Yale Day of Data 2017 takes a deep dive into digital society

A panel of four people speaking on a stage during a conference.
Day of Data speakers Holly Rushmeier, Elihu Rubin, and Mark Abraham participate in a Q&A. The panel was moderated by Kiran Keshav, right, executive director of the Yale Center for Research Computing.

In its fifth year, the Yale Day of Data fixed its gaze on the ways that vast streams of information have changed society — from its cities and citizens to the institutions that shape our world.

The daylong event on Dec. 1 brought together students, faculty, and staff from across campus. Panel discussions and keynote addresses probed the topic “Data and Society” through the lenses of research, technology, and public policy.

Data and society cut right to the heart of the university’s mission,” said Peter Schiffer, vice provost for research and professor of applied physics. “Truly, understanding data is central to what we want students to leave the university with.”

Peter Schiffer on stage at a conference.
Peter Schiffer delivers opening remarks.

Schiffer said data science has changed research so dramatically that research areas recently considered qualitative are now considered quantitative. Such swift change has brought challenges, such as how to store large data sets, how to prioritize the storage of data, and how to use data responsibly.

Universities are at the heart of it,” Schiffer said.

Lucy Bernholz on stage delivering a keynote lectureSten Vermund.
Stanford University’s Lucy Bernholz

The morning’s keynote speaker, Lucy Bernholz of Stanford University’s Center on Philanthropy and Civil Society, gave a sweeping overview of how the non-profit sector has been affected by the “pervasiveness” of digital content. She said digitization of data means there is no longer an independent civic space where citizens can gather without the involvement of government or commercial entities.

There is no park bench on the Internet,” Bernholz said.

Throughout the day, speakers described the ways data is illuminating their work: Yale computer science professor Holly Rushmeier is building online tools (CHER-Ob and CHER-ish) to organize and present digital images; Mark Abraham, executive director of the non-profit Data Haven, uses a wealth of Connecticut health, wellness, and transportation data to inform public policy; Elihu Rubin, Yale’s Rice Associate Professor of Architecture and assistant professor of American studies, gathers data on New Haven buildings to create social narratives about people and communities.

Buildings are data,” Rubin said. “We can learn to read that data and interpret it.”

Brad Gentry, senior associate dean of professional practice and professor in the practice at the Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies, co-director of the Center for Business & the Environment at Yale, and director of the Research Program on Private Investment and the Environment, led an afternoon discussion of ways data are used to support urban resilience.

Detailed statistics, used effectively, can reduce the number of deaths during a heat wave, prevent floodwaters from destroying vital infrastructure systems, and better respond to a changing global climate, Gentry said. He noted that Yale has the expertise to build communities of data scientists, designers, historians, psychologists, physicians, and political scientists to grapple with these issues.

Sten Vermund giving a keynote lecture.
Yale School of Public Health Dean Sten Vermund

Data-oriented librarians also took center stage at the Day of Data. Melanie Maksin, director of research support and outreach programs at Yale’s Center for Science and Social Science Information; and Scott Matheson, associate librarian for technical services at the Yale Law School Library recounted their efforts to preserve federal scientific data via Data Rescue New Haven at Yale.

The afternoon keynote speaker, Yale School of Public Health Dean Sten Vermund, described the range of data-related work going on at YSPH — from analyzing the impact of public health interventions to identifying health disparities. Yale researchers in public health are sifting through large data sets to better understand the American healthcare landscape and make recommendations to improve public policy, he said.

I think it’s an empowering tool,” Vermund said.

The event was sponsored by the Provost’s Office, the School of Forestry & Environmental Studies, University Library, CSSSI, Digital Humanities Lab, the Yale Medical Library, the Institution for Social and Policy Studies, the Yale Center for Research Computing, and the Yale Institute for Network Science.

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