How we became instrumentalists (Again): Data positivism since world war II

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

26 Scopus citations


In the last two decades, a highly instrumentalist form of statistical and machine learning has achieved an extraordinary success as the computational heart of the phenomenon glossed as “predictive analytics,” “data mining,” or “data science.” This instrumentalist culture of prediction emerged from subfields within applied statistics, artificial intelligence, and database management. This essay looks at representative developments within computational statistics and pattern recognition from the 1950s onward, in the United States and beyond, central to the explosion of algorithms, techniques, and epistemic values that ultimately came together in the data sciences of today. This essay is part of a special issue entitled Histories of Data and the Database edited by Soraya de Chadarevian and Theodore M. Porter.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)673-684
Number of pages12
JournalHistorical Studies in the Natural Sciences
Issue number5
StatePublished - Nov 2018
Externally publishedYes

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • History and Philosophy of Science


  • Big data
  • Computational statistics
  • Data mining
  • Data sciences
  • Instrumentalism
  • Leo Breiman
  • Pattern recognition


Dive into the research topics of 'How we became instrumentalists (Again): Data positivism since world war II'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this