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What is Data Science?

What is Data Science?

Our lives are measured, mapped, and recorded digitally—quite literally from birth to death. Whether we post something to social media, check the forecast on our phone, undergo a medical procedure, enter a search term in Google, or shop for weekly groceries, digital bits catalog our actions. It’s a constant, never-ending collection of data, generated by and about human behavior. And this just scratches the surface. Imagine the churning oceans of data that come from smart oilfields equipped with sensors that produce real-time data on everything from wellhead production to drill rig performance, the thousands of satellites feeding information back to their terrestrial handlers on everything from changing environmental conditions to the positions of enemy combatants in foreign theaters, the DNA sequences of every living thing we find relevant enough to explore …

The result is a vast universe of data growing at a rate of 2.5 quintillion bytes every day in the US alone. And all that data is collected with the ultimate goal of being organized, analyzed, and assigned a purpose.

Big data, is our new currency, and data science deals with how we tap into it. Data science is about digging into the furthest reaches of data, organizing it and making sense of it in the process, and then applying what we learn in groundbreaking ways.

As we collect, collate and curate an ever-growing library of data, the application of data science allows us to gain a better understanding of everything – from human behavior and market trends to genomics and biological systems, to the heretofore unseen particles responsible for atomic mass.

The Value of Data Science

Data scientists now have the ability to link seemingly unrelated datasets that may not have a relevant connection that is obvious upon initial investigation. This allows them to generate even more insights from their data assets. Data scientists have also adopted plenty of creative approaches to visualizing the data in a way that allows it be useful in making strategic decisions.

Data science profoundly influences everything from business decisions to national security to what consumer products we buy. It impacts retail markets, solves public health dilemmas, and even seeks solutions to the causal factors behind social unrest.

Its value in dollars cannot yet be fully quantified. It is estimated that as data science continues to evolve in just the healthcare sector it is not far from saving the United States some $300 billion annually (McKinsey Global Institute, 2015).

What makes data science so valuable is that its reach knows no bounds.

Just a few examples of data science in motion include:

  • A number of companies like Netflix and Amazon utilize “recommendation engines” to make watch-next suggestions based on the prior interests of their customers.
  • Retailers use algorithms based on big data to track the purchase habits of customers and then offer special discounts and coupons to those patrons.
  • Credit card companies use data mining to evaluate the risk of default among customers by examining their purchase habits.
  • Police departments turn to data science to predict where and when crimes are most likely to occur and then allocate their resources accordingly.
  • Public health agencies use data science to find associations between air quality and health, which allows them to recommend policy changes.
  • Data science enables researchers to identify genes that rose to prominence in the course of human evolution, which leads to vaccines and other medical breakthroughs.

By all estimates, we are in the midst of a data revolution. Sure, the quantity of data is certainly revolutionary, but what makes this time in history so amazing is that we can do something extraordinary with the data, thanks to improved statistical and computational methods.

In other words, data itself isn’t relevant, actionable, or interesting, but when we are able to dig into this ever-expanding treasure trove of information and make sense of it, the ability to improve lives is nearly immeasurable.


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