Chapter 1

Introducing Data Science

In this chapter we introduce the concept of data science and try to pin down a definition that is useful: as with many of the concepts we look at in the book “data science” is a bit of a nebulous term.   A lot of us are content with the idea that data science is what data scientists do, and of course this is true.  But just as brain surgeons practise medicine, so too do most of us, in our way – we are medically literate and this is of benefit to us and to society as a whole.  And the same is true of data literacy, which, by and large, is achieved by having some understanding of the field that is called data science.

It is my contention that everybody should be data literate because it inoculates us from being fooled / controlled.  And I think it is self-evident that a critical mass of data literate citizens provides a society with herd-immunity against manipulation and stupidity.

Anyway, Chapter 1:  there are no down-loadable resources for this chapter – all we use is an analogue thermometer.

If you can’t find an analogue thermometer I wouldn’t worry about it – I think Chapter 1 works just as well as a thought-experiment.  The effects we observe and discuss are small and it is inevitable that some people will not perceive a measurement error, which is what the activity in the chapter revolves around.  Then in Chapter 2 we begin to use digital tools; there is an exercise later in the chapter where we compare analogue and digital thermometers.  After that we dispense with analogue for the rest of the book, so in all cases where they are used you can work through the exercises without the thermometer and still achieve the required insights.

And bear in mind that the data science journey that the book is designed to take you on starts in familiar territory: throughout the book, and the early chapters in particular, you will find bits and pieces that you are familiar with.  The intention is to string these all together into a coherent whole: not just a body of knowledge, but also a set of real world skills.