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What Data Jawn taught us about the opioid crisis, City budgets and cartoons

The third installment of Philly's data analytics conference took a look at careers in data, curbing a drug epidemic and what "SpongeBob SquarePants" can teach us about the concept of distant reading (really).

Data Jawn. (Courtesy photo)
This may come as a shock to the cartoon aficionados in the room, but Patrick Star is not a main character of “SpongeBob SquarePants,” according to data.

In a packed room at the Science History Institute on Wednesday, data lovers gathered for the third Data Jawn conference, an evening of numbers, analysis and, yes, “SpongeBob.”

The lighting talks ranged from addressing how one might navigate a career in data science to how the city is spending its money.

The event kicked off with a keynote from Lia Pizzicato, a substance use epidemiologist at the City of Philadelphia’s Department of Public Health, with an in-depth look at the numbers behind the city’s battle with the opioid crisis.

Pizzicato explained that out of the country’s largest metros, Philadelphia outpaces others in overdose deaths — by a lot. When compared to New York City, Los Angeles and Chicago, Philadelphia had at least double the number of fatal overdoses in 2016 and 2017, and fentanyl plays a large role.

Fatal overdoses also accounted for at least four times the amount of deaths than homicides last year in Philadelphia, she said. And fatal overdose was the leading cause of death for folks who had been recently incarcerated.

Naloxone (aka Narcan) use also helped the health department understand opioid use in the city. In 2018, EMS, police and SEPTA police administered more than 5,000 doses. Pizzicato said that emergency room personnel also treated about 8,000 overdoses last year.

So once the city has collected this data, what does it do with it?

Understanding an “average” day for opioid use in the city can help prepare for “surges,” she said. The city began monitoring emergency rooms using a system similar to the one that came out of monitoring for Anthrax outbreaks in 2001.

When a surge of overdoses is predicted, workers and police can test drugs coming in for contamination, and emergency services can prep for more folks needing help. This knowledge better informs the city’s programs, like medication-assisted treatment and drug education outreach.

Some other notable moments from some quick-summary talks:

What “SpongeBob SquarePants” can teach us about the concept of distant reading

Monetate Data Scientist Kevin Minkus explained in a gif-filled talk that we might be able to learn more about storytelling universes by analyzing massive amounts of data than by actually consuming the stories themselves.

For instance, “SpongeBob” fans can understand character traits, arcs and hierarchy simply from the number of lines or most common phrases a character uses, Minkus said. (By this logic, because Patrick has fewer lines in the show than seemingly less-central characters, he’s technically less important than they are. Data!)

Kevin Minkus’ Data Jawn 2019 talk on “SpongeBob SquarePants.” (Photo by Paige Gross)

So you want to be a data scientist …

There are a bunch of different ways to end up in the field of data science, Penn Medicine Senior Data Scientist Michael Becker told attendees — but a few key themes stick out.

From his survey of other data scientist about their career trajectories, Becker noted that studying math or STEM fields, learning tools such as Python and SQL, and maintaining a roster of personal projects are all extremely helpful when building a career in data.

If you’re looking for jobs, too, he said, downtown is the right place to do it: About 47% of jobs in the area are in city limits while only about 28% are in the ‘burbs.

How does Philly spend $4.8 billion?

What started as an analysis of Ben Garvey’s son’s lunch purchases transitioned into a talk about how Philadelphia goes about spending its nearly $5 billion budget.

Philadelphia falls behind other large cities on their per-capita spending, even when compared with smaller cities like San Francisco.

But the spending breaks down like this: Most of the money goes toward the general fund, then the grants budget, but third is Office of Behavioral Health, which funds things like the task force fighting the opioid crisis and providing physical and mental health services.

Garvey, who joined Betterment as a senior software engineer earlier this year, summed it up with a quote from Barack Obama: “A budget it more than just a series of numbers on a page, it is an embodiment of our values.”

He summed up his presentation with a sentiment on his efforts for accessible, open data.

“I used to think it was apolitical,” Garvey said. “I don’t believe that anymore. When you make things easier, when you make data easier to access, you are making a political decision … are you creating a net positive for the community you are in?”

Will we see a Data Jawn 2020? The 2018 conference was a reboot of a 2015 event. We’ve reached out to the organizers about their plans for next year and will report back when they respond.


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