I still remember the first time I heard the term “data science”. It was thrown out by an account manager for one of those pricey IT consultancies my employer was so fond of. “Data science?” said my boss, a battle-scarred veteran of the IT wars. “That sounds like a bunch of statisticians who just got a raise.”

In her new book, “If Then: How the Simulmatics Corporation Invented the Future”, Jill Lepore provides an origin story for data science, or, as it was known back then: “massive data.”

Whether Simulmatics, a tiny company with a short life, actually invented the future of data science is in doubt. The New York Times put a more skeptical headline on its review of Lepore’s book: “The Bumbling 1960s Data Scientists Who Anticipated Facebook and Google.”

I lean more to the Times interpretation; Simulmatics anticipated the future, but it actually invented very little.

That doesn’t take anything away from Lepore’s book, which is a deeply researched, well-written journey through the early days of data science by one of the country’s best-known historians. Lepore is a professor of history at Harvard and writer for the New Yorker whose previous book, “These Truths”,: is a history of the United States.

#social-science #history-of-technology #data-science

In the beginning, there was Simulmatics
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