Title: What can shapes teach us? Leveraging functional data in biomedical applications.
Abstract: Among the deluge of data that surrounds us, some can be – naturally and rather usefully – represented as curves unfolding over a continuous domain, say time. Think of children’s growth curves, or of the curves depicting deaths or cases during an epidemic. This type of data, called functional data, has shapes – and statisticians have developed powerful approaches to leverage the rich information it conveys. The lecture will start with an informal introduction to functional data and some of the techniques that allow us to analyze it. Next, we will illustrate how functional data analysis can support biomedical research with applications concerning childhood obesity and the spread of COVID-19 in Italy. We will conclude with some words of caution on the perils associated with the use of sophisticated and powerful methodology, including functional data analysis.