Provide the following information for the Senior/key personnel and other significant contributors in the order listed on Form Page 2.
Follow this format for each person.


Ayers, John W.


Vice Chief of Innovation,

Infect. Disease & Global Public Health

University of California San Diego

eRA COMMONS USER NAME (credential, e.g., agency login)


EDUCATION/TRAINING  (Begin with baccalaureate or other initial professional education, such as nursing, include postdoctoral training and residency training if applicable.)



(if applicable)



California State University, Bakersfield



Political Science

San Diego State University



Political Science

Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health



Behavioral Sciences

Harvard-MIT Health Sciences & Technology



Data Science

A.        Personal Statement

Dr. Ayers is committed to getting the public back in public health, by harnessing big media data (including Internet search queries, news media, social media, and online networks) to listen to the public voicing their health needs in near real time. Beginning in 2011 he showed electronic cigarettes were the most popular smoking alternative on the market, being the first to predict their rise. This study has been followed by several examples of unique discoveries making public health science more responsive to the public and more effective in the process. For instance, his recent JAMA Internal Medicine report describing how Charlie Sheen’s HIV-positive disclosure prompted record-levels of public engagement with condoms, HIV symptoms, and HIV testing was covered in more than 6,000 news outlets and trended on both Facebook and Twitter. The publication of this report was later linked to a significant increase in HIV testing and made more impactful by partnering with several medical device makers to implement follow-up campaigns encouraging at-home HIV testing and condom use. His work has also been trans-disciplinary (e.g., he has published with more than 60 different collaborators, from more than 50 different research institutes representing many fields, such as applied mathematics, climatology, communications, computer science, economics, engineering, political science, sociology, and more). Dr. Ayers has published more than 60 peer-reviewed articles and several commentaries/op-eds, many of which rank in the very top of Altmetric’s research rankings (including one study that ranked among the top 1,000 most circulated articles of all time). He has an h-index of 27 (27 publications with 27 or more citations). Dr. Ayers is a frequently featured expert in the international media, including coverage in traditional news (e.g., ABC, BBC, CBC, CBS, CNN, Fox, NBC, NPR, etc.), tech or business focused news (e.g., Bloomberg, Forbes, Popular Science, Scientific American, Wired, etc.), and entertainment news (e.g., Dr. Drew, Dr. Oz, Perez Hilton, Rolling Stone, Saturday Night Live, etc.). Dr. Ayers is committed to promoting rapid improvements in public health science and leveraging public health science to save lives.

B.        Positions and Honors

Positions and Employment

2018-                Vice Chief of Innovation, Division of Infectious Disease & Global Public Health

2018-                Faculty, Department of Medicine, University of California San Diego

2016-                Co-Founder, Good Analytics, San Diego, CA

2013-                Faculty, Graduate School of Public Health, SDSU, San Diego, CA

2011-                Founder, Health Watcher, Baltimore, MD


Honors (selected)

2007         1st Runner Up California State University Research Competition in Behavioral and Social Science (among 23 universities and 417,000 students)

2008        Most Outstanding Graduate, Political Science, SDSU, San Diego, CA

2011        Most cited research article published the same year in the Am J Prev Med

2013         TEDx San Diego, La Jolla, CA

2013        Most cited research article published the same year in the Am J Prev Med

2015        Citation Award, Society of Behavioral Medicine

2016        Citation Award for Research Excellence, SDSU Office of the President

2016        Citation Award, Society of Behavioral Medicine

2017        Citation Award for Research Excellence, SDSU Office of the President

2017        Innovator in Regulatory Science, Burroughs Wellcome Fund

C.        Contributions to Science


Dr. Ayers has led a systematic and continuously funded research agenda on novel public health surveillance, including some of the earliest studies to use big data in tobacco control, psychiatric epidemiology, obesity prevention, etc.. This agenda has resulted in several discrete discoveries with broad potential to change public health: The discovery of seasonal patterns across nine types of mental illness. The discovery of circaseptan (day of the week) patterns in smoking cessation contemplations and weight loss contemplations, and the first prediction of the rise of electronic cigarettes in 2011. It has concurrently resulted in new scientific approaches to data analytics. He led the development of an open-access alternative to Google Flu Trends relying on artificial intelligence algorithms that yielded more accurate forecasts every week than any other domestic influenza forecasting system –those forecasts are still running live today. He also developed a data mining strategy to quantify the precise health concerns of the public using a one-off machine learning algorithm of his own design.        

  1. Ayers JW, Althouse BM, Dredze M. Could behavioral medicine lead the web data revolution? JAMA. 2014;311(14):1399-1400.
  2. Ayers JW, Althouse BM, Allem JP, Rosenquist JN, Ford DE. Seasonality in seeking mental health information on google. Am J Prev Med. 2013;44:520-525.
  3. Ayers JW, Althouse BM, Johnson M, Cohen JE. Circaseptan (weekly) rhythms in smoking cessation considerations. JAMA Intern Med. 2014;174:146-148.
  4. Santillana M, Zhang D, Althouse BM, Ayers JW. What can digital disease detection learn from (an external revision to) Google flu Trends? Am J Prev Med. 2014;47(3):341-347.
  5. Althouse BM, Allem JP, Childers MA, Dredze M, Ayers JW. Population health concerns during the United States’ great recession. Am J Prev Med. 2014;46:166-170.
  6. Ayers JW, Leas EC, Allem JP, et al. Why do people use electronic nicotine delivery systems (electronic cigarettes)? A content analysis of Twitter, 2012-2015. PloS One. 2016;12:e0170702.


Novel big data has the potential to revolutionize health communication. For instance, awareness campaigns are ubiquitous, but little is known about their potential effectiveness because traditional evaluations are often unfeasible. Dr. Ayers led the development of a novel evaluation framework for assessing awareness campaigns that directly observes how awareness campaigns unfold: a) a message is propagated in news media, b) some of the public then amplifies the message by sharing it on social media, c) this motivates some to seek out additional information related to the message online, such as on Google or Wikipedia, and d) finally some are motivated to act on the message by initiating the targeted behavior change. The result is more work in health communication is based on evaluations and data-driven strategies where the outcomes are efficiently and directly observed using big media data.      

  1. Ayers JW, Nobles AL, Dredze M. Missed Opportunities: Awareness of SAMSHA’s Addiction Treatment Resources in Free Media Following a Celebrity Overdose Manuscript Type Research Letter. JAMA Internal Medicine;In Press.
  2. Noar, SM, Leas EC, Althouse BM, Dredze M, Kelley DE, Ayers JW. Can a selfie promote public engagement with skin cancer? Preventive Medicine. 2018;111:280-83.
  3. Leas EC, Althouse BM, Dredze M, Obradovich N, Fowler JH, Noar SM, Allem JP, Ayers JW. Big data sensors of organic advocacy: The case of Leonardo DiCaprio and climate change. PLoS One. 2016;11:e0159885.
  4. Ayers JW, Westmaas JL, Leas EC, et al. Leveraging big data to improve health awareness campaigns: A novel evaluation of the Great American Smokeout. JMIR Public Health and Surveillance. 2016;2(1):e16. 
  5. Ayers JW, Althouse BM. “Tips from Former Smokers” can benefit from considering all available data. Am J Prev Med. 2015;49(6):133-134.
  6. Noar SM, Ribisl KM, Althouse BM, Willoughby JF, Ayers JW. Using Digital Surveillance To Examine The Impact Of Public Figure Pancreatic Cancer Announcements On Media And Search Query Outcomes. JNCI: J National Cancer Institute. 2013;47:188-194.

Rapid Response

To demonstrate the value of data analytics for a responsive public health Dr. Ayers often responds to emerging events to provide actionable insights, often when no other scientific data are available. Within this theme he has focused on an array of outcomes, including, climate change, gun control, HIV screening and testing, distracted driving, etc. For instance, he described how Pokémon Go was increasing cases of distracted driving and even accidents calling for supply-side regulation for one of the first times in driving safety. The publication of this work in JAMA Internal Medicine, and its surrounding publicity pressured the game’s maker to ultimately restrict play at some driving speeds. These studies often involve collaborations with boots on the ground public health advocates, such as the American Automobile Association, American Cancer Society, OraSure Technologies, Everytown for Gun Safety,  LELO Hex, to name a few.

  1. Caputi TC, Nobles AL, Ayers JW. Help Seeking for Sexual Harassment and Assault Awareness, Reporting, and Training Following the #MeToo Movement. JAMA Internal Medicine; In Press.
  2. Ayers JW, Althouse BM, Leas EC, Allem JP, Dredze M. Web searches for suicide increase following the release of Netflix’s ‘13 Reasons Why.’ JAMA Intern Med. 2017;177(10)1527-29.
  3. Ayers JW, Leas EC, Dredze M, Allem JP, Grabowski JG, Hill L. Pokémon Go: A new distraction for drivers and pedestrians. JAMA Intern Med. 2016;176(12)1865-66.
  4. Ayers JW, Althouse BM, Leas EC, Alcorn T, Dredze M. Can Big Media Data Revolutionize Gun Violence Prevention? Bloomberg Data for Good Exchange Conference. September 25, 2016.
  5. Ayers JW, Althouse BM, Dredze M, Leas EC, Noar SM. The Charlie Sheen effect: News and Internet searches for HIV. JAMA Intern Med. 2016;176(4):552-554.
  6. Ayers JW, Althouse BM, Allem JP, et al. Revisiting the rise of electronic nicotine delivery systems using search query surveillance. Am J Prev Med. 2016; 50(6):173-181.

Classical Epidemiology & Social Sciences

Dr. Ayers is a classically trained epidemiologists and social scientist. He has published more than 25 reports using traditional data in public health, sociology and political science journals. His expertise in this arena is focused on study design (including observational and experimental data), survey design, measurement validity, and statistical methods with emphasis on time series analyses, random effects, and causal inference. His classical work is usually focused on minority or disadvantaged populations, including the first study of American Muslims’ behavior, understanding the role of racism toward Latinos for determining support for public resource allocation, understanding how acculturation affects health, understanding the role of social networks and health (e.g., how the effect of networks is modified by the gender of the ego or the cultural setting of the ego), and assessing the needs of sexual minorities; to name a few. These studies are highly cited in their respective fields and subfields.

  1. Caputi TC, Smith LR, Strathdee S, Ayers JW. Substance Use Among Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Questioning Adolescents in the United States, 2015. AM J Public Health. 2018;108:1031-34.  
  2. Caputi TC, Smith D, Ayers JW. Suicide Risk Behaviors Among Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Unsure Adolescents in the United States, JAMA. 2017;318(23):2249-51.
  3. Leas EC, Ayers JW, Strong D, Pierce JP. Which cigarettes do Americans think are safer? Tob Control. 2016;tobaccocontrol-2016-053334.
  4. Ayers JW, Hofstetter CR, Hughes SC, et al. Gender Modifies the Relationship Between Social Networks and Smoking. Int J Public Health. 2010;55:609-617.
  5. Ayers JW. Measuring English Proficiency and Language Preference: Are Self-reports Valid? Am J Public Health. 2010;100:1364-1366.
  6. Ayers JW, Hofstetter CR, Schnakenberg K, Kolody B. Is Immigration a Racial Issue? Anglo Attitudes on Immigration Policies in a Border County. Soc Sci Qtrly. 2009;90:593-610.

Complete List Of Published Work: | 

D.        Research Support

Ongoing Research Support

Tobacco-Related Disease Research Program 587873        Ayers (PI)                 07/01/18-06/30/21

Tobacco Posts on Social Media of Vulnerable, At-Risk Groups

We will identify Twitter users in California by key demographic characteristics (location, age, race/ethnicity, gender, and socioeconomic status) and extract their tobacco relevant feedback using data driven research strategies to support more agile tobacco control strategies, responsive to the needs of Californians.

Role: Principal Investigator

California HIV Research Program OS17-SD-001        Ayers (co-PI)                 04/01/18-03/31/21

Californians Talk HIV: Using Social Media to Get Steps Ahead

The goal of this study is to extract actionable intelligence from abundant public social media comments to support evidence-based decision making and stay one step ahead of HIV. The research challenge is developing a process that can funnel millions of public comments into a clear feedback mechanism to inform HIV prevention and control practice.

Role: co-Principal Investigator

Burroughs Wellcome Fund         Ayers (PI)                 09/01/17-08/31/22

Innovation in Regulatory Science  

Increasing public participation in the regulatory process will help regulators be more responsive to the public, resulting in more efficient and effective regulation. We will increase public input by extracting actionable feedback regarding government regulations from public social media comments. This process will effectively increase rulemaking participation by passively including millions of citizens.

Role: Principal Investigator

Completed Research Support

Institute for Global Tobacco Control        Ayers (PI)                 01/01/14-12/10/17

Real-Time Media Surveillance for Data Driven Tobacco Control Advocacy  

Based on our demonstrating the real-time value of big media data this project aims to support the development of the first real-time big media data driven public platform for tobacco control scientists and advocates. The alpha platform is available at

Role: Principal Investigator

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention        Ayers (PI)                      08/20/17-03/12/18

Health Cohort: Real-Time, Nationally Representative Social Media Surveillance

Monitoring social media to fill public health surveillance  gaps is promising, but a major barrier is selection bias (tweeters do not represent the US population). This proposal develops Health Cohort, a cohort, purposively sampled to match the US demographic profile. Just as demographic probability sampling serves as basis of validity for surveys, this purposive selection of Twitter accounts yields more informative insights.

Role: Principal Investigator

NIMH R21MH103603        Ayers (PI)                      04/01/14-04/01/17        

Mental Health Trends: A Real-Time Sentinel for Mental Health Surveillance

This project is designed to provide real-time digital surveillance of mental health outcomes (i.e., depression), for the real-time evaluation of public health programs.

Role: Principal Investigator

NCI RCA173299A        Ayers (co-PI)                 06/12/13-05/31/16

Tobacco Trends: A Real-Time Sentinel for Tobacco Control Evaluations 

This project is designed to provide real-time digital surveillance of the popularity of new tobacco products (i.e., electronic cigarette search queries) and changes in smoking cessation interest (i.e., quit smoking search queries), for the evaluation of population tobacco control measures being implemented by the FDA.

Role: co-Principal Investigator

American Cancer Society         Ayers (PI)                 01/01/14-12/31/14

Media Monitoring for Cancer Control This project was designed to explore the use of big media data analytics for cancer control efforts at the American Cancer Society, including the use of data across multiple platforms including news media, social media, Internet search, and telephone records.

Role: Principal Investigator

The Monday Campaigns        Ayers (PI)                 12/13/12-01/13/13

Is Monday the Healthiest Day?

This project was designed to evaluate if populations are more eager to take on healthier behaviors on Monday than other days of the week using digital proxies for behavior change (i.e., Internet searches or tweets) in several nations across several languages.

Role: Principal Investigator

Institute for Global Tobacco Control (sub-award)        Ayers (PI)                 12/01/12-12/01/13

Harnessing the Web for Real-Time Global Tobacco Control

This project was designed to demonstrate the feasibility of processing aggregate news and social media coverage for understanding the policy and social environment around tobacco control. Specifically, as part of this award we performed the first evaluation of World No Tobacco Day using news media (cessation awareness) and Internet search queries (cessation contemplations).

Role: Principal Investigator

Google Research Award        Ayers (co-PI)                 07/01/11-07/01/13

Using Aggregate Search Queries for Real-Time Mental Health Surveillance in the United States

This project was designed to demonstrate the feasibility of aggregate Internet search queries for mental health surveillance. This pilot project has informed the design of a much larger, global study. This project funded a period of my fellowship. 

Role: co-Principal Investigator