Professor in Political Science and Computer and Information Science

David Lazer

"Mistaken Analysis"

Publication date: 
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.

Research Areas TOC

Computational Social Science, Collective Cognition

Computational Social Science, 21st Century Democracy, Political Networks

DNA and the Criminal Justice System