21.081 why it's important (for CS) to be a science

From: Humanist Discussion Group (by way of Willard McCarty willard.mccarty_at_kcl.ac.uk>
Date: Wed, 6 Jun 2007 12:32:22 +0100

                Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 21, No. 81.
       Centre for Computing in the Humanities, King's College London
                     Submit to: humanist_at_princeton.edu

         Date: Wed, 06 Jun 2007 12:22:22 +0100
         From: Willard McCarty <willard.mccarty_at_kcl.ac.uk>
         Subject: why it's important (for CS) to be a science

In Ubiquity 8.3,
http://www.acm.org/ubiquity/interviews/v8i22_denning.html, referenced
elsewhere in today's batch of Humanist, is the following exchange
between an interviewer and Peter Denning, whose writings on computer
science are well worth reading:

>UBIQUITY: Why do you feel the science claim is important? Some
>people might wonder what difference does it really make. Could it
>perhaps be a distinction without an important difference?
>DENNING: Four reasons. (1) It's important for collaboration because
>it establishes credibility with the natural science fields with
>which we work closely. (2) It's important for innovation because
>someone who can see what principles govern a problem can look for
>possible solutions among the technologies that conform to those
>principles. (3) It's important for the vitality of our field because
>it helps us clarify the big questions that occupy us. Today's big
>questions overlap fields, such as biology's question, "What is the
>information process by which the organism translates DNA to new
>living cells? Can we influence or manipulate that process to heal
>disease?" (4) It's important for the advancement of science because
>natural information processes and natural computations are being
>discovered as part of the deep structures of many fields; we need a
>common language to discuss these phenomena. The Great Principles of
>Computing framework is such a language.

Some (such as Michael Mahoney) would point out that the term
"science" has several different meanings, i.e. that there are many
sciences, but let's let that point go for now. Whatever it is (or,
better, they are), Denning identifies these reasons for CS being one:

(1) credibility
(2) rationale
(3) interconnections with other fields of enquiry (his 3 & 4)

We've been struggling with the same basic needs. (Note that
credibility is not the same thing as popularity, nor is acceptance
for reasons of usefulness.) A few of us have been working on (2) by
tirelessly, and perhaps tiresomely, attempting to articulate what
humanities computing is. But now, it seems to me, the important thing
is (3), because getting it right will lead to satisfactory resolution
of the other two. CS achieves its interconnections by the fact that
all the sciences have developed computational sub-varieties. Thus,
for example, as a physicist said to me recently, there are three
kinds of physics now, theoretical, experimental and computational.
Perhaps we're going to see the development of similar sub-varieties
in each of the humanities. (Before anyone drags out that truly
tiresome quasi-Marxist argument about the withering away of
humanities computing, note that the vigour of the computational
sciences has not caused CS to wither!)

But what is our principle(s) of interconnection with the disciplines?
Is it (they) not ways or styles of reasoning?



Dr Willard McCarty | Reader in Humanities Computing | Centre for
Computing in the Humanities | King's College London |
Received on Wed Jun 06 2007 - 07:44:29 EDT

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