BCS, Royal Statistical Society, Alan Turing Institute combine to cement data science professionalism

BCS, the Royal Statistical Society and the Alan Turing Institute are combining to form an alliance to promote professional and ethical standards in data science

The BCS, the Royal Statistical Society and the Alan Turing Institute are among the bodies that have combined to set up a data science “alliance” to establish professional and ethical standards across the profession.

The Operational Research Society, the Institute for Mathematics and its Applications, and the National Physical Laboratory are also joining the effort, with support from the Royal Academy of Engineering and the Royal Society.

The bodies met in July, the BCS has announced, and will finalise some agreed standards in the autumn.

The standards will deal with the misuse of data in modelling and bias in artificial intelligence, as well as data breaches.

Paul Fletcher, CEO of the BCS, said: “We are excited to be working with our alliance partners to define and manage standards in the burgeoning area of data science. The pandemic period has further demonstrated that data science provides significant value in creating insight and improving decision making.”

The BCS itself called for higher ethical and professional standards in algorithmic development to ensure public trust in September 2020, following the exams debacle that beset UK education during the last cycle of A-Levels, GCSEs, and Scottish Highers.

Its report, The exam question: how do we make algorithms do the right thing? analysed the failings that led to Ofqual’s algorithmic exams fiasco to identify how principles of openness, accountability and objectivity can be embedded in the development of algorithms.

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It also published a paper in May 2020 that bewailed a lack of professionalism in software development in medical science in the context of the Covid-19 pandemic.

The formation of the Alliance seems to cap the previously announced work of BCS, the Royal Statistical Society and others to professionalise data science.

The Alliance is, said the BCS, governed by a memorandum of understanding which commits it to defining the “standards of professional competence and behaviour expected of people who work with data which impacts lives and livelihoods”. These will issue in data science certifications offered by the Alliance members, bolstered with “processes to hold certified members accountable”.

The standards will also be used to guide members in accrediting data science degrees, and the Alliance will create a single searchable public register of certified data science professionals.

Stian Westlake, CEO of the Royal Statistical Society, said: “Data science can be a powerful tool for businesses and governments. But just like established fields like engineering or medicine, it needs good standards to ensure it is used wisely and well.”

The founding chairperson for the Alliance is the Royal Statistical Society’s vice-president for Professional Affairs, Rachel Hilliam. The role will change on an annual basis, with its holders drawn from the constituent institutes.

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