Introduction to Data Science

Data science is a multi-disciplinary field that uses scientific methods, processes, algorithms and systems to extract knowledge and insights from structured and unstructured data. Data science is the same concept as data mining and big data: “use the most powerful hardware, the most powerful programming systems, and the most efficient algorithms to solve problems”.

Data science is a “concept to unify statistics, data analysis, machine learning and their related methods” in order to “understand and analyze actual phenomena” with data. It employs techniques and theories drawn from many fields within the context of mathematics, statistics, information science, and computer science. Turing award winner Jim Gray imagined data science as a “fourth paradigm” of science (empirical, theoretical, computational and now data-driven) and asserted that “everything about science is changing because of the impact of information technology” and the data deluge.

In 2012, when Harvard Business Review called it “The Sexiest Job of the 21st Century”, the term “data science” became a buzzword. It is now often used interchangeably with earlier concepts like business analytics, business intelligence, predictive modeling, and statistics. Even the suggestion that data science is sexy was paraphrasing Hans Rosling, featured in a 2011 BBC documentary with the quote, “Statistics is now the sexiest subject around.” Nate Silver referred to data science as a sexed up term for statistics.

In many cases, earlier approaches and solutions are now simply re-branded as “data science” to be more attractive, which can cause the term to become “dilute[d] beyond usefulness.” While many university programs now offer a data science degree, there exists no consensus on a definition or suitable curriculum contents. To its discredit, however, many data-science and big-data projects fail to deliver useful results, often as a result of poor management and utilization of resources.

“Data science” has recently become a popular term among business executives. However, many critical academics and journalists see no distinction between data science and statistics, whereas others consider it largely a popular term for “data mining” and “big data”. Writing in Forbes, Gil Press argues that data science is a buzzword without a clear definition and has simply replaced “business analytics” in contexts such as graduate degree programs. In the question-and-answer section of his keynote address at the Joint Statistical Meetings of American Statistical Association, noted applied statistician Nate Silver said, “I think data-scientist is a sexed up term for a statistician….Statistics is a branch of science. Data scientist is slightly redundant in some way and people shouldn’t berate the term statistician.” Similarly, in business sector, multiple researchers and analysts state that data scientists alone are far from being sufficient in granting companies a real competitive advantage and consider data scientists as only one of the four greater job families companies require to leverage big data effectively, namely: data analysts, data scientists, big data developers and big data engineers.

On the other hand, responses to criticism are as numerous. In a 2014 Wall Street Journal article, Irving Wladawsky-Berger compares the data science enthusiasm with the dawn of computer science. He argues data science, like any other interdisciplinary field, employs methodologies and practices from across the academia and industry, but then it will morph them into a new discipline. He brings to attention the sharp criticisms computer science, now a well respected academic discipline, had to once face. Likewise, NYU Stern’s Vasant Dhar, as do many other academic proponents of data science, argues more specifically in December 2013 that data science is different from the existing practice of data analysis across all disciplines, which focuses only on explaining data sets. Data science seeks actionable and consistent pattern for predictive uses. This practical engineering goal takes data science beyond traditional analytics. Now the data in those disciplines and applied fields that lacked solid theories, like health science and social science, could be sought and utilized to generate powerful predictive models.

In an effort similar to Dhar’s, Stanford professor David Donoho, in September 2015, takes the proposition further by rejecting three simplistic and misleading definitions of data science in lieu of criticisms. First, for Donoho, data science does not equate to big data, in that the size of the data set is not a criterion to distinguish data science and statistics. Second, data science is not defined by the computing skills of sorting big data sets, in that these skills are already generally used for analyses across all disciplines.Third, data science is a heavily applied field where academic programs right now do not sufficiently prepare data scientists for the jobs, in that many graduate programs misleadingly advertise their analytics and statistics training as the essence of a data science program. As a statistician, Donoho, following many in his field, champions the broadening of learning scope in the form of data science, like John Chambers who urges statisticians to adopt an inclusive concept of learning from data, or like William Cleveland who urges to prioritize extracting from data applicable predictive tools over explanatory theories.Together, these statisticians envision an increasingly inclusive applied field that grows out of traditional statistics and beyond.

For the future of data science, Donoho projects an ever-growing environment for open science where data sets used for academic publications are accessible to all researchers.US National Institute of Health has already announced plans to enhance reproducibility and transparency of research data. Other big journals are likewise following suit.This way, the future of data science not only exceeds the boundary of statistical theories in scale and methodology, but data science will revolutionize current academia and research paradigms. As Donoho concludes, “the scope and impact of data science will continue to expand enormously in coming decades as scientific data and data about science itself become ubiquitously available.

The above is a brief about Data Science. Watch this space for more updates on the latest trends in Technology.

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