What is data science?
What exactly is data science? Professor Jaap van den Herik: ‘You can deduce an enormous amount of knowledge from data. As the amounts of data are expanding and their importance is being acknowledged by politicians and by society, a new need emerges for new forms of scientific research on the use of data. Hence, data science.’ Data science is oriented towards a broad spectrum of activities. From collecting, refitting and interpreting data to analysing and visualising. We also address the question how we can use data to solve complex problems. Eventually, data research will result in new connections and concepts such as new learning. ‘Actually, data science was already commonly used in physics and astronomy, to solve research questions on galaxies, for instance. The discovery of the Higgs particle is also an outcome of data science. The field of data science has evolved rapidly over the past few years.’
Professor van den Herik has taught Computer Science and Law at the Leiden Faculty of Law since 1988. In 2014, this professorship was extended to the Faculty of Mathematics and Physics and he was asked to establish the LCDS. ‘I became familiar with CBS during my professorship in Maastricht. At that time (1987-2008, ed.) we already enjoyed good cooperation and I played an advisory role in areas like artificial intelligence. When the LCDS was launched in 2014, CBS asked me to think constructively with them about new developments.’ Van den Herik was happy to accommodate this request.
However, says the founder of the LCDS, joint actions speak louder than words. This has led to several concrete projects between CBS and the LCDS. For instance, a talented CBS researcher is conducting PhD research at Leiden University in cooperation with the University of Amsterdam (UvA). His research focuses on the amounts of money circulating in cross-border e-commerce. In addition, students from the statistics department of Leiden University are following internships at CBS. The LCDS also organises training courses at public organisations and ministries, which are using increasingly large datasets. Among them is the Ministry of Infrastructure and Water management (I&W), where LCDS and the CBS collaborate as well.
‘We will only progress through collaboration, not just between faculties, but also with ministries and public and private institutions.’
Over the years, CBS has entered into various partnerships with universities and universities of applied sciences. CBS innovation manager Barteld Braaksma explains: ‘Our collaboration with Leiden University goes back a long way. We are happy to see our ties strengthening continuously, now also in the collaboration with the Leiden Centre of Data Science. Research on Big Data is not something to undertake on your own, you need input from others around you. Prof. Van den Herik has a very large network and this helps us find good partners. Besides, Leiden University has a great deal of knowledge in the field of big data and in other areas which are relevant to CBS such as cybersecurity.’
Be entrepreneurial with data
Braaksma delivered part of the LCDS training for policy-making staff at the Ministry of Infrastructure and Water Management (I&W). He looks back with pleasure. ‘The central theme was: be entrepreneurial with data. How does one become entrepreneurial in a public organisation? I provided several examples, mainly demonstrating that it is important not to stay behind your desk, but to venture outside, think outside the box. To engage with people and organisations that can bring relevant datasets, ideas and knowledge. We at CBS like to do so and we have seen how it immediately bears fruit in new collaborations.’
Technology versus society
As Prof. Van den Herik points out, data science should be a multidisciplinary science which extends across all university faculties. ‘After all, everyone is in some way involved in data and the tech-savvy scientists should not dictate other disciplines. There is a movement which says the world is ‘technology driven’. Then there are people who say it is driven by society instead. I am in favour of an equal contribution from both sides. We will only progress through collaboration, not just between faculties, but also with ministries and public and private institutions. I would like to contribute my share to such collaboration.’