The medical journal The Lancet reports that between 350,000 and 500,000 Chinese people die prematurely each year due to air pollution. Pollution is a concern not only in large cities, like Shanghai, but also in rural areas throughout the country. Unfortunately, rural areas rarely have the finances to maintain air quality monitoring equipment, so it’s hard to track what’s happening with the air in much of the country. Recently, though, UW Computer Science grad students Shike Mei, Han Li and Jing Fan, hit upon an ingenious proxy — monitoring complaints about air quality on Weibo, the Chinese equivalent of Twitter.
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