Data scientists

Nathan over at Flowing Data just posted an interesting piece on the emergence of a new class of scientists whose work focuses on the manipulation, analysis and presentation of data. The take home message is that in order to fully master the ability to understand and communicate patterns in large quantities of data that one needs to have some ability in:

  • Computer science – for acquiring, managing and manipulating data
  • Mathematics and Statistics – for mining and analyzing data
  • Graphic design and Interactive interface design – to present the results of analyses in an easy to understand manner and encourage interaction and additional analysis by less technical users

His point is that while one could get together a group of people (one with each of these skills) to undertake this kind of task, that the challenges of cross-disciplinary collaboration can slow down progress (or even prevent it entirely). As such, there is a need for individuals that have at least some experience in several of these fields to help facilitate the process. I think this is a good model for this kind of work in ecology, though given the already extensive multidisciplinarity required in the field I view this role as one occupied only be fairly small fraction of folks.

The other thing that I really liked about this post (and about Flowing Data’s broader message) is the focus on the end user. The goal is to make ideas and tools available to the broadest possible audience and sometimes often the more technical folks in the biological scientists seem to forget that their goal should be to make things easy to understand and simple for non-technical users to use. This is undoubtedly a challenging task, but one that we should work to accomplish whenever possible.

2 Comments on “Data scientists

  1. This sounds like a recipie for new contractor services to scientists, and in particular, federal scientists who increasing contract out lab, GIS, statistics, and graphics work. Of course, were this trend to continue, it would take all the fun ourt of being a sicentist. Still, with very large projects spanning multiple PI’s, insitutions, and fields, data managers become important.

  2. @David – That’s definitely an interesting idea. I didn’t know that there was an increasing trend for federal scientists to farm this kind of work out. I’ve actually been considering the possibility of trying to do some of that kind of contract work out of my lab. I’m sure that my students would rather play with other people’s data than TA 🙂

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