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Decision Scientists

The Job

Some people consider decision science to be just another version of data science, but while both types of scientists (who often work together on teams at large employers) utilize data, they use it to achieve different goals. Data scientists are more focused on the acquisition, quality, organization, and analysis of data, as well as the use of data to improve existing products and services or develop new ones. On the other hand, decision scientists consider data as just one of many tools that they use to make and improve the decision-making process in organizations and in other settings. They are less data specialists, and more jacks-of-all trades who have knowledge of data, but also a 360-degree view of the business, government agency, or organization; its employees; its strengths and weaknesses; and other information that they use to provide advice in a wide variety of decision making areas—from manufacturing, logistics, and supply chain management, and staffing, to human resources, marketing, and strategic planning.

Job duties for decision scientists vary significantly by employer. At a Fortune 500 company, they might conduct research and analyze data to assess the risks, costs, and benefits of launching a new product line or of their company accepting a merger offer. Other scientists might investigate why people do certain things such as purchase insurance, take unnecessary risks while boating or driving, or choose one vacation spot over another in order to help their companies make marketing, insurance underwriting, product development, or other types of decisions. Those who work for the U.S. Department of Defense might combine an analysis of factual data about an unfriendly country with a study of the potential for its leaders to make poor geopolitical decisions based on pride, overconfidence, or simple human error. These assessments help government leaders make decisions about how to interact with the leaders of the country and “game out” what might happen in a potential shooting war or if their home country initiates economic sanctions against that nation in response to its poor treatment of its citizens, for initiating unfair trade policies, or for developing banned nuclear weapons.

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