Like many fields, public health is in the midst of a data revolution: randomized control trials, pay-for-performance and value calculations, all based on data, are changing our ideas about what works and how to finance it.
The impact of these new methods to gather and evaluate data pales, however, next to the Global Burden of Disease Report, an attempt to understand what sickens us and kills us in every country in the world. The Global Burden of Disease study is a single scientific project on a scale with the moon landing or mapping the human genome. It has been going for a quarter century and involves hundreds, perhaps thousands, of scientists. In 2012, its most recent report, based on 2010 data, became the subject of the first issue that the medical journal The Lancet devoted to a single study.
This is big, big, big data. And it’s had an enormous impact.