Data science

The last few weeks have been pretty busy on the assignment front as there were three in total due in the last couple of weeks, two maths and one statistics so I am really only catching on up on things here.

I started studying mathematics and statistics for a couple of reasons; (i) I liked mathematics a lot as a kid, but when push came to shoved aged 17, languages got higher up the priority list and (ii) the amount of data in the world is increasing; the number of people equipped to interpret it however doesn’t seem to be increasing. Also increasing are the number of people creating information graphics and data visualisations.

Some people are very good at this. The New York Times, for example, do sterling work in this area, as does the Office for National Statistics in the UK.

Some are not so good in interpreting underlying data. I’ve seen one absolutely beautifully drawn graphic that purported to display the strength of FaceBook in the social media world which compared FaceBook pageloads with Flickr image uploads. A fairer comparison would be pageloads for both sites. And this is a very simple criticism.

In other words, without a reasonable grounding in data analysis, it probably isn’t guaranteed that good datagraphics are going to appear.

Big Data is a buzzword which is turning up in my newsfeeds increasingly often. I’m not always sure what people understand by it but it is definitely flavour of the month and so we turn to this report from Silicon Republic on the subject of support for data science courses.

I am of the opinion that STEM (not sure I like that term for science, technology and maths courses but it has its uses) is definitely something worth investing in the future. However, like a lot of things, important and all as it is, it isn’t often adequately rewarded economically. Here, there are debates about how much people working in universities get paid; typically in the UK, funding for research is falling, and a lot of privately funded research is moving out of the UK, or its validity is being criticised purely on the grounds of the commercial nature of its funding (see pharmaceutical research as an example here – it is difficult to make any conclusion without some accusation of bias). In certain respects, research into options for the future is between a rock and a hard place.

EMC are best known to me for data storage. It’s interesting to see one of their senior guys talking about the importance of data science and I’d be interested to know if it’s coming from their interest in providing storage for large, nay massive quantities of data, or whether they also have some interest in how that information is organised. Obviously the big name in terms of how information is organised is Google. I will be interested to see if UCC do actually put a data science course together.

In the meantime, I have another 3-4 years of my own maths/stats to go and no doubt, the industry will change a bit again in that time.


Shortchanging investment in the future

Via Ninth Level, I find myself reading of all things, a Fianna Fail press release.

I can’t find a news report confirming the matter but feel the need to comment on it anyway:

At a major conference on Ireland’s competitiveness in Croke Park today, Minister Quinn attempted to defend his decision to abolish the Modern Languages in Primary School Initiative (MLPSI) by saying that he has bought several German cars in his lifetime but never needed to speak German to do so.

Release was issued by Averil Power, Fianna Fáil Seanad Spokesperson on Education.

No doubt a key reason we cancel initiatives like this could include the fact that we’re effectively bankrupt at the moment, don’t have money, the initiative is not really delivering, but that’s not, apparently what Ruairi Quinn said.

I have a declaration of interest. I speak fluent French and very good German. I’ve lived in France, Belgium and Germany. I have had that opportunity because I speak foreign languages.

Currently, on the propertypin, there is a discussion regarding schools in Dublin and while it covers a number of aspects of secondary schooling, there are comments from parents for whom language learning is very important. In other words, the mere purchase of a German designed car is not the only thing people might have ever used German for.

We also have calls from various business men for us to teach Chinese. I’ve written about this in the past also with a view to the practical implications of such an idea (clue – I’m not totally certain a blanket policy on Chinese because Richard Barrett, a business man with interests in China, says we should implement it). The point here is that there is an interest in teaching our young people other languages.

We suck at it. I’ve written about this in the past on one of my other sites and my view can be summed up as the country just being lazy at learning languages. We do not put in the effort, same as we don’t really put it into maths and science either. We could try a whole lot harder.

The comment attributed to the current Minister for Education just underlines that.



Leaving certificate maths.

I’m prone to complain about the streamlining and simplification of the maths syllabus here so having come across this blog post on aperiodical by Card Colm, I think it’s worth noting some of the points raised in it that just have not occurred to me.

Regardless, a system such as this ensures that one has some idea of what incoming university students know about mathematics.  Every single one of them has had 12 years of maths without a break.  It simply isn’t optional.

This is true, in my experience. Maths, of some description, is mandatory right up to the leaving certificate.

This is all in stark contrast to the situation in the USA, where I currently live and teach. There, there is essentially no guaranteed minimum level in mathematics that one can expect an incoming university student to have achieved. Some have not taken mathematics for several years before they show up at the gates of third level institutions.

I find this astonishing in many ways.

We complain quite a bit about maths coverage here and while I’d venture to say it’s been better in the past, I wonder, in truth, just how badly we are doing.

Viz, there is a debate going on in the UK regarding maths teaching up to the age of 18. Timothy Gowers has posted on this today and there is some interesting stuff there too. It’s also worth noting Christian Perfect’s comments on Card Colm piece above if you click through to Colm’s piece.