Data science for impact: fighting COVID-19 misinformation
Updated: Feb 24
Carlos Delgado Salas, Data Science Consultant @ PIT Policy Lab
Being a Public Interest Technologist means channeling my data science skills to the service of the common good. The COVID-19 pandemic caught us off-guard and made humankind the most vulnerable in a lifetime. At times of reigning uncertainty and high isolation (due to imposed lockdown measures), I turned to family for comfort. This is when I first noticed that “fake news” were increasingly being shared by family members, rather than factual and confirmed information. This motivated me to use my data visualization skills to prepare a daily Report, initially focused on cases and deaths, based on reliable data published by renowned institutions such as Johns Hopkins University and the New York Times. The Report enabled them to get precise data of what was really happening where they live and suppress much of the misinformation they were reading and sharing.
What started as a Brief of about 5 pages intended as a resource for my family, began a word-of-mouth dissemination process, which in turn led to additional information inquiries from an increasing number of readers. To date, the document is about 60 pages long and includes an analysis of cases, deaths by region and country, mortality rates by region, vaccination rates by country, and specific data of States and counties in the United States (e.g. hospitalizations, cases). I have also improved formatting and made the Report colorblind friendly at a reader’s request. Furthermore, I went from sending it through WhatsApp to hosting it on my personal web page for ease of consumption. I got the sense that I created a “public good” that is helping people dial it down on the widespread inaccurate news.
As of this month, I have 150 active users looking at the Report monthly. Beyond the satisfaction of knowing that I am contributing to shape conversations and decisions based on evidence, this project has also enabled me to meet and collaborate with communication professionals in order to reach an even bigger crowd. I have developed a few visualizations for a Venezuelan media portal, for Wall Street Journal’s Latin American Editor, David Luhnow; as well as for Ecoanalitica, an Economic Consultant shop.
My main goal with the COVID-19 Report is for it to reach as many people as it can, as well as to become a useful resource for decision making. I invite you to take a look at it, and if you have feedback or ideas to keep spreading factual information, do not hesitate to reach out.