This site lives or dies by my ability to use Google, and I certainly like it. But I confess I stopped checking Google Flu years ago. This Forbes.com article tells me why I did so: Why Google Flu Is A Failure. Excerpt:
It seemed like such a good idea at the time.
People with the flu (the influenza virus, that is) will probably go online to find out how to treat it, or to search for other information about the flu. So Google decided to track such behavior, hoping it might be able to predict flu outbreaks even faster than traditional health authorities such as the Centers for Disease Control (CDC).
Instead, as the authors of a new article in Science explain, we got “big data hubris.” David Lazer and colleagues explain that:
“Big data hubris” is the often implicit assumption that big data are a substitute for, rather than a supplement to, traditional data collection and analysis.
The folks at Google figured that, with all their massive data, they could outsmart anyone.
The problem is that most people don’t know what “the flu” is, and relying on Google searches by people who may be utterly ignorant about the flu does not produce useful information. Or to put it another way, a huge collection of misinformation cannot produce a small gem of true information. Like it or not, a big pile of dreck can only produce more dreck. GIGO.
Google’s scientists first announced Google Flu in a Nature article in 2009. With what now seems to be a textbook definition of hubris, they wrote:
“…we can accurately estimate the current level of weekly influenza activity in each region of the United States, with a reporting lag of about one day.”
They obtained this remarkable accuracy entirely from analyzing Google searches. Impressive – if true.
Ironically, just a few months after announcing Google Flu, the world was hit with the 2009 swine flu pandemic, caused by a novel strain of H1N1 influenza. Google Flu missed it.
The failures have continued. As Lazer et al. show in their Science study, Google Flu was wrong for 100 out of 108 weeks since August 2011.