The Rebecca J. Holz series in Research Data Management is a monthly lecture series hosted during the spring and fall academic semesters. Research Data Services invites speakers from a variety of disciplines to talk about their research or involvement with data.

On November 16th Matt Moehr, from the Survey of the Health of Wisconsin, gave a talk entitled “Geographic Data and Confidentiality in Health Research”. You can find the slides embedded in our post below and on the Research Data Services Speakerdeck page.

Moehr’s work involves studying the mental, physical, and environmental health of Wisconsin residents in many ways including links to geographic location, such as proximity to hospitals, parks, etc. His talk covered four stories of geographic data and privacy in health research to illustrate the different aspects of this type of data. The first story is ‘John Snow and the Cholera Epidemic’, which Moehr used to illustrate that even prior to modern medical knowledge, we understood that there is social patterning in health so it is fundamentally spatial. Through ‘Autism and Social Contagion’, Moehr showed that to be able to accurately model certain questions in health research, exact geographic data is necessary. Adjusting for privacy concerns can make those models inaccurate and therefore unusable. Through the story of ‘Governor William Weld’, Moehr discussed how the current state of privacy regulation and how we interact with it, may have actually been an overreaction to one case of invasion of privacy. The final story about the Center for Predictive Computational Phenotyping was used to show that geographic data inhabits a strange middle ground between types of data. All stories Moehr shared can be found in the handout he provided, which is linked below. At the end of the talk, Moehr wrapped up with two ideas about improving the future use of geographic data – confidentiality as a measurement error and of partitioning data.

Handout of story sources from the brown bag.