[NetBehaviour] Crawling the Web to Foretell Ecosystem Collapse.
marc.garrett at furtherfield.org
Sat Mar 21 11:40:26 CET 2009
Crawling the Web to Foretell Ecosystem Collapse.
By Alexis Madrigal.
The Interwebs could become an early warning system for when the web of
life is about to fray.
By trawling scientific list-serves, Chinese fish market websites, and
local news sources, ecologists think they can use human beings as
sensors by mining their communications.
"If we look at coral reefs, for example, the Internet may contain
information that describes not only changes in the ecosystem, but also
drivers of change, such as global seafood markets," said Tim Daw, an
ecologist at the UK's University of East Anglia in a press release about
his team's new paper in Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment.
The six billion people on Earth are changing the biosphere so quickly
that traditional ecological methods can't keep up. Humans, though, are
acute observers of their environments and bodies, so scientists are
combing through the text and numbers on the Internet in hopes of
extracting otherwise unavailable or expensive information. It's more
crowd mining than crowd sourcing.
Much of the pioneering work in this type of Internet surveillance has
come in the public health field, tracking disease. Google Flu Trends,
which uses a cloud of keywords to determine how sick a population is,
tracks epidemiological data from the Centers for Disease Control. Less
serious projects --- like this map of a United Kingdom snowstorm based
on Tweets about snow --- have also had some success tracking the real world.
These research efforts seem to indicate that people are good sensors,
but pulling the information from what they post in human-readable
formats and transforming it into quantitative models of the world is
tough. The Global Public Health Intelligence Network has developed an
epidemic warning system that pulls in data from news wires, web sites,
and public health mailing lists. The GPHIN, which is probably the most
advanced and uses highly variegated information, only picks up on about
40 percent of the 200 to 250 outbreaks that the World Health
Organization investigates each year.
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