Rich Pugh, Chief Data Scientist at Mango Solutions, discusses how data science can be used for good, with a particular focus on the provision of medication and helping create a more efficient NHS
Whether you agree with the analogy that ‘data is the new oil’ or not, there’s no doubt that the creation, dissemination, storage and analysis of data is growing at an exponential rate. Putting a figure on it is no easy task, but market intelligence firm, IDC, estimate that the global “datasphere” will grow from 33 zettabytes in 2018 to 175 zettabytes by 2025. To contextualise this in more everyday terms, a zettabyte is a billion terabytes, and just one terabyte of storage space is enough for around 130,000 digital photos.
Of course, this information isn’t much use unless you can derive meaning and insight from it. As a result, organisations are turning to data science to create value from what can often appear to be valueless mountains of information. The job of a data scientist can be varied, but, in essence it revolves around “the proactive use of data and advanced analytics to drive better decision making.”
Data science for social good
Much of the mainstream discussion about data science focuses on its commercial impact and how businesses are applying what they learn for competitive advantage. But, it’s also important to reflect on another side of the story, in that data science has a strong social purpose and a role in society to work for the greater good. This becomes particularly relevant in the context of public health, where data science is being applied to improve the provision of medication and create efficiencies across public healthcare systems. It’s also important in a broader sense, with data scientists examining economic and welfare data across entire countries to help inform important areas of decision making.
Data Science for Social Good (DSSG) is just one example of work being done by the industry for the benefit of others. As an organisation that trains scientists “to tackle problems that really matter,” it presents many international examples of how it is being applied. Projects range from increasing vaccination rates in children and identifying people at risk of diabetes, to examining the risks and causes of long-term unemployment and reducing juvenile crime. The full list of research projects offers a revealing look into the goals and impact of data science on important areas of society.
Investment in data science
Investment in data science and its role in improving public health is also gaining momentum. The British Heart Foundation (BHF) has just launched a £10 million national data science centre focused on the prevention and treatment of cardiovascular disease. The BHF predict that millions of people will benefit from research carried out in the centre, which will work to “promote the safe and ethical use of data for research into the causes, prevention and treatment of all diseases of the heart and circulation.”
The positive role data science can have on society is also gaining support at a government level. Speaking at the recent ‘Tech for Good’ conference in London, Culture Secretary Nicky Morgan announced the appointment of additional experts to the UK’s national institute for data science. Event organiser, the Telegraph, reported that it would form part of a £370 million investment to use technology to “transform healthcare” in the UK. Indeed, using technology for good – data science included – is clearly being positioned as an important growth area. In her speech at the event, the Minister pointed out that the ‘tech for social good’ sector was worth £2.3 billion last year.
Data science events – Focussing on a more efficient NHS
Specialist data science events are growing in popularity, with those such as the Earl Conference bringing experts and delegates together to advance technical and programming skills, while focusing on using “data for good”, including in making a more efficient NHS. As pointed out during the event, the NHS continually generates vast amounts of data, representing one of the most precious, yet under-tapped resources across the organisation.
Speakers at the event revealed how they were able to harness the power of data science to create a more efficient NHS and how it has been used by pharmaceutical companies such as Roche in their work with an Oncology molecule filing team to help get new drugs to patients faster. The event underlined how hard data scientists are working to expand its use across the organisation.
Those of us fortunate enough to contribute to these projects have seen first-hand the positive impact data science can have across so many areas of society. But, despite this growing list of fascinating real-world projects, we are still scratching the surface. To fully realise the amazing potential of data science, organisations must continue to invest in our limitless appetite for creating and harvesting data, alongside our common desire to help others.