TITLE: Toward A New Data Science Culture in Academia AUTHOR: Eugene Wallingford DATE: November 14, 2013 2:55 PM DESC: ----- BODY: Fernando Perez has a nice write-up, An Ambitious Experiment in Data Science, describing a well-funded new project in which teams at UC Berkeley, the University of Washington, and NYU will collaborate to "change the culture of universities to create a data science culture". A lot of people have been quoting Perez's entry for its colorful assessment of academic incentives and reward structures. I like this piece for the way Perez defines and outlines the problem, in terms of both data science across disciplines and academic culture in general. For example:
Most scientists are taught to treat computation as an afterthought. Similarly, most methodologists are taught to treat applications as an afterthought.
Methodologists here includes computer scientists, who are often more interested in new data structures, algorithms, and protocols. This "mirror" disconnect is a problem for a reason many people already understand well:
Computation and data skills are all of a sudden everybody's problem.
(Here are a few past entries of mine that talk about how programming and the nebulous "computational thinking" have spread far and wide: 1 | 2 | 3 | 4.) Perez rightly points out that the open-source software, while imperfect, often embodies the principles or science and scientific collaboration better than the academy. It will be interesting to see how well this data science project can inject OSS attitudes into big research universities. He is concerned because, as I have noted before, are, as a whole, a conservative lot. Perez says this in a much more entertaining way:
There are few organizations more proud of their traditions and more resistant to change than universities (churches and armies might be worse, but that's about it).
I think he gives churches and armies more credit than they deserve. The good news is that experiments of the sort being conducted in the Berkley/UW/NYU project are springing up on a smaller scale around the world. There is some hope for big change in academic culture if a lot of different people at a lot of different institutions experiment, learn, and create small changes that can grow together as they bump into one another. -----