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What is Data Science?

Answer by A Quora admin: Alex Gessner,

Data Science is a really fantastic mix of art and skill. It’s about digging into data to find the story. It’s pure exploration, and if you have enough data, you can look down and check your footing at each step. If you like finding meaning in chaos, music in noise, or words in one of those word search puzzles, you’ll probably enjoy data science.

Realistically, like most interesting tasks, it’s about tradeoffs. There’s the ever-present exchange of bias for variance and often starkly different measures of performance like calibration vs. discrimination. There’s lots of good stuff about ROC curves out there if you’re interested in these sorts of tradeoffs. For example, a model for breast cancer risk detection will obviously have different false positive to true positive requirements than a simple recommendation engine. Telling someone who has breast cancer that she doesn’t is obviously a much bigger problem than guessing some online user wouldn’t enjoy a blog post that they actually would have clicked on.

(pulled from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Receiver_operating_characteristic)

Data Science can be about finding an answer to a very specific question, or it can be about just finding something meaningful to run with later. I’ve found academic research tends to be a little more of the latter. Realistic constraints often mean that you can’t always build the most absurdly accurate model you can muster because it’s too slow, uninterpretable, or not generalizable in the right way. Data science is about working with what you have and sometimes being really creative to bring in a new source of data or look at what you already have in a totally different way. Data sets are often enigmatic, but finding meaning is always a super rewarding feeling, and sometimes you even get to exclaim “AHA!” about some wonderful discovery.

What is it like to be a data scientist?

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