Data science as a liberal art

I was asked recently to write a few paragraphs about how I feel data science as a liberal art, being as I am teaching Foundations of Data Science at a liberal arts college. Here's what I came up with.




Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash

A liberal arts education contains the essential knowledge that one needs to be an active participant in the world. Originally grammar, rhetoric, and logic, these were expanded to arithmetic, geometry, music, and astronomy by medieval times, and today everything from physics to literature, art to economics can be taught in a liberal arts context that helps the student to become a more informed and effective citizen and person.


In the modern world, data science is now essential education. As logic helps one to understand the essence of an argument and to avoid fallacies, so data science helps one to understand what can be learned from data and how to handle the enormous quantity of data freely available today while avoiding fallacious analyses and spurious conclusions.


Data science is more than just a collection of tools and tricks, and comprises a body of knowledge accumulated over time. The current term data science might only be a few decades old, but it draws upon centuries of ideas in statistics and mathematics, together with more recent ideas in computation and the sciences designed to assist the practitioner in the tasks of learning, making valid decisions supported by evidence, and organization so necessary to make data useful to anyone needing to make principled choices.

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