Data science is not a science, it is a set of methods scientists use. Therefore, it is a proper subset of everything real scientists already practice on the daily, and not a new invention at all. But why bother? Why is it problematic at all? Why not let people have their fancy name degrees and just live your life, unbothered?
First of all, I am living my life just fine while also being able to have negative opinions on things and practices I disagree with. It is an incredibly flat and arrogant belief that it is in any way a contradiction to have strong opinions of something, and at the same time be chill.
Time and time again, I have seen people get mad in the online space for simply reading an opinion I or somebody else wrote from the perspective this article will focus on. Then they go to my profile, see a yoga picture and tell me “Okay, Karen, I guess you haven’t done enough yoga yet, lol” like… “because you don’t seem perfectly zen 24/7 muahaha.” That cheap gotcha moment, and I mostly ignore that kind of thing. But I still find it incredibly stupid and maybe somewhat annoying.
Why does it matter to me what people call »science«?
I studied physics in university. A German university. Getting in is easy here. Getting out also. Getting through not. The only subject I found harder than my own would’ve been mathematics. I have the highest respect for that field.
In my opinion, there are objectively easier and more difficult subjects to study. Yet people seem to demand the same kind of respect for every one of them. I don’t appreciate that idea at all. Same as I think a firefighter deserves more respect than someone who writes off people for parking in the wrong spot–preferably while smirking. One is saving lives, the other is maybe, at best, if you’re very generous, saving some people a little bit of time and anger, while usually being a jerk about it on top. One is inherently (i.e. by profession and commonly observed work ethic) likable, the other (also by their profession and commonly observed work ethic) is not. One is essential to society, the other is 90% a bullshit job and 10% poisoned-by-arrogance public service. They’re not the same.
Also, how phony is it that really almost everyone is practically thinking this, and saying it behind closed doors, (i.e. hating the guy who writes you a ticket, btw. we have special people for that, the police does not bother with it here in Germany), but then out in public the same guys are being like “Well everybody deserves respect!”. For what? Breathing, eating and shitting?
Respect is organically earned, it can never be demanded
No. I do not deserve respect for merely existing and just doing something everybody can do. I mean, maybe there are different forms of respect, but usually, colloquially the distinction is not made, is it? Like, sure you can say every human deserves to be respected, as in being treated well, not having their private space invaded, being heard out etc. That I agree with 100%. But what I am talking about is that deeper level of awe, appreciation or admiration that we think of when we imagine a firefighter, an athlete or someone doing surgery on your spine.
Admirational respect is usually bound to someone doing something exceptional, difficult, helpful to society or meaningful on a fundamental level. Scientists do that. They discover the things that hold our planet together, make life easier or help us understand what we are. By the way, and I mean this absolutely non-judgemental, within this lies also the distinction from engineering. Engineering does all of that too, but mostly without trying to formulate the most complex and fundamental theories. Without so much math, if you will.
Now, that’s just my opinion, but I actually think that philosophy is the most fundamental science of them all, even if it’s not counted in today, because the methodology isn’t formally mathematical. But just think about it. A philosopher actually can formulate a mathematical proof, verbally so. It’s not far away really, in terms of logic.
So, thinking about it like that really leads you back to the basics. The question of what the fundamental sciences are, and why other subjects are just derivatives or subsets or don’t even qualify as sciences. Thus, we come back to the four big ones: Mathematics, physics, chemistry and biology.
In a wider sense, now a lot of closely related fields can also be called sciences, and the reason is that they are directly derived from these mother sciences. Computer science is a mix of engineering and physics, and you learn some solid state physics when studying it. Medicine is a direct derivative of biology, employing chemistry and also some very primitive physics. And so on…
Now how do we come to the hard part, where do we draw the line? Personally, I think the word “hard science” is reserved for these four mentioned above. Not just because they are the moms of all the others, but because they are just the toughest to study. I would not touch mathematics. I have what I call… respect.
And I am not offended in the slightest if a mathematician sticks it to me and wipes the floor with the approximations physicists sloppily make everyday to have it easier. It will not crush my soul, it works for me, and it’s still at a level of difficulty that 99.9*% of people will never even touch on. Good enough for me.
So no, I do not get it when people who studied social sciences, psychology or politics are offended that mathematicians and physicists don’t want to hang out with them and say they can read their papers for breakfast. In general, the level of difficulty of some derived sciences (still sciences, but derivatives), are simply lower than what we have to learn. So yes, it is a piece of cake for me to read a psychology paper. I don’t even need to look up the terminology because I also have a nursing degree and I had Latin in school. And the rest is a mix of scientific methods I know from my own field, logic and common sense. Can I go out and treat someone using that? Of course not. But I have not yet met a psychologist who would even be able to get through the first page of my B.Sc. thesis before coffee, or after. So no. Shut up. We are not the same.
Data »science« is a method, that’s all it is.
Now data “science” is mostly a trend as of now, and it’s really just a way to generate useful idiots who will accept massive underpay in the IT industry and elsewhere, so companies don’t have to pay what scientists and engineers demand.–I mean, you study 5 years and then do a PhD on top, you want your money. HR and management however are generally stupid, and they prefer “quick and dirty” over “correct, thorough and slightly slower”, especially if it comes with a huge wage drop. So of course everyone is advocating for some bachelor’s degree that makes you a master of none.
I think these students are really malignantly tricked into thinking they will be at the top of new developments in society because they got all hyped up during 2020, when R dashboards for Covid case views were all the rage. But that’s over now, and data science hasn’t really graduated from its un-humble beginnings.
Instead, we’re now seeing whole-ass bachelor degrees in this “field” popping up. And to me as a physicist, it is a fucking joke. These universities are selling something as a degree that we do on our left ass cheek all day already! That we do in our sleep. It is ridiculous.
On the daily, physicists and actually all other scientists use each and every method data »scientists« need to study for. How stretched out, how over-elaborated must that degree be? How wordy, lengthy and bloated can you make something, so you can fill years of modules with this basic crap?
It reminds me of that one time I attended a “mathematics for economics” lecture. It was by far the most primitive and absurd math class I have ever seen, and even the professor looked like he was suffering (but I guess it’s fine, easy money, cause that shit is zero effort for a mathematician). I could’ve summed up the content of the first 4 weeks in one hour. Yet the people “studying” this thought it was hard. That kind of stuff is exactly what is happening for “data science” now. 100% the same thing. These students sit in there, thinking their shit is hard, when it’s really diarrhea close to the molecular density of water.
In German, there is a saying: “Aus etwas eine Wissenschaft machen…” = to make a science out of something. And it is used whenever someone takes something maybe moderately complex or easy and makes it into a whole bunch of overcomplicated shit. That’s what’s happening.
To a scientist, »data science« is at the level of »common sense«
The thing is just that you can’t really make something a science in real life. First of all, scientists will never take it seriously. They look right through you. They laugh at you. They are at best annoyed by you. You need to publish in your own magazines for a reason. Because they don’t want you, they don’t need you, and they don’t respect you. To us, you are frauds.
Nobody is saying it to these people’s faces, but the reason is that we don’t care enough and we don’t have time for silly debates. I am writing this article out of fun, to rant a little. But at the end of the day, do I care about what a “data scientist” thinks they know or thinks about me? (Haha. No.) Someone who studied a derivative of a derivative of several sciences and doesn’t really scratch the surface of any of them, yet thinks of themselves as universally educated? Bro…
I even have a data science “degree” myself, so I know what I’m talking about. And I did that on the side while working full-time and having a baby. That is how easy it is. It really is that worthless. The only way it can seem hard, is if you are coming from a field that is even less abstract and even more basic, and then you’re like “Oh wow, math, plotting, code, awww!”. Maybe, to someone coming directly out of high-school, data science might seem like a thing. Might sound cool too. But to people in the hard sciences it sounds like a really lame joke.
Because not all we do is work with data, and we still do it perfectly well without any outside help. We generate, clean, analyze and process our own data–on a daily basis. We never called that anything but “work”. It’s part of the process, it’s not its own thing.
To me, making “working with data” its own degree is like calling boiling water “to cook”. Sure you can talk all evening about the boiling point of water, describing it without really understanding the physics, taking pictures of a pot with some steam, cool. But you’re not a chef and no chef has a need for your “knowledge”.
But why is it bad?
The whole process of stylizing–that’s all it is–basic scientific techniques into their own fields or even degrees is damaging to science and the industry. It leads to unnecessary decentralization, wage dumping, outsourcing etc, and it can only disturb the communication between scientists and graduates working in the industry.
We do certainly not need another little badly-maintained wheel in the machine that is adding its chatter to the noise. Science is about unification, generalization and abstraction. The power of knowledge lies in simplicity. And all the people who are crying out for these new degrees are doing is over-complicating things that were initially simple. They are filling books with redundant texts and elaborating on basic math. My advice for you: If you are not good and naturally talented at math, don’t study some derivative of math. Don’t even look that way. Do something else.
University being hard is a good thing. Mathematics being the most difficult of all sciences is a good thing. Physics being objectively and measurably harder than e.g. psychology is a good thing. Not everybody can do everything. Or needs to. There is no reason to make science accessible to those who are not gifted at understanding it. There is no need to water down definitions for those who do not naturally just get it.
This might sound harsh, but really think about it. What good does it do if everything is made easy? Not everyone has the same IQ or talents. There need to be differences in difficulty and subject. I could not study sports, and that’s fine. Nothing about that offends me. And so, I really don’t get why people are trying so desperately and ridiculously to be accepted as “scientists”. I don’t try to be called an athlete just because I go figure skating several times a week. My kid however is an athlete. And I can see perfectly fine how her training, her level and talent differ from mine. How we are not the same, and I admire it! I accept that wholeheartedly. And I don’t try to be something I am not. I am staying in my lane, and I am just fine over there.
What kind of superiority complex do you need to have to be mad at people who don’t see you as a peer when you are the one appropriating their profession. How fucking entitled. Like, when literally all you do is copy their methodology from the lab and insert it into your simple banal statistical work, add some primitive code I can learn on a weekend, and then go on about it all day like it’s hard. I’m not even going to dignify this with a question mark.
Here is the solution
Now, my rant is over. Please note, I am sitting on my computer, I’m actually very calm. I’m just shaking my head a little, exhaling smoothly, stunned that I wrote all these mean words. Yet I will not take them back, because I find them true and honest. But I do want to provide a solution with my criticism. I find it not so valid when people don’t offer alternatives, yet shit on a topic for two handfuls of paragraphs.
So. Instead of calling yourself a “data scientist” you should call yourself a “data analyst”. Or if you want to be fancy, just an “analyst”. It is vague enough to not be offensive to scientists, and it sounds a little like you’re working with some government agency. (I imagine that’s the kind of thing these interpreter script kiddies with no hard programming skills find attractive, lol.) Just use that, and you will describe what you do just fine, and everyone will know what you mean.
Otherwise, I promise you hat every single scientist hearing you call yourself a “data scientist” just secretly rolls their eyes. And rightfully so. We are fed up with this nonsense, you’re not one of us. And the mere fact that so many of these people studying for these “degrees” or promoting them are trying to get accredited, get accepted by the scientific community, already shows how absurd the whole debate is.
You demand we take you in, yet you don’t respect us by not actually pursuing real science, and not doing the work. You want a cheap fast-track seat at our table by not even doing the bare minimum.
The only way to become a scientist is to study a science.
The only way to become a scientist is to study science. And, woohoo!, if you still want to then, you can work with data all day. (Or become a theoretical scientist, yes, they still exist and some only work with pen and paper. But it’s rare.) And here is the thing: I promise you, 100%, if you would actually study a classic science or derived science, you would end up being educated at such a high level, after that you would have lost all desire to still call yourself a “data scientist”.
Such desire only exists in foxes who can’t reach the grapes. If you study a real science, you will feel that immense pride that comes with doing something that is actually difficult, soul-sucking and exhausting; overcoming constant hardship, spending nights at the library, working on your exercise sheet up to 30 seconds before you have to hand it in. If you have never shared that experience, you have simply not earned your right to join our ranks.
Gatekeeping academic professions is a good thing
I think the reason many people hate gatekeeping so much is because they did not study something that is hard enough and that they were deeply passionate about, so they are not feeling protective of it. But I do. Many scientists do. We want to keep our craft clean and difficult at the top-level. We don’t want it to be accessible. We don’t want it to be easy and doable. What would be the point in that?
Again, you can not take pride in something nearly everyone is capable of. It does not earn you respect in the sense of admiration. Nothing easy ever does. And that is okay. That is how it is supposed to be. If everyone gets a medal for participating, then what is the benefit of competing? There’s none. If everyone can call themselves a scientist, what is the point in calling it science?
You know the answer to that, and even if you won’t admit it, you can feel how the missing acceptance is weighing down your joy, I am sure it does. But I don’t feel sorry for it. I don’t have the slightest desire to tell people what they want to hear over what they need to hear. I feel protective of what I and many like me have worked so hard for. If you want respect, pay respect. If you want to be a scientist, study a science. That’s all it takes, and if it is too much for you, you should be okay with not calling yourself something you’re not.