April 5th - Joana Gonçalves-Sá

Joana Gonçalves-Sá (Instituto Gulbenkian de Ciência)

Data Mining for Decision-Making


Every day we generate large amounts of data. Just by going online or using our cell phones, we leave informative traces, the so called “digital breadcrumbs”, which can give away a lot of information about our individual actions, with obvious threats to privacy. However, when this individual data is gathered and analyzed collectively, it can be very revealing of global behavior patterns and, at the S&P group we ask whether we can use some of these data not only to know more, but also to make better decisions, both at the governmental and citizen levels.
During the presentation I’ll present three examples of the projects that the group is currently involved in and briefly describe some of the different data gathering and data mining tools that we are developing, for both structured and unstructured data.
First I will try to give some insights that might help answer the long standing question of whether humans have a biological reproduction cycle. Do we, as a species, tend to reproduce at certain times of the year, like other mammals do? I will argue that, in addition to the inherent importance of this question, similar “breadcrumbs” can be used to detect the onset of epidemic diseases, such as the flu, to help predict how many people will show up at the hospital on a given day. Finally, I’ll give a brief example of how these methods can be used to keep our politicians in check, by analyzing the participation and discourse of the elected members of the Parliament.


Bio: Joana Gonçalves-Sá is a Principal Investigator at the Instituto Gulbenkian de Ciência (IGC), Portugal, since 2012. She was trained as a Physical Engineer at Instituto Superior Técnico, Portugal, having worked on projects in the interface between mathematics, physics and biology . In 2003, she enrolled in the Gulbenkian PhD Programme in Biomedicine and did her PhD thesis work, at Harvard University, USA.
At the IGC, she leads the Science and Policy Research group, which works under the assumptions that science and technology are playing increasingly important roles in society and that the scientific method can (and should) be applied to policy-making.
She is also the director of the Graduate Program Science for Development, a PhD program in the life sciences, dedicated to scholars from the Portuguese-speaking African countries and East-Timor.