MAY 1, 2012 4:19am ET

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Data Management is Based on Philosophy, Not Science


There's a joke running around on Twitter that the definition of a data scientist is “a data analyst who lives in California.” I'm sure the good natured folks of the Golden State will not object to me bringing this up to make a point. The point is: Thinking purely in terms of marketing, which is a better title -- data scientist or data philosopher?

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Comments (15)
Absolutely the nerdiest thing I will ready today... and I loved it. What you lay out is not so much that data management is a science, but actually a tool of science. So what then is data analysis? Research?

I for one, love the term 'data scientist'. I think it lends credibility to a growing field of analysts.

Thank you for writing this article!

Posted by Jody C | Tuesday, May 01 2012 at 10:51AM ET
I have a couple of philosophy degrees, primarily focused on epistemology, logic, and math. I think you're dead on, and I probably do more straightforward philosophy in a week than my counterparts in academia. There's three areas I use my education all the time:

1. Data modeling is classic foundational analysis. Its a mix of semantics and logic, and while it may look to outsiders like metaphysics, its not metaphysical at all. See e.g. Montague's project at UCLA to reduce language to logic. 2. Business Intelligence is all about justification - which is the branch of philosophy called Epistemology - or how we *know* that something is the case. Classically "knowledge" is defined as "justified true belief" but there are many theories of how this works. I'm personally more of what's called a "reliabilist." 3. MDM is actually the problem of meaning, or how it is that you can discover the referent of two senses. The classic example is "'the morning star' denotes 'venus'" and "'the evening star' denotes 'venus'", but "morning star" and "evening star" are not the same thing, in much the same way one shouldn't use maiden name and married name or mailing address or billing address interchangeably.

There are a few of the gray-hairs with wing-backed chairs left, sadly fewer than there used to be. But for the most part the philosophers you're referring to are as likely to be influencing people at Xerox PARC, SRI or Microsoft as they are to be teaching introductory logic for the 30th time.

Posted by David G | Tuesday, May 01 2012 at 11:10AM ET
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