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When Google Got Flu Wrong

timothy posted about a year and a half ago | from the peak-flu-is-when-supplies-decline dept.

Google 72

ananyo writes "When influenza hit early and hard in the United States this year, it quietly claimed an unacknowledged victim: one of the cutting-edge techniques being used to monitor the outbreak. A comparison with traditional surveillance data showed that Google Flu Trends, which estimates prevalence from flu-related Internet searches, had drastically overestimated peak flu levels. The glitch is no more than a temporary setback for a promising strategy, experts say, and Google is sure to refine its algorithms. But with flu-tracking techniques based on mining of web data and on social media taking off, Nature looks at how these potentially cheaper, faster methods measure up against traditional epidemiological surveillance networks." Crowdsourcing is often useful, but it seems to have limits.

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Google just fell prey to a common phenomenon (1, Flamebait)

crazyjj (2598719) | about a year and a half ago | (#42895765)

Modern epidemics and pandemics are almost ALWAYS overestimated by those predicting them. In part, this is because those predicting them often have a vested interest in making them sound a scarier than they actually are. So you get a lot of this "The sky is falling! Weessa all gonna die! Give me more research money!" screaming from epidemiologists and those in related fields.

State of Fear (2)

concealment (2447304) | about a year and a half ago | (#42895873)

In part, this is because those predicting them often have a vested interest in making them sound a scarier than they actually are.

Financial incentive? In science?

Well, yes. Scientists are people too, and they want the same thing most of us want: to put together enough of a money pile to leave the rat race adn go do what we want for a change, without having to make it profitable and thus bending it to the lowest common denominator (LCD).

Michael Crichton's State of Fear reveals this tendency in our media and science. Quite simply, fear sells. And what doesn't sell will not get funded, will not help your 401(k) swell, and will leave you an unethical but underpaid lab-drone while fools get the gold for preaching what people want to hear.

Re:State of Fear (2)

ultranova (717540) | about a year and a half ago | (#42898635)

Michael Crichton's State of Fear reveals this tendency in our media and science.

Really? I was under the impression that it was a novel, not a document. Are you perhaps confusing "claim" and "reveal"?

Re:Google just fell prey to a common phenomenon (3, Insightful)

DrXym (126579) | about a year and a half ago | (#42895993)

This is borderline conspiracy think. Scientists of all stripes want their predictions to be testable, with minimal error bars and as accurate as possible.

Re:Google just fell prey to a common phenomenon (1)

Bigby (659157) | about a year and a half ago | (#42896039)

The scientists aren't the ones working as the middle man between their work and the media.

Re:Google just fell prey to a common phenomenon (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42896139)

Scientists of all stripes want their predictions to be testable, with minimal error bars and as accurate as possible.

Yeah--they also want grants, positive PR for their programs, promotions, and raises. And who do you think is more likely to get those, the good scientist who says "Nothing to see here, move along" or the guy testifying before Congress and talking to Anderson Cooper on CNN about the threat that the latest pandemic-of-the-month poses?

Re:Google just fell prey to a common phenomenon (1)

DrXym (126579) | about a year and a half ago | (#42897617)

Now you've stepped over the conspiracy borderline and are making excellent progress towards crazy town.

Re:Google just fell prey to a common phenomenon (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42896221)

People mass-failing the iterated researcher's dilemma (similar to an iterated prisoner's dilemma, but related to funding rather than sentencing) does not require a conspiracy. It just requires that enough people know nothing of game theory and have a poor grasp of cost/benefit analysis.

Dismissing observations of common human behavior as some sort of conspiracy is simply obstructive to any process of understanding.

Re:Google just fell prey to a common phenomenon (5, Interesting)

eepok (545733) | about a year and a half ago | (#42896123)

Actually, that's kinda the goal. When it comes to the expenditure of time and money, if you don't come in with a Chicken Little, people are just going to ignore you. With the Chicken Little, you get people to fall in line and the effects of major epidemics or problems are mitigated.

Slashdot-friendly example: Today, people will say that the Y2K issue was completely blown out of proportion. Airplanes didn't fall out of the sky, bank accounts were there on Jan 1, 2000, and everything was just fine. Of course, that ignores the teams of coders working in even-then-archaic coding languages to adapt old software to work beyond their expected lifespan. Who knows what Y2K would have been had we just done nothing, but we're all better off with the purse-string-holders getting concerned.

Re:Google just fell prey to a common phenomenon (4, Interesting)

crazyjj (2598719) | about a year and a half ago | (#42896207)

It's only a problem when it causes people to panic (like yelling "fire" in a crowded theater, then defending yourself with "Well, it got them to think about fire safety, didn't it?"). If it just causes Cleatus Dipshit to wash his hands more and cover his goddamn mouth when he sneezes, I'm okay with it. If it causes people to sell their houses and empty their bank accounts to buy underground bunkers and canned goods, then we have a problem.

Of course, there is also the issue of fraud when it comes to public grant money. I don't like the idea of a scientists who are knowingly exaggerating their findings taking grant money away from those who aren't.

Re:Google just fell prey to a common phenomenon (1)

QuasiSteve (2042606) | about a year and a half ago | (#42897103)

Who knows what Y2K would have been had we just done nothing

Well, presumably...

the teams of coders working in even-then-archaic coding languages to adapt old software to work beyond their expected lifespan ...would know.

But where are their stories?

I'm asking out of curiosity - not necessarily because I'm sceptical. Wikipedia does have some stories of Y2K-bug related issues (one even fatal, although I think more than just Y2K-bug failed there), but there doesn't seem to be a reference to people stating they were at so-and-so fixing a bug in this-and-that which, if left in place, would have caused such-and-such doomsday scenario. Maybe that's because those teams were under NDAs. Maybe it's because wikipedia doesn't like anecdotal stuff.

So I Googled around. Plenty of "Tell us your story" articles, and plenty of comments from people who 'were there' - by which they mean that they were alive on Jan 1st, 2000, and they reported nothing happening.
There were some comments of people actually working to fix the problems, though. Mostly dealing with dates in log files, dates displayed, the odd "a customer could've gotten a bill for NN years of service" which would readily have been resolved after a customer complaint anyway. ( Actually, the number of finance-related recounts seem to outrate any others. Makes sense as they deal with dates a lot, but also because nobody wants to lose money, right? )
One guy noted that a central heating unit did not shut down at midnight and just kept going. Uncomfortable, sure, but not exactly a doomsday scenario either.

I think that perhaps the most unsettling, and telling, recount is from a Mattias Handley, who stated:

Still today, I wonder what would have happened if we hadnÂt done all that work, since we replaced a lot of code, a lot of hardware and also found lots of systems that nobody knew what they where doing.

But you'd think with all the people saying that it's because of all the hard work of people fixing these bugs that doom and gloom was avoided, that there would be people with actual "I averted doom and gloom, here's how" stories. If there are, please do link to them in follow-up comments (or write your own experience here - google might pick up on it for the next curious person to find.)

Re:Google just fell prey to a common phenomenon (1)

QuasiSteve (2042606) | about a year and a half ago | (#42897177)

curses. Well it's a good thing I didn't have to fix any Y2K bugs - I can't even manage a simple </blockquote> ;)

Re:Google just fell prey to a common phenomenon (1)

samkass (174571) | about a year and a half ago | (#42897549)

Is there anyone who was working in software in 1999 who WASN'T spending a lot of time considering Y2K issues? We had to upgrade most of the software stack from our servers at the time and put in the approved two-digit rounding code to the UI date parsing. Not exactly heroic, but I'm not aware of a single piece of server software that required no modifications for Y2K. Everyone was involved in a thousand tiny ways.

My guess is that the reason there's not a lot of blogs and personal stories is that it was mind-numbing work that did not lend itself to narrative.

Re:Google just fell prey to a common phenomenon (1)

sjames (1099) | about a year and a half ago | (#42900067)

There's not a lot of stories because it was all pretty boring stuff. A lot of setting the clock ahead and redo the QC tests, punch out a few bugs that crop up and test again, just like any code. Where's the stories of coders getting Turbo Tax ready for next year's new rules? It's just not that exciting and most of it happened in industries that typically say nothing about their development efforts in the first place.

There were stories at the time of mid to upper management people being brought in as developers at high prices to fix old systems they knew back in the day. In part that was because there was a spike in demand for COBOL programmers, but everyone knew it was just a spike, so nobody was clamoring to learn it.

Re:Google just fell prey to a common phenomenon (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42901507)

I don't have the links handy, but I am sure Google does.... The countries that did NOT do anything to mitigate Y2k had about the same amount of problems that the U.S. did. Look it up....

Re:Google just fell prey to a common phenomenon (1)

Drewdad (1738014) | about a year and a half ago | (#42896413)

Actually, I think it's the media that has a vested interest in hyping the story. The interview five people, and the one that says "WE'RE ALL GONNA DIE!" is the one that gets quoted. They get paid for how many eyeballs see the page, not for how accurate their reporting is.

Re:Google just fell prey to a common phenomenon (3, Interesting)

Sique (173459) | about a year and a half ago | (#42896417)

No. You only hear in the media about epidemic and pandemic estimates of the upper range. The prediction "we'll have 30,000 deaths in 2013 due to the normal flu" wouldn't make any headlines, because every year, about 30,000 die after getting sick with the flu. But most predictions of epidemics and pandemics are exactly like this -- it's just the expected behaviour. There is a big difference between the average estimates coming from the scientists and the single highest estimates reported in the media. And of course, "everything is normal" is no news, thus it doesn't get reported that often. Information is the inverse of probability, and reports about highly improbable events have higher information content than reports about average events. Highly improbable events happen and contradict our expectations, and thus it is important to report them. Normal events happen, but we were expecting them anyway, thus there is no point in reporting them. Your "ALWAYS" is probably more due to confirmation bias on your side than anything else.

Re:Google just fell prey to a common phenomenon (1)

ewrong (1053160) | about a year and a half ago | (#42896579)

I was working at the NHS (National Health Service in the UK) a few years back when a 'flu pandemic' was being predicted, bird flu I think. Anyway, as a developer there I was pulled into a meeting to discuss plans to create some sort of emergency website with contact details if things went really bad.

Whilst we waited for various people to get on the phone etcetera the guy next to me, a very senior doctor in the service, started moaning about why he was there. To paraphrase and the figure I use is one I just plucked out of my head but you get the idea...

"I don't know what all the panic is about. The prediction for deaths from this flu over winter are 40 thousand. Pretty much every year 40 thousand people die from flu, it's just that this one has a name."

Re:Google just fell prey to a common phenomenon (1)

NateWhilk (2577859) | about a year and a half ago | (#42904523)

Modern epidemics and pandemics are almost ALWAYS overestimated by those predicting them. In part, this is because those predicting them often have a vested interest in making them sound a scarier than they actually are.

I'm no apologist for doom-sayers, but there's also the case for not wanting to lull people into a false sense of security. In 2006 the flu looked like high transmissibility AND high mortality. I never get the flu, and I hadn't gotten the vaccine for decades, but that year I did get a shot. The US government gave out lots of warnings. The season wasn't nearly as bad as warnings said. Were the warnings justified? As a precaution, I think so.

Re:Google just fell prey to a common phenomenon (1)

mug funky (910186) | about a year and a half ago | (#42905443)

I think you need to RTFA, because this has nothing to do with what you're talking about (i'm not entirely sure what point you're making, because what you appear to be saying is complete nonsense, and i'd hold you to a higher standard than that).

google has most likely fallen prey to "man flu" syndrome, where a sniffle and a headache is confused with actually having the flu, which can kill.

Crimes (0)

Bigby (659157) | about a year and a half ago | (#42895791)

The same idea can be used to find mass shooters before they fire a bullet. We'll start arresting people based on their search and CC usage history. And mainstream America will be happy "because we're safer".

Round up the freaks (1, Offtopic)

concealment (2447304) | about a year and a half ago | (#42895923)

We'll start arresting people based on their search and CC usage history. And mainstream America will be happy "because we're safer".

Why stop there? Just arrest people for non-conforming behavior.

Anything but shopping, going to work, watching TV and loudly proclaiming "they hate us because of our freedom, liberty, peace, diversity, consumerism, sexual liberation and excellent shopping" is suspect.

If we round up these deviants, I think we can achieve Utopia within the decade.

Re:Round up the freaks (4, Funny)

paiute (550198) | about a year and a half ago | (#42896117)

Why stop there? Just arrest people for non-conforming behavior.

Why stop there? Just arrest everyone.

(Disclaimer: My 401k is all in for-profit prison systems.)

Re:Round up the freaks (1)

foobsr (693224) | about a year and a half ago | (#42897203)

Utopia

dystopia, FTFY, for 'political correctness'

CC.

My mother says that when she was a girl (1)

fredrated (639554) | about a year and a half ago | (#42895827)

the joke was "I opened the window and influenza"

Re:My mother says that when she was a girl (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42895871)

Please tell her to try linux instead

Re:My mother says that when she was a girl (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42899969)

Yeah and Enza is a real slut too. I think she slept with half the class! (OK, that's about a third of the girls, and two thirds of the boys. Your mom was part of that group that Enza slept with of course. Your mom still get's around too.)

Beware of fortune tellers and computer models. (3, Insightful)

concealment (2447304) | about a year and a half ago | (#42895863)

Computer modeling is a powerful technology that should not be underestimated.

However, it should also not be overestimated.

When the "real world" has millions of convergent factors responsible for an event, computer models can sometimes capture a few thousand. Based on those, a simulation is created that suggests a certain outcome. But it may be using less than 1% of the necessary data.

This is like making architectural models out of child's blocks and then being surprised when the building falls down after it is eventually made. There are issues of scale in addition to data that can reveal periodistic or epicyclic patterns that cannot be modeled in a linear method.

Re:Beware of fortune tellers and computer models. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42896071)

Simply because they are using web searches on a computer does not mean this is a computer model. This is taking a bunch of anecdotal information and pretending that if you get enough of it that you have reliable data.

Re:Beware of fortune tellers and computer models. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42896147)

I disagree. It should ALWAYS be overestimated in this situation. Always prepare for the worst, assuming preparation does not mean abandoning your house. Always make your house too strong, but that doesn't mean it must be made of titanium. If you don't always overestimate, you sometimes underestimate, and that is usually worse when talking about flu and buildings. Again, I am not talking about evacuating due to storms. That is a different issue.

Re:Beware of fortune tellers and computer models. (1)

NateWhilk (2577859) | about a year and a half ago | (#42917403)

It's a matter of degree. You want to do at least some preparation, because you're better off with that than with none at all when the situation does occur. On the prediction end, when you give a lot of warnings and the situation does not occur, it damages credibility. I know you excluded an evacuation, but let me take it up. In the cases of evacuation or other extreme measures, they have an economic impact even if the storm does not occur. Businesses lose income, individuals lose wages, but mortgage and loan payments and rent still have to be on time, contracts have to be met, a family still has to be fed, etc. All of that must be taken into account.

And now people will see this and search for Flu (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42895887)

Distorting the whole thing even more.

It's useful, but obviously not 100% reliable. How that's not clear to everyone is not clear to me.

So, it's right on target then? (0)

JustAnotherIdiot (1980292) | about a year and a half ago | (#42895899)

drastically overestimated peak flu levels

So do most "professionals" that study it.
H1N1 was so incredibly over-hyped, for example.

Re:So, it's right on target then? (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42896825)

The professionals will provide the usual range of predictions, creating a more-or-less gaussian distribution around the actual result, and then the media will self-select the ones on the highest part of the curve because that's what keeps people watching the news.

Adjust for the news (4, Insightful)

doconnor (134648) | about a year and a half ago | (#42895901)

They should subtract out a factor based on how much the flu is being talking about in the media.

Re:Adjust for the news (1)

megamerican (1073936) | about a year and a half ago | (#42896079)

Or simply ask everyone who types in a flu related search to cough into the microphone and show their tongue to the webcam.

Re:Adjust for the news (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42896189)

No, don't cough - just lick an android phone.

Re:Adjust for the news (1)

whydavid (2593831) | about a year and a half ago | (#42901811)

As you might imagine, they've already thought of that.

The summary in summary (4, Interesting)

Sarten-X (1102295) | about a year and a half ago | (#42895905)

In short, a system that learns from abnormal circumstances will no longer work as well under normal circumstances. This year's flu outbreak didn't follow previous models, so Google's application of those models was inaccurate... but we'll blame Google for it anyway, and cast shame upon them for being so terribly wrong.

Of course, the article is much better, delving into other systems that also predict and monitor flu outbreaks, and why they were or were not correct. TFA is really about the difference between traditional reporting sources (as from doctors' offices) and newer data-mining approaches (harvesting from searches and Twitter).

Screw you, Slashdot.

Re:The summary in summary (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42896311)

but we'll blame Google for it anyway, and cast shame upon them for being so terribly wrong.

Is it Google's model? Yes.
Was it inaccurate? Yes.
Did it perform worse this year than other predictive models, according to TFA? Yes.
Has it performed worse than other predictive models in the past, according to TFA? Again, yes, requiring tweaks in 2009.
So why did it perform poorly this year? That's what the article looks at.

Nobody's demanding Google's blood, they're pointing out that Google's predictive power, while impressive, seems to be based on a flawed model that needs further refinement. The only one feeling any "shame" on them seems to be you, and you appear to be inventing this "shame" out of whole cloth.

Go back above and s/Google/Apple/g and s/model/maps/g, think for a few moments, and then talk to me about how the statement that "Google's model is flawed, but they're working on it" is some sort of unnecessarily harsh criticism of your heroes in Mountain View.

Re:The summary in summary (1)

Sarten-X (1102295) | about a year and a half ago | (#42897531)

Is it an intrinsically flawed model? No.
Has it regularly been significantly better than other models? No.
Has it regularly been significantly worse than most other models? No.
Do experts actually expect it to be any better that it is? Not really.

As should be obvious by the "screw you, Slashdot" comment in my original post, I'm actually just ranting against Slashdot's non-existent editorial process. The second half of the article is focused on Twitter-scraping algorithms, but the summary makes no mention of that. Twitter isn't on Slashdot's hit list. Google is, though, so the small part of TFA that even mentions Google is highlighted, casting Google's admitted flaws into center stage.

Rather than actually presenting news, Slashdot constantly spins stories about Apple, Microsoft, Google, Oracle, or any government such that the summary paints someone as a villain. The point of the article here is to provide insight into how these models work and why they are or are not correct... but again, the summary only highlights Google's failing.

As you noted, the situation would be exactly the same for Apple... Regardless of the actual focus of the article, Slashdot's editors will make sure there's a spin on the story, highlighting how it leads people off into the desert, but conveniently not mentioning that the morons never thought about whether their planned route made sense, of if they had supplies for the trip. If it's Microsoft, Slashdot will focus on the how obvious manufacturing cost-cutting makes a device "unrepairable". For governments, any new law that even mildly touches the realm of technology is, according to Slashdot, going to doom us all to the horrors of a dystopia.

Once upon a time, Slashdot was news for nerds and stuff that mattered. Now it's just another outlet for sensationalist mud-slinging, albeit with a fetish for technology.

Re:The summary in summary (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42896627)

What a whiny little bitch you are.

Go suck the pus out of the bumps on Larry Page's scrotum.

Location must be correct (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42895907)

Google won't ever get this right if they can't figure out where a user is. For example - we have 6,000 in a campus environment in a city in the San Francisco, CA Bay Area. We are behind a proxy server located right on campus. However Google thinks we are in some Latin American country (you can tell when you can't order via Google play and when devices show up in the USA and you can order them from home but can't order them from work because "it isn't available in your country" shows up). So if we search for Flu, Google things someone in Latin America has the flu. They would get better results if the geo location code worked better.

Because everyone thinks they have the flu (3, Informative)

h4rr4r (612664) | about a year and a half ago | (#42895941)

This is probably because people will update their social media sites with claims of having the flu. If they actually had the flu odds are they would not have the strength to even do that.

The real flu is pretty terrible and people often think they have it when they have a minor cold.

Re:Because everyone thinks they have the flu (1)

Bigby (659157) | about a year and a half ago | (#42896065)

I've had two different colds in the last month...which is very very odd. One of them was quite powerful. Many people would call it the flu. Some out of ignorance and others to make their situation sound worse than it really is...for pity. Others will say that to solidify to their bosses that they aren't going to work.

Re:Because everyone thinks they have the flu (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42896105)

There is a misconception that there is a single "flu". Folks who have severe illnesses from the flu claim that unless you were on death's door that you don't have the flu. The reality is that there are literally hundreds if not thousands of strains of the flu. Some will knock you on your ass, some can kill, others are fairly benign. My son had the flu this winter, diagnosed by the family doctor not my "feeling" on what it was. He was lethargic for two or three days but barely had a fever. Other folks have had more severe strains and end up hospitalized.

Re:Because everyone thinks they have the flu (1)

wren337 (182018) | about a year and a half ago | (#42896205)

I had the flu this season, I was laid out in bed for 4 days. Didn't eat anything, drank a little orange juice. Bundled up in a wool hat under a pile of blankets, drenched in cold sweat. I haven't been that sick since I was a kid.

Re:Because everyone thinks they have the flu (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42896465)

And yet for several years, Google's predictions have tracked very closely to the CDC's traditionally-gathered reports.

So your explanation is that nobody in the world thought to say "I HAVE THE FLU," on Twitter or Facebook until this year's flu season?

A model which seeks predict these things will have to take into account "over reporting via incorrect self diagnosis," and according to TFA, Google has done so with a fair degree of accuracy in 2010 and 2011. 2012 was different somehow - it's now up to the number crunchers at the CDC & Google to determine what that difference was, and adjust their model accordingly. In all likelihood, they'll find they need to introduce or adjust their equations to correctly model the effect of mass media saturation with news of the "terrible flu season!" on people's search behavior.

Re:Because everyone thinks they have the flu (1)

antdude (79039) | about a year and a half ago | (#42900467)

I still compute when very sick. Just not very good! :P

Re:Because everyone thinks they have the flu (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42902433)

I had the flu a few days before finals week at my college. The only reason I was able to actually sit upright and keep my eyes open long enough to 'study' (aka stare blankly at pages in a book) was because of large does of gatorade, pain killers, and cold medicine. That would buy me two or three hours (tops) of out-of-bed time. And one of those hours was used up getting to the shower and working all the kinks out of my muscles.

But I see 'OMG I have the flu I'm going shopping maybe that will make me feel better teehee' all the damn time on Facebook.

On the rise for 10 years now. (1)

Impy the Impiuos Imp (442658) | about a year and a half ago | (#42896037)

"Good morning, gentlemen. What does the overnight Google search analysis show?"

"Well, there is the continued flu outbreak on the east coast, with the biggest concentration in Boston. There seems to be a ringworm outbreak in pets in the southwest, and our numbers show, and I caution you this is probably a 60% overestimate, the apparent nationwide removal of 3.8 million brains due to unspecified causes."

Someday that predictions will be correct (1)

coolmoose25 (1057210) | about a year and a half ago | (#42896093)

It's only a matter of time before a real flu epidemic rages though the world. The trick with flu is the balance between it's virulence and it's morbidity. Flu's that come by that are virulent AND overly morbid will burn out. People will die too fast to spread the disease. This is why there has been no world wide outbreak of Ebola... it kills so fast, it can't spread. A mild flu (low morbidity) can spread far and wide, because it doesn't kill the majority of its hosts, thus allowing them to pass the disease on. But eventually, you'll get another 1918 flu, that is easily transferred AND has high morbidity. When that happens, we'll be better prepared in that we have drugs like Tamiflu now, and also have antibiotics that stop secondary infections like pneumonia. Those will moderate the disease in the first world, but the third world will still have results like 1918. The flu will still only have a year to do its nasty business, as a vaccine will undoubtedly be developed and administered. But that takes a year to do and there is no good way to speed that up. So at some point, we'll get a scenario like the one portrayed in Contagion, which was an excellent film in my estimation, showing what a 1918-like flu epidemic would look like today. If you haven't seen it, you should. It shows how the government won't be there to help us in the short term at the very least, and why it is important to be able to be relatively safe when isolating yourself for a long period of time (up to a year)... Prepping isn't crazy... it's common sense.

Re:Someday that predictions will be correct (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42896355)

No, you won't get another 1918 flu. Incredibly improved sanitation, medical knowledge, and medical care alone make that impossible in the first world. You may get a RELATIVELY bad epidemic (relative to other modern epidemics), but barring the collapse of modern society, you will never get another epidemic on the scale of the 1918 flu epidemic (or Black Death, for that matter).

Re:Someday that predictions will be correct (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42896507)

Agreed. Contagion should be considered a blueprint for any CDC crisis management plan. In fact, the functions of FEMA, the CDC and the DHS should be handled by Hollywood writers, who are the best possible people to prognosticate the effects of future crises. After all, they have no vested interest in hyperbole or poetic license to make a film more interesting than a real life equivalent.
Hopefully they will have Bruce Willis standing by for asteroid collision avoidance and the Fresh Prince of Bel Air for anti-alien cyberwarfare. That's just good prepping.

Cause and Effect (1)

guttentag (313541) | about a year and a half ago | (#42896131)

Google announces they're tracking the flu (hey everyone, come see a map that will tell you how bad the flu is in your area!), Larry Page announces he's offering free flu shots [mercurynews.com] to all kids in the Bay Area, and Google announces it's launching a flu shot locator [latimes.com] . Of course searches for "flu" and "influenza" are going to increase. That will throw off the accuracy of your model. What they're really measuring is this: "people who are thinking about the flu and proactively reaching out to learn more."

Re:Cause and Effect (1)

TheCycoONE (913189) | about a year and a half ago | (#42898001)

You don't get free flu shots in the US? I'd be curious to see a cost/benefit analysis - but then I suppose when hospital rooms cost the patient money there's little motivation for the government to try to keep you out of them.

Re:Cause and Effect (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42900553)

You don't get free flu shots in the US? I'd be curious to see a cost/benefit analysis - but then I suppose when hospital rooms cost the patient money there's little motivation for the government to try to keep you out of them.

You don't seem understand health care in the US. Cost/benefit analysis is not done as a social whole. Each doctor, patient and healthcare mega corp, decides what personally makes them the most profit and does exactly that. Screw everyone else. Don't let the invisible hand hit you on the way out!

Were we this terrified of the flu... (1)

Cid Highwind (9258) | about a year and a half ago | (#42896169)

...when people regularly died from it?

Re:Were we this terrified of the flu... (1)

bill_mcgonigle (4333) | about a year and a half ago | (#42896721)

...when people regularly died from it?

In my State the death rate from influenza is about 1.3 per hundred thousand. Which just happens to be the same as our homicide rate.

The thing I wonder about is if the CDC is accurately estimating the number of people who Google and decide, "yup, I've got the flu, I've got no money for a doctor's visit, no insurance, and certainly no money for anti-virals" and those cases never make it into any surveillance systems. Are they accounting for the real unemployment rate which has 8.5 million people that BLS has discounted as "no longer in the workforce" and their families?

No doubt... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42896859)

What were there, like 6 people who died from it last year in the US?

More like media got flu wrong (1)

TheSkepticalOptimist (898384) | about a year and a half ago | (#42896389)

Of course the sensational news story of this past winter was the rampant outbreak of "flu" which suddenly has become one of the biggest health scares the world has ever seen.

Google needs a sensational hyperbole filter on their Internet scrapes, something to blow past the kind of rampant proliferation of "news" not based on fact or reality, but only reported to drive web hits or broadcasts has become common place these days. Some reporter goes to the ER of a hospital, sees a room pack of sniffling, coughing people in the middle of winter, and then declares there is a plague of epic proportions infecting America, which is then dutifully re-tweeted to the idiot masses.

First, its just Flu. While very young or very old might be prone to complications from flu, the vast majority of people getting flu WILL NOT DIE from it, so the fear and overreaction to flu is unwarranted.

Second, nothing has changed from, say, 20 years ago. There is no "rise" in flu infection rates, there is no epidemic. Flu isn't stronger or more powerful then it used to be. The only difference is the Internet which spread misinformation causing ignorant alarmists to jump to ridiculous conclusions. Was 2012-2013 record breaking for flu outbreak, or was it just the year that the social media reaction to an otherwise normal amount of flu infections reached epic proportions online?

People get sick and if you eat healthy and take your vitamins generally you can recover from it easily and quickly. I have survived 2 rounds of flu spreading through out my place of work without getting sick and I haven't even gotten the flu shot, I just up my vitamins and drink some more OJ when everyone else around me is coughing and sneezing their snot all over the place. However, I'd rather people just stay the fuck in bed when they are sick.

Google may have failed on the flu prediction front (2)

idontgno (624372) | about a year and a half ago | (#42897057)

but apparently they have a whiz-bang hypochondria pandemic detector.

Re:Google may have failed on the flu prediction fr (1)

evelo (1786080) | about a year and a half ago | (#42897459)

Personally I find the mania detector quite useful, and hope it can be used to expose other mass-illusions such as hybrid cars being positive for the environment and guns in school being a good thing. I know I won't need a flu shot, but I want to know how many crazy people I should prepare to disbelieve and avoid any given day.

Re:Google may have failed on the flu prediction fr (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42901867)

hahahha yeah... how can you base a quantified number of people infected off of google searches... do you know how inflated the list of other conditions of interest could be if they applied the same techniques??????? dumb dumb dumb dumb dumb

Which way will kill more people ? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42897283)

Prediction is always in error, or you all would be a multibillionaire by now. So you can under predict, or over predict. As for prediction of spread of disease, which way will kill more people: under predict so that people don't take precaution, or over predict that people gets too careful ?

I don't get the flu. (0)

Nyder (754090) | about a year and a half ago | (#42898559)

I don't get flu shots either. Maybe there is a connection.

What Google did was no mistake (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42898971)

The project to promote panic over a potential deadly flu outbreak was well organised and well financed. Google was proud to be at the forefront of black-propaganda output. What would you expect from the most important asset the NSA has ever created? Google's hardware and software designs are found in 'shadow' Google systems used by all the major intelligence organisations of the West, to hold their massive databases, and to allow said information to be searched and mined.

The current 'flu' project began with the digging up of corpses from the 'plague pits' of the flu outbreak early in the 20th century that killed tens of millions. The corpses were retrieved to allow the genetic material from the historic flu viruses to be sequenced, replicated, and introduced into current strains of flu. It was these engineered viruses that were then released into the wild, with the expectation that they would cause a major deadly flu epidemic. Google merely predicted what its side expected to result from its work.

It is a fact of Human history that bio-weapons have proven to be singularly unsuccessful. The natural circumstances that allow a particular biological attack to be deadly to a population are not replicated so easily. The idea that the genetic code of a previous deadly flu would prove to be fatal today thankfully proved false.

Those of you stupid enough to think your masters mean you well will not comprehend why the American government in particular (but others as well) continue to research bio-weapons, and regularly release manufactured agents on unsuspecting civilian populations. Of course, these experiments usually involve 'harmless' or mostly 'harmless' agents, supposedly so their rate of infection can be tracked. However, for children in the care of the state, orphans, prisoners, and members of the armed-services, such biological experiments are frequently anything but benign. Only a few years back, New York proudly turned its entire 'orphan' population for involuntary AIDS research.

Google and Microsoft are owned and run by people who make regular statements about how the Human population of the planet must be massively reduced. Since the USA is the land of the eugenic policies and research that Adolf Hitler proudly adopted, no one should be surprised when Google continues this eugenic legacy. There would have been many in the UN and Google horrified when their engineered flu strains failed to have any major impact at all. They prepared the world for millions of deaths, but forgot about the concepts of 'evolution'. It is in the nature of life to out evolve particular strains of deady mutating infections.

Producing a guaranteed killer flu with new, untested genetic sequences is infinitely more difficult. They'll need to find another way.

Re:What Google did was no mistake (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42901189)

I'd ask to subscribe to your newsletter, but living here in rural North Carolina, I'm pretty sure one of my neighbors already has a copy. and moonshine.

Google Flu has never worked, per se (1)

whydavid (2593831) | about a year and a half ago | (#42901969)

Google Flu has never been used to officially declare a flu outbreak. It's a neat tool, and it has been successfully used in retrospective studies, but until it actually helps us prepare for a flu outbreak in ways above and beyond what traditional surveillance already does, it will continue to just be a neat tool and not a useful one. The same goes for the Twitter flu prediction models. These tools are cool, but unless people actually do things differently to prepare for an outbreak based on their predictions, they don't mean anything. Consider this question: If you were a public health professional and you knew about a flu outbreak 2 weeks earlier, what would you do differently? Encourage people to get vaccinated? Already being done. Shut down schools? You had better be damn sure. Warn local hospitals? You are kidding yourself if you think they are going to start bringing in extra staff in the hopes that your prediction was right. So really, what does that extra week or two get you?

Re:Google Flu has never worked, per se (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42902327)

If you were a public health professional and you knew about a flu outbreak 2 weeks earlier, ...
So really, what does that extra week or two get you?

Time to get yourself and your family the hell out of the area !

and in the latest developments (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42903087)

Computer models suggest global warming a threat to human existence.

Working in public health (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42904133)

Google Flu is a joke and every Epidemiologist knows it. The CDC and every state and local health department gets their data directly from hospitals and doctor's offices.

The gap Google is trying to fill is of people that are not sick enough or refuse to go to a hospital. But all this can really detect is where the people are coming from.

In short: Obligatory [xkcd.com]

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