Monthly Archives: March 2009

C4G @ GaTech

The Chronicle of Higher Ed has a short piece on public-service applications of computer science that are coming out of a class called Computing for Good (C4G) that TCS star Santosh Vempala co-taught at Georgia Tech last spring.

This is an idea that is emerging in several ACO-related disciplines. Manuela Veloso has been running a similar program at CMU called V-Unit, Karen Smilowitz and Michael Johnson held a session at INFORMS 2007 on community-based operations research, and in 2006 student statisticians started a network of volunteer consultancies called Statistics in the Community.

It’s great to see a tradition of “pro bono” work developing in theoretical fields. It’s not just a way for lawyers to assuage their consciences anymore.

1 Comment

Filed under education, science policy

Numbers from World TB Day + Maps of Malaria

Twice as many people were diagnosed with both HIV and tuberculosis in 2007 than were in 2006. (Science Mag, BMJ)

Quote about global health data in the article that is quite consistent with what I’ve seen comes from Richard Chaisson:

“They’re working with the best stuff they have, and the best stuff they have is not good.”

PLoS Med today has an article with some beautiful maps, co-authored by PyMC super-hacker Anand Patil. A World Malaria Map: Plasmodium falciparum Endemicity in 2007.

And, to make it a triple-crown news day for infectious disease, the Pope claims that condoms exacerbate HIV and AIDS problem. (I guess this was the big news a week ago, but it just crossed my desk today.)


Filed under global health

ACO in Python: Minimum Weight Perfect Matchings (a.k.a. Matching Algorithms and Reproductive Health: Part 4)

This is the final item in my series on Matching Algorithms and Reproductive Health, and it brings the story full circle, returning to the algorithms side of the show. Today I’ll demonstrate how to actually find minimum-weight perfect matchings in Python, and toss in a little story about \pi^2/6. Continue reading


Filed under combinatorial optimization

Items of Interest

MIT faculty makes scholarly articles freely and openly available to the entire world.

Google Summer of Code returns, and suggested Python projects. (A nice way for students to spend the summer, especially during an “economic downturn”).

And for those of you that are looking for NSF grants to apply to: Foundations of Data and Visual Analytics.

Comments Off on Items of Interest

Filed under science policy

Gowers’s Polymath Experiment: Problem probably solved

A couple of weeks ago, I mentioned the exciting experiment in online math collaboration, where Tim Gowers invited the world to set out and develop a combinatorial proof of the density Hales-Jewitt theorem (DHJ). Big congratulations to them, because the problem is solved, probably. Summarizing why he spent his time on this particular problem, Terry Tao wrote:

I guess DHJ is known to experts in the field to be an interesting question, partly because it implies a number of other deep theorems (e.g. Szemeredi’s theorem, which was for instance a key tool in my result with Ben that the primes contain arbitrarily long arithmetic progressions), but also because it (until very recently) was one of the most prominent density Ramsey theorems that could only be proven by ergodic theoretic techniques. I myself am a big believer in exploiting more systematically the connections between ergodic theory, combinatorics, and Fourier analysis, and so this project was certainly very appealing to me. Besides, historically every new proof of Szemeredi’s theorem has led to a substantial amount of progress and activity in at least one subfield of mathematics; now that we have yet another proof (the fifth genuinely new proof of Szemeredi, by my count), one can hope that the tools developed here will have some applicability elsewhere.

Now, are there any applications of DHJ or Ramsey theory to Health Metrics? I wouldn’t say they are leaping out at me, but I wouldn’t rule it out either. When noisy data has unavoidable structure, some of the noise could be removed.


Filed under combinatorics

Matching Algorithms and Reproductive Health: Part 3, A Stylized Virginity Pledge

It’s been three weeks and one IHME retreat since I wrote about matching algorithms and virginity pledges, and I think I now understand what’s going on in Patient Teenagers well enough to describe it. I’ll try to give a stylized example of how the minimum-weight perfect matching algorithm makes itself useful in reproductive health research.

I think it’s helpful to focus on a concrete research question about the virginity pledge and its effects on reproductive health. Here’s one: “does taking the pledge reduce the chances that an individual contracts trichomoniasis?” If the answer is yes, or if the answer is no, people can still argue about the value of the virginity pledge programs, but this seems like relevant information for decision making. Continue reading


Filed under combinatorial optimization, global health