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.”

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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About the Author

Laura J. Snyder, Ph.D., is a science historian, philosopher and writer whose most recent book, The Philosophical Breakfast Club: Four Remarkable Friends who Transformed Science and Changed the World, was an Official Selection of the TED Book Club, a Scientific American Notable Book, and winner of the 2011 Royal Institution of Australia Poll for Favorite Science Book. It was also named an "Outstanding Academic Title" in history of science and technology by the American Library Association. Snyder is Professor of Philosophy at St. John's University in New York City and writes frequently about science and ideas for The Wall Street Journal. She is a Fulbright Scholar, a Life Member of Clare Hall College, Cambridge, and Past President of the International Society for the History of Philosophy of Science.

 She is currently working on a book about how new optical technologies in the 17th century revolutionized not only science, but also art and the rest of culture. Follow Laura Snyder on Twitter and Facebook.

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