As of Wednesday, 27th September, the BBC has launched a large-scale mass participation data gathering project called Pandemic. The aim of the project is to collect data about how people move around and interact with each other, and who they come into contact with. And they need you!
Participants will download the BBC Pandemic app, and run it on their smartphones to track their location (at hourly intervals), filling in a survey about who they’ve had contact with during a 24-hour period. The goal is to collect a large set of data that can be used to study and model disease spread in human populations.
The hope is that the information gathered will be able to stop or help reduce the spread of viral outbreaks such as the flu in future, and the resulting data will be studied by scientists at the University of Cambridge, and the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine.
As well as a national study, they’re also running a smaller-scale version in the town of Haslemere in Surrey, which will take place on a particular date range (19th-21st October). National participants can trigger their 24-hour data collection period at any time, by downloading the app and filling in their details.
The results will be presented in a BBC documentary in early 2018, featuring Dr (of medicine) Javid Abdelmoniem and Dr (of maths) Hannah Fry. We asked Dr Fry for her thoughts on the project:
“Mathematical models of pandemics are a main line of defence when it comes to preparing for the next outbreak. We don’t get a trial run, so we need to be able to simulate how the virus will spread and try out all the life changing decisions beforehand – should we close the schools, how many antivirals do we need, that kind of thing. But good models start with good data – and that’s surprisingly difficult to get hold of.
This experiment, if we can get 10,000 people on board, will create a new gold standard for epidemiologists in the U.K. with the genuine potential to save lives when the time comes.”