September 27, 2011

New "data scientist" is but old "statistician" writ large

Attention conservation notice: Defense of professional territory (or jursidiction) against potential rivals.

Cathy O'Neil has an interesting post up about "Why and how to hire a data scientist for your business". I confess that I have never been on the hiring end of such a decision, but everything she says sounds quite reasonable. What strikes me about it, though, is that the skills she's describing a good "data scientist" as having are a subset of the skills of a good statistician. At most, they are a subset of the skills of a good computationally competent statistician. These are even, at least here, undergraduate-level skills. Everyone who gets a bachelor's degree from our department has, after all, taken modern regression and advanced data analysis, and most of them respond to our promptings to take statistical graphics and visualization, data mining, and/or statistical computing. (IMHO, graphics and computing ought to be mandatory courses, but that's another story for another audience.) While I modestly admit to the unrivaled greatness of our undergrad program, I draw two conclusions:

  1. Other people re-inventing the job of statisticians under a new name is a sign that we really need to do better at spreading the word about what we know and what we can do.
  2. If you want a data scientist, get a CMU statistics major.

Obligatory disclaimer: I am, of course, speaking for myself and not for the department, much less the school.

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Update, 25 July 2012: a lengthy follow-up.

Enigmas of Chance; Corrupting the Young

Posted at September 27, 2011 13:31 | permanent link

Three-Toed Sloth