Growing pains for global monitoring of societal events

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Science  30 Sep 2016:
Vol. 353, Issue 6307, pp. 1502-1503
DOI: 10.1126/science.aaf6758

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There have been serious efforts over the past 40 years to use newspaper articles to create global-scale databases of events occurring in every corner of the world, to help understand and shape responses to global problems. Although most have been limited by the technology of the time (1) [see supplementary materials (SM)], two recent groundbreaking projects to provide global, real-time “event data” that take advantage of automated coding from news media have gained widespread recognition: International Crisis Early Warning System (ICEWS), maintained by Lockheed Martin, and Global Data on Events Language and Tone (GDELT), developed and maintained by Kalev Leetaru at Georgetown University (2, 3). The scale of these programs is unprecedented, and their promise has been reflected in the attention they have received from scholars, media, and governments. However, they suffer from major issues with respect to reliability and validity. Opportunities exist to use new methods and to develop an infrastructure that will yield robust and reliable “big data” to study global events—from conflict to ecological change (3).