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Faculty & Staff Honors

Faculty & Staff Honors

Columbia Faculty Wins CDC’s “Predict the Influenza Season” Contest

Dr. Jeffrey Shaman, Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health assistant professor of environmental health sciences, and his team are the first-place winners of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s “Predict the Influenza Season Challenge.”

Dr. Shaman and colleagues developed a scientifically validated system for predicting seasonal peaks of influenza in cities across the United States. During the flu season, weekly forecasts are posted at


“It is a great recognition for my team,” Dr. Shaman told the CDC. “I hope it brings a little more attention to the idea of forecasting infectious diseases. I think there are a number of government agencies that are beginning to recognize the value of disease forecast and understand this is a research area in which we should invest.”

Dr. Shaman’s flu system uses near real-time data from Google Flu Trends, which makes estimates of outbreaks based on the number of flu-related search queries, and weekly region-specific reports on influenza-like illness (ILI) from the CDC on verified cases of flu. The data is fed into a mathematical model, which is then calibrated to produce a more accurate and reliable forecast.

First place recognition and a prize of $75,000 went to Dr. Jeffrey Shaman and his team, including Dr. Wan Yang, a postdoctoral researcher in Environmental Health Sciences; Dr. Alicia Karspeck,  a scientist at the National Center for Atmospheric Research; and Dr. Marc Lipsitch, a professor at the Harvard School of Public Health.