The Curated History of Data Science, Part 1


Manage episode 218658733 series 1951941
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Who were the people pushing the limits of their time and circumstances to bring us what we know today as data science? We examine what motivated them to do their important work and how they laid the foundations for our modern world where algorithms and analytics affect everything from communications to transportation to health care—to basically every aspect of our lives. This is their story. Transcript: Ginette: “She was obsessed with her failure—she thought she hadn’t done enough. And it didn’t matter that the public saw her as a heroine. So she ended up writing an 830-page report where she employed some power graphics, and this paired with her other efforts ended up changing the entire system.” Ginette and Curtis: “I’m Ginette, and I’m Curtis, and you are listening to Data Crunch, a podcast about how data and prediction shape our world. A Vault Analytics production.” Ginette: “In our last three episodes, we have just thrown you into the middle of data and prediction and the explosion of data science. And some of you have had some questions, like, How did data science become a thing? “In the next three episodes, we’re doing a miniseries where we’re going to address some of these questions, and I think you’ll find it very interesting. Our story starts with an impressive woman. “It’s 1854. It’s the Crimean War, and a woman shows up at a hospital to help. She finds horrifying conditions. To paint an accurate picture for you, here’s a little bit of what she found: the sewage and ventilation systems were broken; the floor was an inch thick with waste—probably human and rodent; the water was contaminated because, come to find out, the hospital was built over a sewer; rats were hiding under beds and scurrying past, as were bugs; and the soldiers’ clothing was swarming with lice and fleas; and on top of that, there were no towels, no basins, no soap, and there were only 14 baths for 2,000 soldiers. Keep in mind this was 20 years before Pasteur and Koch spread Germ Theory. “So she and the 37 nurses that she brought with her set to work, and they did their best to clean up the hospital and help the soldiers. Eventually, because of her, the government sent a sanitary commission. They flushed the sewers; they improved the ventilation. And this helped the situation dramatically. In the end, she reduced the death rate by two thirds. “But Florence Nightingale went home feeling like she had failed, which you’ll remember we mentioned right at the beginning of the podcast. She felt a lot of soldiers had died needlessly. This drove her to write her famous 830-page report. And she ended up working with lead statistician William Farr, who actually helped invent medical statistics. He would say to her, ‘We don’t want impressions, we want facts.’ And working under that type of context, she gathered vast amounts of complex army data and analyzed it to find something rather shocking: 16,000 of 18,000 deaths in hospitals were not due to battle wounds but to preventable diseases spread by poor sanitation.” “So these statistics completely changed her understanding. She thought the deaths were due to inadequate food and lack of supplies, but after the sanitary commission came in, she noticed that the mortality rate dropped significantly. So as Florence prepared her report, she was afraid that people’s eyes would glaze over the numbers and that they wouldn’t grasp the significance of what she was trying to say. So she came up with a clever way to present her data: she ended up using graphics, in particular what she’s known form the rose chart, to convey her message.” Curtis: “Nowadays, charts are everywhere, but back in her day, the idea of creating a picture that was defined by certain data points was not very common, and so the fact that Nightingale thought to do this was very innovative and clever, and it was important because it was able to communicate what she needed to communicate. “Her mentor,

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