For those who are interested in a brief history of Data Science

13 October 2015

The field of data Science and the role of a Data Scientist feels relatively new as it has only really hit mainstream media in the last few years. The term started being used as a job title after employees of Facebook and Linkedin started calling themselves Data Scientists in 2008 and there has been a proliferation of Data Science roles across almost every industry on the planet, from medical research and marketing to betting and BI. A true a data scientist can only use the word 'scientist' if they apply the scientific method to their work - the majority of so called data scientists don't do that – however this is a whole other blog post.

However the history of data science is over 40 years and the evolution of the term shows how it is closely aligned with both statistics and computer science.

Peter Naur used the term in 1974, within his survey of the contemporary data processing methods, here it was used interchangeably with the term computer science. Computer science won that one and Data Science did not really rear its head again until the late 1990’s when the term was used in the title of the conference ("Data Science, classification, and related methods") of the International Federation of Classification Societies (IFCS) in 1996.


In 1997  C.F. Jeff Wu gave the inaugural lecture entitled "Statistics = Data Science?" where he characterized statistical work as a trilogy of data collection, data modelling/analysis and decision making. Wu campaigned for statistics to be renamed data science and statisticians data scientists, this obviously didn’t happen and data scientists are more than just statisticians but it shows the intrinsic link between the two fields.

It was in 2001, that the notion of data science as an independent discipline was put forward by William S. Cleveland, stating that is was an extension of the field of statistics to incorporate "advances in computing with data". He put forward six technical areas which he believed to encompass the field of data science: multidisciplinary investigations, models and methods for data, computing with data, pedagogy, tool evaluation, and theory.

Things accelerated form here with the Data Science Journal being published in 2002, The Journal of Data Science in 2003 (largely devoted to the application of statistical methods and quantitative research) and in 2005, The National Science Board published a paper defining Data Scientists’ as having the primary purpose of "conducting creative inquiry and analysis."

Things have obviously accelerate over the last 5-6 years with Data Science now being a commonly used term and increasingly common job title. Data Science is nowhere near its peak, many companies are only just looking at how to utilise the data that they produce and larger multi-nationals have only recently, if at all, found a spot for a Chief Data Officer to co-ordinate proceedings.

What we do know was that with the data being produced and the analytical tools available it is certain that this field is not going away and will have increasing prominence over the coming years

More detailed history can be found in this article

Here is a similar article on the history of big data

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