Flickr

Google recently announced it is overhauling its Flu Trends service to harness more traditional medical data, which has long been used to track and predict the flu season.

Flu Trends was an early example of the potential for the use of big data after it was able to successfully predict the severity of the H1N1 flu outbreak two weeks ahead of official statistics in 2009. The service monitors flu-related search terms on the theory they will correlate with actual rates of flu infections.

However, Flu Trends has had mixed success in recent years. In an article published in Science magazine this year, a group of quantitative social scientists found Flu Trends tends to overestimate the number of reported flu cases, most famously during the 2012-2013 flu season, when it greatly overestimated the number of reported cases.

Google's announcement appears to be a response to the Science article, which found the best predictions came from a system that combined Flu Trends' predictions with traditional flu data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The changes to Flu Trends include the addition of CDC data, and Google says it will further outline the changes in a technical paper it plans to publish soon.

From The New York Times
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