A new view of ourselves

The Human Project provides an unprecedented opportunity for scientists to study and understand the forces that shape our lives and our society. The study aims to measure everything we can possibly measure about 10,000 New Yorkers over 20+ years, creating a living snapshot of an American city.

Mapping the human condition

The Human Project will enable us to learn how behavior, biology, and the environment interact to make us ill or keep us well, make us successful or keep us struggling. Our pioneering research platform will enable groundbreaking science and help us craft evidence-based public policies that improve health outcomes and opportunities for everyone.

Building a study population

In order to avoid sampling bias, we must ensure that a significant proportion of target households agree to participate in the study. To achieve this, we will use widely employed, standard social scientific methods, with incentives provided as individuals increase their level of participation. In addition to more traditional incentives, participants will earn points that can be applied to support community improvement projects.

The Human Project aims to examine the lives of 10,000 New Yorkers, from all five boroughs, for at least two decades. Households will be randomly selected using an address-based, multi-stage area probability sample design, which will oversample children younger than 12 and adults older than 60. Together, participants will comprise a statistically-representative sample of the city, so that what we learn benefits everyone.

What will we measure?

Traditionally, large-scale longitudinal studies have focused on specific domains of inquiry or subsets of the population. But the big health and policy challenges we face rarely have a single cause or solution. The Human Project will address this gap by examining the dynamic interaction of our biology, behavior, and environment across the lifespan of a single group of participants.

A critical condition for success is ensuring that the study is sufficiently non-invasive that participants stay involved while remaining largely uninfluenced by their participation. Two trends have come together over the last decade to make that possible. The first is the emergence of Big Data, technology that allows us to analyze and understand huge data sets. Second, is the emergence of tools to gather that data at the individual level, as people go about their daily lives.

The detailed list of measurements for The Human Project includes:

Health assessments:

Genome and microbiome sequencing; physical exams; medical records and billing codes; drug and chemical exposure; brain activity scanning (EEG); diet; sleep behavior; physical activity levels; home air and noise quality.

Psychological assessments:

Personality traits; IQ; mental health; memory; risk preference; temporal discounting, executive function; attention, affect, and emotional reactivity.

Education and employment:

K-12 grades; standardized test scores; college and graduate school attainment; employment institutions; job promotions and transfers.

Social network assessment:

Social network structure; communication partners and patterns; location capture.

Financial assessments:

Financial transaction records; income; regular and retirement savings; insurance; assets; subjective sense of socioeconomic status.

Other:

Criminal justice and civil court interactions; media consumption; religious affiliation and participation; volunteer and recreation activities; philanthropy.

Privacy and research access

The success of The Human Project depends on the security of its data, so protecting participants and their privacy is our number one priority. Our Privacy & Security Advisory Council includes experts from industry and academia as well as bioethicists and patient privacy advocates to ensure that we exceed healthcare-industry levels of data protection. Much of the founding investment in the project is focused on information security, and our team is trained to vigorously protect participant privacy. We are committed to continuous investments to defend our information systems against emerging risks.

Our robust cybersecurity infrastructure and our data privacy program ensure that all participant data are properly secured, with access strictly controlled. Our state-of-the-art data vault will only be accessible to researchers approved by our Data Governance Board, which includes external experts and representation from the participant community. Researchers will only be able to access data on site in our facility, under the supervision of Human Project staff. Security provisions include biometrics, video, non-clonable identity cards, and physical barriers like “mantraps” that allow only one authorized person to enter the data center at a time.

Leaders in ethical research

Research cannot exist in a vacuum, nor can it continue without public support. There have been a number of well-publicized ethical missteps in big data research in recent years, leading to the very real possibility of a breach in the public trust. The research community cannot afford this, and must respond by providing researchers with a clear ethical path forward. The Human Project is dedicated to leading that effort through the creation and oversight of its Ethics Advisory Council.

Our Ethics Advisory Council is comprised of experts in the fields of ethics, law, human rights, biomedical, and big data research. Members were selected based on their depth of expertise, contributions to their respective fields, and their ability to bring a unique perspective to key areas of ethical concern within the framework of The Human Project and big data research generally. The Council is intentionally constructed to ensure a balance of viewpoints and backgrounds, and all potential members are thoroughly vetted for conflicts of interest.

The Human Project is the first study of its kind and significantly greater in scope than traditional or longitudinal research studies in the past. As the leader of this new frontier for research, the Ethics Advisory Council will not only guide our own efforts, but also help develop a widely applicable framework for responsive and responsible big data research that can benefit the entire field.

Research cases

The Human Project is designed to accelerate new discoveries about the connections between human biology, behavior, and the environment. Researchers can conduct original studies using the data gathered through the study. Some use cases researchers have identified are outlined below, but these are just a starting point. This research platform has tremendous potential and we’re eager to hear your input and ideas for its use.

Research Cases
November, 2016

Air Pollution, Health, and Wealth: Advancing Science to Benefit Society

Andrew Caplin, Ph.D., Director, Scientific Agenda, The Human Project; Deputy Director, ISDM New York University…
Research Cases
October, 2016

Finding the Best Fit: Building a Novel Student-School Compatibility Tool to Improve School Choice

Paul Glimcher, Ph.D., Director, The Human Project; Julius Silver Professor of Neural Science, Economics, and…
Research Cases
October, 2016

Predicting and Preventing Depression

Paul Glimcher, Ph.D., Director, The Human Project; Julius Silver Professor of Neural Science, Economics, and…
Research Cases
October, 2016

Building the Next Generation of Early Warning Systems in Education

Paul Glimcher, Ph.D., Director, The Human Project; Julius Silver Professor of Neural Science, Economics, and…
Anonymous group of people walking across a pedestrian crosswalk on a New York City street with a glowing sunset light shining in the background Research Cases
September, 2016

Using Big Data to Understand the Human Condition

Okan Azmak, Hannah Bayer, Andrew Caplin, Miyoung Chun, Paul Glimcher, Steven Koonin, and Aristides Patrinos,…
Portrait of a couple Research Cases
August, 2016

Long-Term Care in the Family Context

Andrew Caplin Ph.D., Director, Scientific Agenda The Human Project; Deputy Director, ISDM New York University…
Farmers Market Research Cases
April, 2016

Measuring Consumer Expenditures with Payment Diary Surveys

Scott Schuh Ph.D., Director, Consumer Payments Research Center; Senior Economist and Policy Advisor, Research Department, Federal Reserve…
Father and daughters playing jump-rope Research Cases
April, 2016

What Can We Learn About Parenting from Big Data?

Ariel Kalil Ph.D., Professor, The Harris School of Public Policy, The University of Chicago; Director, Center for…
boy sitting outside playground fence Research Cases
April, 2016

Large-scale Characterization of the Forces that Shape Adolescent Brain and Behavior

BJ Casey Ph.D., Director, Sackler Institute for Developmental Psychobiology; Professor of Developmental Psychobiology, Weill Medical College of Cornell…
Unrecognizable young mother with her son in sling Research Cases
April, 2016

Poverty, Stress and Brain Development in Infancy and Early Childhood

Clancy Blair Ph.D., Professor of Cognitive Psychology, Department of Applied Psychology, Steinhardt School of Culture, Education,…
Old Apartment Buildings in New York City Research Cases
April, 2016

Life Adversity during Sensitive Periods of Brain Development: Social & Economic Impact

Regina Sullivan, Ph.D., Prof. of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, New York University School of Medicine; Research Scientist at…
NYC MTA subway train on Line 7 in Queens Research Cases
April, 2016

Engineering Data for Advancing Scientific Theory and Public Policy

Andrew Caplin, Director, Scientific Agenda, The Human Project; Deputy Director, ISDM, New York UniversityThe era of big data offers…
Taking A Stroll Through Brooklyn Bridge Park Research Cases
April, 2016

High Resolution Analysis of Human Exposure to Air Pollution

Andrew Caplin, Director of Scientific Agenda, The Human Project; Deputy Director, ISDM New York University Masoud Ghandehari,  Associate Professor,…
Grandmother, Children, Grandchildren Pose for Selfie, Care Home in Background Research Cases
April, 2016

The Past, Present, and Future of Measuring Change

Peter Meindl, Ph.D student, Department of Psychology, University of Southern California Christopher Wiese Ph.D., Post-Doctoral Researcher, Department of Psychological…
a diligent student making notes Research Cases
February, 2016

Family Decision Processes and the Quality of Secondary Schooling Decisions

Dr. Pamela Giustinelli, Ph.D.,Research Assistant Professor, Survey Research Center, Institute for Social Research, University of…
woman sitting on steps outside a residence Research Cases
December, 2015

Big Data and Big Cities: The Promises and Limitations of Improved Measures of Urban Life

Edward L. Glaeser, Fred and Eleanor Glimp Professor of Economics, Harvard University; Advisor, The Human Project Scott…
Research Cases
October, 2015

Diets and Health: How Food Decisions Are Shaped by Biology, Economics, Geography, and Social Interaction

Adam Drewnowski, Ph.D., Director, Center for Public Health Nutrition, University of Washington; Director, Center for…
Research Cases
October, 2015

When Is It Important To Make Choices

CASS R. SUNSTEIN, Robert Walmsley University Professor, Harvard University; Founder and Director, Behavioral Economics and…
Chinese ladies playing cards in Columbus Park, NYC Research Cases
October, 2015

Risks and Outcomes of Cognitive Decline

Dr. Kenneth Langa, M.D./Ph.D., Senior Leadership, U.S. Health and Retirement Study; Associate Director, Institute of Gerontology, Univ. of Michigan; Professor…
man At The News Stand Research Cases
October, 2015

How Genetic and Other Biological Factors Interact with Smoking Decisions

Dr. Laura Bierut, M.D./Ph.D., Alumni Endowed Professor of Psychiatryand Co-Director, Outpatient Psychiatry Center, Washington University in St.…
View of Brooklyn - New York Research Cases
October, 2015

Mapping the Phenome

Dr. Dennis Ausiello, Ph.D., Chief of Medicine, Massachusetts General Hospital; Director, Center for Assessment Technology and Continuous Health…
Young couple eating together at home Research Cases
October, 2015

Diet, Economics, and Health in the Family and Community Context

Dr. Adam Drewnowski, Ph.D., Director, Center for Public Health Nutrition; Director, Center for Obesity Research; Professor, Dept. of Epidemiology,…
Couple running in Brooklyn Research Cases
September, 2015

Self-Control and its Failure: Inter-Temporal Dimensions of Health Behavior

Warren Bickel, Ph.D., Director, Addiction Recovery Research Center; Professor of Psychology, College of Science; Professor of…