Fred's Rant on Data Science Degrees

Fred's Rant on Data Science Degrees

Readers possibly remember Fred Ross, who wrote a strong criticism of bioinformatics and bioinformaticians. We enjoyed it so much that we posted links to all of Fred’s Rants. Fred is back with his assessment of data science degrees being offered by various universities.

Why we are afflicted with data science degrees

A friend sent me an article about the masters and graduate certificate programs in data science springing up around the country. I think it was meant solely to stir me up. He knows me well.

Well come back to the peculiar thing that is data science later. Lets look at these programs first. Theyre teaching basic probability and descriptive statistics, how to design a study and analyze it, how to make decent plots, linear regression in its various forms, and enough understanding of programming to get some work done. Some add on some domain knowledge on business.

Thats excellent material, and the undergraduate students at University of Washington or Northwestern or Columbia or the various schools offering these programs should be screaming bloody murder, or at least demanding their tuition back. Those arent graduate topics! Those are the basics you should expect from anyone with a technical degree! Okay, if you hired someone who studied a basic science like physics or chemistry you might now expect the business knowledge, but an engineer had better have it. This isnt a subject. Its part of numeracy.

They are very much teachable to the undergraduates. A good hunk of the data science certificate gets taught to physics majors in one semester of their second or third year at University of Virginia as Fundamentals of scientific computing. I single out University of Virginias class as an example because I happened to be there when it started in 2005, and remember talking about what should be in it with Bob Hirosky, its creator. My friends were the teaching assistants.

Read the rest here

We agree with much of what Fred says. Recent rise of ‘data science’ buzzword seems to suggest as if science of last few centuries was done without analyzing data. However, we do not agree with Fred’s last paragraph on fault assessment.

Thats right: if youre a professor in a technical department, it is your fault that these certificates exist. You have failed your students, and the world is paying a price in buzzwords.

Fred seems to think of American universities as some kind of places of scholarship built in the model of Plato’s Academy of Athens. In contrast, the American colleges and universities are full-fledged businesses with added benefit of not having to pay taxes. We recommend Fred to read Veblen’s essay on this matter written ~100 years back.

The Higher Learning In America: A Memorandum On the Conduct of Universities By Business Men

Written by M. //