A reading club with a view to the future

429 Chris Wiggins, Matthew L. Jones: How Data Happened

“How Data Happened” explores the historical development of data science, tracing its origins and examining its impact on society.



In "How Data Happened," Chris Wiggins and Matthew L. Jones delve into the fascinating history of data science and its profound impact on our world. The book takes readers on a journey through time, exploring the origins of data science and the various forces that have shaped its development. From early statistical methods to the rise of machine learning and big data, the authors uncover the key milestones, breakthroughs, and challenges that have defined the field. They highlight the interplay between technology, culture, and society, revealing how data science has transformed industries, governments, and individuals' lives. Through engaging storytelling and thought-provoking analysis, Wiggins and Jones provide a comprehensive account of the evolution of data science and its ongoing influence on our data-driven world.


  1. Title: "How Data Happened"
  2. Authors: Chris Wiggins and Matthew L. Jones
  3. Publishing year: 2022
  4. Publisher: Basic Books
  5. Length in hours: 10 hours and 27 minutes

5 main ideas

  1. Historical foundations of data science: The book explores the early roots of data science, including the emergence of statistics and the evolution of data analysis techniques over time.
  2. Technological advancements and data revolution: The authors delve into the technological developments that paved the way for the data revolution, such as the advent of computers, the internet, and the proliferation of digital data.
  3. The rise of big data: The book examines the exponential growth of data and the challenges and opportunities presented by the era of big data, including issues of privacy, security, and data governance.
  4. The impact of data science on society: Wiggins and Jones explore how data science has reshaped industries, influenced policy-making, and transformed various aspects of our everyday lives, from healthcare to entertainment.
  5. Ethical and societal implications: The authors discuss the ethical considerations and societal implications of data science, including issues of bias, algorithmic fairness, and the responsible use of data in decision-making.

5 funny quotes

  1. "If data could talk, it would probably say, 'I'm just a bunch of 1s and 0s, but boy, do I have stories to tell!'"
  2. "Data is like a treasure chest, waiting to be unlocked with the right key of analysis."
  3. "In the world of data science, correlation does not always mean causation, but it can certainly make for some interesting theories."
  4. "Sometimes data can surprise us and reveal patterns that make us scratch our heads and say, 'Well, that's unexpected!'"
  5. "Data scientists are like modern-day alchemists, turning raw data into valuable insights."

5 thought-provoking quotes​

  1. "Data is not just numbers. It is the stories we tell ourselves about the world, the mirror through which we see ourselves."
  2. "The power of data lies not only in its quantity but in the narratives it enables us to construct and the decisions it influences."
  3. "Behind every data point, there is a human story waiting to be uncovered."
  4. "Data science is not just a technical field; it is a social and cultural phenomenon that shapes our understanding of the world."
  5. "In the age of data, the biggest challenge is not collecting information but making sense of it and using it responsibly."

5 dilemmas

  1. Balancing privacy and data utility: How can society strike a balance between protecting individual privacy and utilizing data for societal benefits, such as healthcare advancements or urban planning?
  2. Ethical considerations in data collection and analysis: What ethical guidelines should govern the collection, analysis, and use of data to ensure fairness, transparency, and accountability?
  3. The challenge of data bias: How can we mitigate biases that can be embedded in data sets and algorithms to ensure fair and unbiased decision-making?
  4. Data ownership and governance: Who should have control and ownership over personal data, and how can data governance frameworks be developed to protect individuals' rights?
  5. The impact of automation on jobs: As data-driven technologies automate tasks and job roles, how can society ensure a smooth transition and provide opportunities for reskilling and upskilling the workforce?

5 examples

  1. IBM: The book explores the role of IBM in advancing data science, including their early efforts in developing mainframe computers and their contributions to statistical analysis.
  2. Alan Turing: The authors discuss the influential work of Alan Turing in the field of computing and his pioneering contributions to machine learning and artificial intelligence.
  3. Google: The book examines the impact of Google's search algorithms and their ability to process massive amounts of data to provide relevant search results.
  4. Netflix: The authors highlight how Netflix leverages data to personalize recommendations for its users and optimize content creation and distribution.
  5. Cambridge Analytica: The book discusses the controversial case of Cambridge Analytica and its misuse of data for political manipulation, raising questions about data privacy and ethical considerations.

Referenced books

  1. "The Signal and the Noise: Why So Many Predictions Fail – But Some Don't" by Nate Silver
  2. "Dataclysm: Who We Are (When We Think No One's Looking)" by Christian Rudder
  3. "Weapons of Math Destruction: How Big Data Increases Inequality and Threatens Democracy" by Cathy O'Neil
  4. "The Data Warehouse Toolkit: The Definitive Guide to Dimensional Modeling" by Ralph Kimball and Margy Ross
  5. "The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable" by Nassim Nicholas Tale

Share a quote

"If data could talk, it would probably say, 'I'm just a bunch of 1s and 0s, but boy, do I have stories to tell!'"

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