Today’s information utilities (e.g., Google, Facebook, Twitter, Amazon, the list goes on) may offer new sources of information that can inform public health policy and even support community action in ways we could not have dreamed of a few years ago. Big data means analytics. Analytics means someone has information upon which inferences, correct or incorrect, are made and actions are taken commensurate with what they learn. This is likely the era of “new epidemiology.”
The presidential election of 2012 proved beyond a doubt that big data makes a difference. The Obama campaign made powerful use of data mining with their social networks to understand what was moving voters and how to micro-target specific messages to specific sub-populations. The public health community has a special and urgent need to understand these phenomena and to do what we can to leverage big data analytical power for purposes that speak to the broader public good.