Towards socially robust knowledge: creating and sharing data with citizens and neighbourhoods

Professor Lea den Broeder & Professor John Bolte

However beautiful our data may be, they do not always end up with the residents they are about. This also means that policy based on our knowledge is far from the citizen. It is precisely with complex 'wicked' problems that these can only be tackled together with all parties, including citizens. In this masterclass the basic principles of data collection and analysis with citizens or 'Citizen Science' will be discussed. We discuss examples, practical approaches, pitfalls and opportunities of 'Citizen Science' and develop project ideas: beautiful first steps towards socially robust knowledge.


Big Data: what exactly is the Big Deal?

Albert Wong, PhD

The hype surrounding Big Data is strong. Many success stories have surfaced over the past years -- they range from the use of detailed patient data to identify the optimal treatment for cancer patients, to the detection of fraud in financial transactions. But is this hype justified, and why? In this Masterclass we identify some key aspects of  the Big Data movement such as the data-driven way of thinking and the use of machine/deep learning methods, discuss their strengths and limitations, and describe how they differ from the traditional scientific approach and the use of statistical methods. This subject matter is not only discussed from a technical perspective, but also approached from a philosophical stance. We also illustrate some epidemiological applications of Big Data at the RIVM, and show how Big Data has contributed to the core tasks of the RIVM. The aim of this Masterclass is to cultivate a more critical understanding of Big Data and its potential value amongst its participants.


Concerned citizens in rural Netherlands: plausibility, causality, public health and the precautionary principle

Professor Dick Heederik

When residents are exposed to environmental pollutants, they often call for epidemiologic studies that should address their concerns. Epidemiologists however face several challenges to design a study that is both scientifically sound and informative for the public. In this masterclass, Prof. Heederik will discuss the tension between plausibility, causality, public health and the precautionary principle, and ways to deal with this in epidemiological research. This will be illustrated with examples from a study into health effects in residents living near intensive livestock farms.


Exposome and microbiome: opportunities and challenges

Professor Roel Vermeulen & Wouter de Steenhuijsen Piters, MD

The Exposome is the sum of every place you’ve ever been. The Exposome thus represents the totality of a person’s environmental exposures including where we live, the air we breathe, our social interactions and lifestyle choices such as smoking and exercise, and the extent to which these factors themselves or in combination affect inherent biological functions and health encoded by our genome. In the last decade new technologies have become available to better quantify the external exposome. Also, bio-molecular techniques now enable to more completely quantify exogenous and endogenous exposures and their biological consequences (the internal exposome). One of the biological read-outs is the microbiome, i.e. the human indigenous microbial communities or microbiota. These microbiota inhabit different anatomical niches, including the gut, lung and upper respiratory tract. Increasing evidence suggests that the microbiota of the respiratory tract provide us with resistance against invading pathogens. Additionally, these bacteria are thought to play a role in the development of the host immune system. Deteriorations in the development of these microbiota early in life thus likely pose a risk factor for the development of respiratory tract infections later in life. Gaining insight in these aberrant developmental trajectories is paramount, however microbiota research is faced with several (statistical) challenges.

In the first part of the masterclass we will discuss the prompt, promise, and perspective of exposome research with an emphasis on the statistical challenges related to the analyses of high dimensional, correlated, time-varying data. In the second part, we will focus on the practice of the exposome by focusing on the early life respiratory microbiome, its interactions with environmental exposures and data analytical challenges.