On the Term “Data Science”

I just love it when The Philosophical Breakfast Club is invoked in discussions of current issues in science, as one reason I wrote the book was to shed light on science today by looking at its history. On today’s “O’Reilly Radar,” Pete Warden discusses the legitimacy of the term “data science.” He brings in the book to argue against the objection that “It’s not a Real Science”:

“I just finished reading “The Philosophical Breakfast Club,” the story of four Victorian friends who created the modern structure of science, as well as inventing the word “scientist.” I grew up with the idea that physics, chemistry and biology were the only real sciences and every other subject using the term was just stealing their clothes (“Anything that needs science in the name is not a real science”). The book shows that from the beginning the label was never restricted to just the hard experimental sciences. It was chosen to promote a disciplined approach to reasoning that relied on data rather than the poorly-supported logical deductions many contemporaries favored. Data science fits comfortably in this more open tradition.”

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Whewell–who not only invented the word ‘scientist,’ but also “anode,” “cathode,” “ion,” and many others, would have appreciated the discussion of the legitimacy of a new term in this case. And all the members of the Philosophical Breakfast Club would have agreed that the term “science” did not just refer to physics, chemistry and biology. Indeed, as I argue in the book, they would have been dismayed by the erecting of walls between disciplines that they, inadvertantly, helped to bring about.

You can read the full posting on the O’Reilly Report here.

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