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Fired Florida Data Scientist Launches A Coronavirus Dashboard Of Her Own

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Rebekah Jones was fired last month from her job at the Florida Department of Health, where she helped create a data portal about the state’s COVID-19 cases. Now, she has created a dashboard of her own.

In some ways, Jones’s new portal for Florida coronavirus data looks a lot like the state health department’s. But it has a few key differences that reflect just how contentious coronavirus data has become amid politicized arguments about whether it’s safe for states to reopen.

Case in point: Jones’s dashboard has a map that shows which Florida counties are ready for the next phase of reopening. By her calculations, only two of the state’s 67 counties at the moment meet the state’s criteria for further easing restrictions.

Jones says she was originally tasked with building essentially the same type of dashboard for the health department’s website in her role as a geographic information system manager — until it became clear what the results would show.

“When I went to show them what the report card would say for each county, among other things they asked me to delete the report card because it showed that no counties, pretty much, were ready for reopening,” she says. “And they didn’t want to draw attention to that.”

Jones says a superior asked her to open up the data and alter the numbers so that the state’s coronavirus positivity rating would change from 18% to 10% — and the state would appear to meet its target to reopen.

She says she refused to do that manipulation and others she was asked to, and she was fired on May 18.

“To me, it did not read like some kind of political conspiracy or some higher directive,” Jones says. “It seemed like people who expected when I brought in those results, the results to support the plan they had written, and they did not, they seemed panicked, and like they had to figure out a way to make the results match the plan.”

Florida entered phase one of its reopening on May 4, in all counties except Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach. It eased restrictions even further with the start of phase two on June 5, but is now among the more than 20 states where new daily cases are rising. To date, the state has had more than 73,000 cases and nearly 3,000 deaths.

The Florida Department of Health did not respond to requests for comment. A spokesperson for Florida Gov. Ron De Santis said last month that Jones “exhibited a repeated course of insubordination during her time with the department.”

Jones and her attorney are now looking into whether she might be protected by a whistleblower law. Jones says she had asked at work how to file a whistleblower complaint, and was fired the next day.

Now a private citizen, Jones continues to take issue with the way the state is calculating its coronavirus positivity rate. The official Florida site says there are more than 1.3 million “total people tested” in Florida, of which about 73,500 were positive, resulting in an “overall percent positive” rate of 5.4%.

But Jones says that figure is misleading.

“I actually wrote the script to create that data, so I know exactly what it looks like,” she says. “And I’ve audited it and checked it with several other statisticians and people who are working the press to make sure it’s correct.”

She says that on the state’s dashboard, any person who tests positive will be counted as a positive test only once, no matter how many times they test positive. But a person who tests negative will be counted over and over again each time they test negative for the coronavirus.

Jones says that because many residents, such as health care workers, require repeated testing, the state’s dashboard is artificially deflating the true positivity rate.

“They’re adding their total test figures instead of their total people, which makes their percent positive extremely low,” she says.

Cindy Prins, a professor of epidemiology at the University of Florida, finds Jones’ dashboard to be more comprehensive than the state’s.

“There’s some data on there that either wasn’t on the Florida COVID-19 DOH dashboard or was available and maybe wasn’t presented in the same way that it’s being presented now … You’re just getting a bigger picture of what’s going on,” Prins says.

She also notes that the state’s site doesn’t appear to use the “total people tested” label accurately.

“From a definition standpoint, ‘total people tested’ and what it actually represents is ‘total number of tests conducted.’ Those are two different measures,” says Prins, explaining that she has been tested — but if she were tested again, she shouldn’t be counted as a separate person. She’s just a person who’s been tested twice.

“There’s a distinction there between total number of people tested versus total number of tests carried out.”

The state has faced other questions over its handling of coronavirus data. The Miami Herald reported last week that Florida refused for weeks to release data on COVID-19 deaths at nursing homes and assisted living facilities, even as many other states did so.

The state’s dashboard also does not release data on current cases, according to the report.

“[The state health department]’s public data are incomplete, sometimes changed without explanation, and have had information removed following questions from reporters,” the Herald reports.

Prins says the public interest in COVID-19 data is an indication that amid the ongoing pandemic, many people are interested in seeing the numbers for themselves. The launch of Jones’s dashboard, she says, allows for a fuller understanding of the outbreak.

They get a visual of what’s going on from both dashboards, she says — they can see the numbers and what’s happening in their own county. “I do think that people have found some value in that where before, they might not have really looked to that sort of source.”

Natalie Dean is a professor of biostatistics at the University of Florida and a member of the advisory board of the COVID Tracking Project, a volunteer data collection effort launched by The Atlantic. She says it’s useful that Jones’s dashboard connects people directly to information about testing and health care — “not just show them the data, but to help people make decisions.”

And Dean says it’s valuable that Jones makes it easy to export the data she’s using. “A lot of people are making their own models,” she says. “As someone who does this, it’s really helpful to make that data more accessible.”

With Jones now out of a job, her site is relying on GoFundMe donations to stay running. Her goal is to give people a place with information they can trust and find help if they need it.

“I think I’m uniquely equipped to try to help with that,” she says, “so that’s what I’m doing. I just I don’t want people to panic. I don’t want anybody to feel afraid or powerless.”

Source: https://www.npr.org/2020/06/14/876584284/fired-florida-data-scientist-launches-a-coronavirus-dashboard-of-her-own?utm_medium=RSS&utm_campaign=news

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Security and Sustainability Forum-With Hazel Henderson and Claudine Schneider. 10/22/2020

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Steering Societies Beyond GDP to the SDGs

With Hazel Henderson and Claudine Schneider

October 22, 2020

1:15 pm to 2:15 pm EDT

The next webinar in the SSF series, with ecological economist and futurist Hazel Henderson, will address how the UN SDGs can and should replace GDP as the basis for valuing society leading to an economy based on planet protection and human wellbeing. Claudine Schneider is Hazel’s guest.

GDP accounts for all the public expenditures as “debt” while ignoring the value of the assets they created. If GDP were to be corrected by including the missing asset account, these debt-to-GDP ratios would be cut by up to 50% — with a few keystrokes! Learn why money isn’t what you think it is and why that matters to life on Earth in the next two webinars with Hazel and guests.

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Claudine Schneider is a former Republican U.S. representative from Rhode Island. She was the first, and to date only, woman elected to Congress from Rhode Island. She is founder of Republicans for Integrity, which describes itself as a network of “Republican former Members of Congress who feel compelled to remind Republican voters about the fundamentals of our party and to provide the facts about incumbents’ voting records.”

October 22nd webinar with Claudine Schneider and Hazel

Sincerely,

Ed.

Edward Saltzberg, PhD

Executive Director

Security and Sustainability Forum

www.ssfonline.org

[email protected]

Sincerely,

Ed.

Edward Saltzberg, PhD

Executive Director

Security and Sustainability Forum

www.ssfonline.org

Source: https://www.ethicalmarkets.com/63564-2/

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The Briefing: RVShare raises over $100M, Google disputes charges, and more

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Here’s what you need to know today in startup and venture news, updated by the Crunchbase News staff throughout the day to keep you in the know.

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RVShare raises over $100M for RV rentals

RVShare, an online marketplace for RV rentals, reportedly raised over $100 million in a financing led by private equity firms KKR and Tritium Partners.

Akron, Ohio-based RVShare has seen sharp growth in demand amid the pandemic, as more would-be travelers seek socially distanced options for hitting the road. Founded in 2013, the company matches RV owners with prospective renters, filtering by location, price and vehicle types.

Previously, RVShare had raised $50 million in known funding, per Crunchbase data, from Tritium Partners. The company is one of several players in the RV rental space, and competes alongside Outdoorsy, a peer-to-peer RV marketplace that has raised $75 million in venture funding.

Funding news

  • BrightFarms closes on $100M: Indoor farming company BrightFarms said it secured more than $100 million in debt and new equity capital to support expansion plans. The Series E round of funding was led by Cox Enterprises, which now owns a majority stake in the company, and includes a follow-on investment from growth equity firm Catalyst Investors.
  • Anyscale inks $40MAnyscale, the Berkeley-based company behind the Ray open source project for building applications, announced $40 million in an oversubscribed Series B funding round. Existing investor NEA led the round and was joined by Andreessen Horowitz, Intel Capital and Foundation Capital. The new funding brings Anyscale’s total funding to more than $60 million.
  • Klar deposits $15M: Mexican fintech Klar closed on $15 million in Series A funding, led by Prosus Ventures, with participation from new investor International Finance Corporation and existing investors Quona Capital, Mouro Capital and Acrew. The round brings total funding raised to approximately $72 million since the company was founded in 2019. The funds are intended to grow Klar’s engineering capabilities in both its Berlin and Mexico hubs.
  • O(1) Labs rakes in $10.9M: O(1) Labs, the team behind the cryptocurrency Mina, announced $10.9 million in a strategic investment round. Co-leading the round are Bixin Ventures and Three Arrows Capital with participation from SNZ, HashKey Capital, Signum Capital, NGC Ventures, Fenbushi Capital and IOSG Ventures.
  • Blustream bags $3M: After-sale customer engagement company Blustream said it raised $3 million in seed funding for product usage data and digital transformation efforts for physical goods companies via the Blustream Product Experience Platform. York IE led the round of funding for the Worcester, Massachusetts-based company with additional support from existing investors.Pillar secures another $1.5M: Pillar, a startup that helps families protect and care for their loved ones, raised $1.5 million in a seed extension to close at $7 million, The round was led by Kleiner Perkins.

Other news

  • Google rejects DOJ antitrust arguments: In the wake of a widely anticipated U.S. Justice Department antitrust suit against Google, the search giant disputed the charges in a statement, maintaining that: “People use Google because they choose to, not because they’re forced to, or because they can’t find alternatives.”
  • Facebook said to test Nextdoor rival: Facebook is reportedly testing a service similar to popular neighborhood-focused social Nextdoor. Called Neighborhoods, the feature reportedly suggests local neighborhood groups to join on Facebook.

Illustration: Dom Guzman

Venture investors and leaders in the fintech space can visualize a future where such startups will move toward again rebundling services.

Root Inc., the parent company of Root Insurance, launched its initial public offering and is looking at a valuation of as much as $6.34 billion.

Clover Health posted rising revenues and a narrower loss in its most recent financial results, published in advance of a planned public market debut.

Crunchbase News’ top picks of the news to stay current in the VC and startup world.

Source: https://news.crunchbase.com/news/briefing-10-21-20/

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Syte Sees $30M Series C For Product Discovery

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Online shopping has become the norm for most people in 2020, even coaxing traditional retail brands to up their presence to stay competitive. However, now that shoppers can’t see and touch products like they used to, e-commerce discovery has become a crucial element for customer acquisition and retention.

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Enter Syte, an Israel-based company that touts creating the world’s first product discovery platform that utilizes the senses, such as visual, text and voice, and then leverages visual artificial intelligence and next-generation personalization to create individualized and memorable customer experiences, Syte co-founder and CEO Ofer Fryman told Crunchbase News.

To execute on this, the company raised $30 million in Series C funding and an additional $10 million in debt. Viola Ventures led the round and was joined by LG Technology Ventures, La Maison, MizMaa Ventures and Kreos Capital, as well as existing investors Magma, Naver Corporation, Commerce Ventures, Storm Ventures, Axess Ventures, Remagine Media Ventures and KDS Media Fund.

This brings the company’s total fundraising to $71 million since its inception in 2015. That includes a $21.5 million Series B, also led by Viola, in 2019, according to Crunchbase data.

Fryman intends for the new funding to be put to work on product enhancements and geographic expansion. Syte already has an established customer base in Europe, the Middle East and Africa, and will now focus expansion in the U.S. and Asia-Pacific.

Meanwhile, Syte has grown 22 percent quarter over quarter, as well as experienced a 38 percent expansion of its customer base since the beginning of 2020.

“Since we crossed $1 million annual recurring revenue, we have been tripling revenue while also becoming more efficient,” Fryman said. “We can accelerate growth as well as build an amazing technology and solution for a business that needs it right now. We plan to grow further, and even though our SaaS metrics are excellent right now, our goal is to improve them.”

Anshul Agarwal, managing director at LG Technology Ventures, said Syte was an attractive investment due in part to its unique technology.

“They have a deep-learning system and have created a new category, product discovery that will enable online shopping in a way we never had the ability to do before,” Agarwal said. “The product market fit was also unique. We believe in the strong execution by the team and the rapid growth in SaaS. We looked at many different companies, and the SaaS metrics that Syte showed are the strongest we’ve seen in a while.”

Illustration: Li-Anne Dias

Venture investors and leaders in the fintech space can visualize a future where such startups will move toward again rebundling services.

Root Inc., the parent company of Root Insurance, launched its initial public offering and is looking at a valuation of as much as $6.34 billion.

Clover Health posted rising revenues and a narrower loss in its most recent financial results, published in advance of a planned public market debut.

Crunchbase News’ top picks of the news to stay current in the VC and startup world.

Source: https://news.crunchbase.com/news/syte-sees-30m-series-c-for-product-discovery/

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