Reflection on the massive use of data. From meteorology and epidemiology to health economics
Today we have had an outstanding event: 43ºC of maximum temperature in the city, resulting so far the hottest day of the summer. A heat wave makes it inadvisable to walk around the city. I remain attentive to the evolution of the weather and think of the enormous amount of data that meteorologists handle daily to make forecasts: data provided by satellites, statistical series, data provided by ground observatories, etc.. All this implies the use of powerful computers and analysis programs; but finally, with all this information, the interpretation is absolutely human nowadays. We cannot forget that weather forecasting is one of the most difficult disciplines. It is overwhelming.
When I started working in epidemiological research I got funding to study the relationship between health and the environment in a large region of Spain. At that time there was no Internet and personal computers were still running the MSDOS operating system. I was fortunate to have access to remote sensing systems provided by the LANDSAT series satellites put into orbit by the United States for the observation and study of the earth’s surface. The LANDSAT network provided us with nearly two and a half million data on geography, human population, land use, irrigation, farming, industries, infrastructures, etcetera. It was really impressive at the time. With all that information we established thematic maps, morbidity and mortality maps, also collating the data provided by the provincial statistics services, hospitals and health centers. It was a three-year long work that allowed us to accurately identify the most relevant health problems and to offer a series of recommendations to the health authorities, among other initiatives.
Seeing how we have progressed over the years in data collection and processing, that work almost seems childish to me, but it was undoubtedly an important basis for subsequent research.
Now, thirty years later, I reflect on my professional life and the journey it has taken through various specialties. I knew a professor who used to repeat frequently that “one specializes in the subject on which one teaches at the university”. His point of view was exclusively academic, of course; but he was not wrong.
I have worked in field epidemiology, in the laboratory, in theoretical epidemiology. Then I moved on to mathematical aspects, not just statistics, which could be applied to epidemiological research. Then I moved on to social elements and so I went through various disciplines until I reached economics, where I am now immersed, which is a very important stimulus for me, because economics is the backbone of everything. Thus, the economic analysis of health using data science and technologies such as blockchain and other innovations has been fascinating. A whole new world has opened up for me. And in this area of knowledge I find myself. Perhaps a bit removed from the more immediate reality since my thing is basic research. It is something I can afford at my age.