Dimensions of uncertainty: a spatiotemporal review of five COVID-19 datasets

Dylan Halpern, Qinyun Lin, Ryan Wang, Stephanie Yang, Steve Goldstein, Marynia Kolak

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


COVID-19 surveillance across the United States is essential to tracking and mitigating the pandemic, but data representing cases and deaths may be impacted by attribute, spatial, and temporal uncertainties. COVID-19 case and death data are essential to understanding the pandemic and serve as key inputs for prediction models that inform policy-decisions; consistent information across datasets is critical to ensuring coherent findings. We implement an exploratory data analytic approach to characterize, synthesize, and visualize spatial-temporal dimensions of uncertainty across commonly used datasets for case and death metrics (Johns Hopkins University, the New York Times, USAFacts, and 1Point3Acres). We scrutinize data consistency to assess where and when disagreements occur, potentially indicating underlying uncertainty. We observe differences in cumulative case and death rates to highlight discrepancies and identify spatial patterns. Data are assessed using pairwise agreement (Cohen’s kappa) and agreement across all datasets (Fleiss’ kappa) to summarize changes over time. Findings suggest highest agreements between CDC, JHU, and NYT datasets. We find nine discrete type-components of information uncertainty for COVID-19 datasets reflecting various complex processes. Understanding processes and indicators of uncertainty in COVID-19 data reporting is especially relevant to public health professionals and policymakers to accurately understand and communicate information about the pandemic.

Original languageEnglish (US)
JournalCartography and Geographic Information Science
StateAccepted/In press - 2021
Externally publishedYes


  • COVID-19
  • Data uncertainty
  • epidemiology
  • health informatics
  • public health

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geography, Planning and Development
  • Civil and Structural Engineering
  • Management of Technology and Innovation


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