Developed collaboratively by several Scripps Research teams, Outbreak.info seeks to bring together research information on a single site and improve data visualization.
LA JOLLA, CA — Against the backdrop of the fast-spreading respiratory illness COVID-19, the speed of research is nothing short of astounding. Genetic sequences of coronavirus strains are rapidly posted online, while hundreds of new studies from scientists around the globe unravel mysteries about the new disease.
The fact that these resources are being broadly shared improves the efficiency of critical research on COVID-19, says Scripps Research data scientist Laura Hughes, PhD. But there’s a hitch: The information can be difficult to track down from so many different websites and is often presented in non-standardized formats, making it hard to analyze.
Hughes, who works in the lab of professor Andrew Su, PhD, collaborated with colleagues in the labs of professor Kristian Andersen, PhD and associate professor Chunlei Wu, PhD, to develop a solution to this problem—a central research repository of all things COVID-19.
The new website, Outbreak.info, seeks to be a single online destination for researchers and citizen scientists to visit for COVID-19 data in an easy-to-use format.
“We focus on making the metadata about these resources more standardized so it can be understood and accessed faster than was possible before,” Hughes says. “This is a big step for helping scientists unite towards a common goal to understand COVID-19.”
In building the site, Hughes wanted to lean strongly on visuals—through dynamic graphs and charts—to demonstrate how key data points are changing over time, from new cases to doubling rates of COVID-19. The doubling rate is the number of days it takes for the cases or deaths to double in a certain geographic area.
All of the data presented on the newly launched site is sourced from the Johns Hopkins Center for Systems Science and Engineering, which is the only site offering consistent worldwide data on important COVID-19 measures, Hughes notes.
Outbreak.info visualizes this data in other ways, however. “We were all personally interested in how the cases are changing over time,” Hughes says. “This is the information that can inform intervention measures; you really need to understand the magnitude of what is happening to make decisions on guidelines such as social distancing.”
Karthik Gangavarapu, a graduate student in the Andersen lab, says the Outbreak.info team is now working on creating and integrating computer programs that will crawl the web for new data relevant to COVID-19. With help from bots, humans can then more easily curate data for the site.
“The website is just one piece of a bigger vision,” Gangavarapu says. “First and foremost, our goal is to help move research forward. But we also want to harness enthusiasm of the public to provide a forum to organize data on COVID-19.”
Explore the website at outbreak.info.