6 reasons why computer science is a science

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Have you ever thought that computer science could actually not be a science? There are plenty of voices who claim so, since the very beginnings of this discipline. The main argument for not considering computer science an actual science is that science deals with fundamental laws of nature. Since computers are manmade, computer science is considered an erroneous term, and information technology is preferred by the anti-computer science camp. The answer to this dilemma depends on how we understand science and what we consider as the object of study for computer science. Let’s see some points of view that support the pro computer science position:

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1. Computer science follows the scientific paradigm

As long as scientific paradigm is the process of developing hypotheses and testing them through experiments, computer science meets the criteria of a proper science. Moreover, successful hypotheses become models used to explain and predict world phenomena. What computer science does is to study information processes and computers are used to test hypotheses. Research in the field makes it possible to use models to build better programs with fewer defects.

2. Computer science does study naturally-occurring processes

Computing qualifies as an exact science because it studies information processes which occur naturally in the physical world; furthermore, computer science is used for prediction and verification. Computer science does not study computers, which indeed are manmade, but information processes, which can be both natural and artificial.

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3. All the generally accepted criteria that make a science are met by computer science

According to Peter Denning, a professor at the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, California, who is advocating that computing is a science, says that computer science satisfies all the accepted criteria of being a science, and those criteria include: an organized body of science, an experimental method to test hypotheses, a track record of non-obvious discoveries, and an openness to any hypothesis being falsified.

4. Computers are not at the center of computer science

The definition of computer science being the study of phenomena surrounding computers is not correct. It has been discovered that computation is not performed only by computers – in 2001, Biology Nobel Laureate David Baltimore said that cellular mechanisms are natural computational means to read DNA and construct new living cells, which has determined Denning to realize that “Computation is the principle, the computer is simply the tool”. Ultimately, computers are tools to study information processes which already exist in nature.

5. Computer science has a set of principles

According to the same before mentioned author, the principles of computer science can be organized in seven categories: computation, communication, coordination, recollection, automation, evaluation, and design. The seven categories are not principles in itself, but groups of principles.

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6. “Computers have as much to do with computer science as telescopes have to do with astronomy”

This quote is attributed to Edsger W. Dijkstra, a Dutch computer scientist, and its full version is: “[Computer science] is not really about computers — and it’s not about computers in the same sense that physics is not really about particle accelerators, and biology is not about microscopes and Petri dishes…and geometry isn’t really about using surveying instruments. Now the reason that we think computer science is about computers is pretty much the same reason that the Egyptians thought geometry was about surveying instruments: when some field is just getting started and you don’t really understand it very well, it’s very easy to confuse the essence of what you’re doing with the tools that you use.” – it is a famous quote which supports Denning’s point of view by using some very accomplished figures of speech.
Does this all mean that computer science is not such a fortunate term and computational science should be used instead, since the science in debate deals with computing processes? Apparently, computer science and computational science are two different things, and computational science is “the application of mathematical models to computations for scientific disciplines.” The latter is closer to engineering, while computer science sticks more to the scientific part.

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To conclude with, computer science is indeed a misleading name, and could better be named computing science, since computing is the application of systematic treatment to information. The name of computer science though continues to be preferred because the term is too familiar and has been used since 1956. However, the term computing science is being used by multiple departments of major universities, which like to emphasize the difference. Another term which is in use in Scandinavian countries is datalogy, which suggests that the discipline is about data and data treatment. Yet another alternative term is data science, proposed by Peter Naur – who was the first professor in datalogy at the Department of Datalogy at the University of Copenhagen, founded in 1969.

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So, those who say that computer science is not a science are somewhat right – computing science is the real term in question, and computing science really is a science.

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