I was arguing with a friend the other day about what exactly the word "bioinformatics" means — specifically, we were debating what fields or areas of research are involved: if you were to draw a 3-n Venn Diagram, what labels would each of the sets contain?
We pretty much agreed on two of the sets: "Computer Science" and "Statistics", but we could not agree on the third. I argued about "biology", and they argued (correctly) that biology is too narrow a term: it leaves out areas like "clinical research", "microorganisms", etc.. We argued and argued and couldn't settle it, finally agreeing to disagree.
A couple of weeks passed and it still bugged me that they were right, biology was not the right term, even though its right there in the tin so to speak.
I consider Wikipedia's definition outdated: it describes bioinformatics as a field "that develops methods and software tools for understanding biological data." I think it was written by someone that believes that bioinformatics = BLAST. Yuck.
Also, as of this writing, the phrase "data science" or any other knowledge extraction buzzword, does not appear anywhere in Wikipedia's definition. However, Wikipedia's entry for Data Science is very interesting:
an interdisciplinary field about processes and systems to extract knowledge or insights from data in various forms
Which I think aptly describes what bioinformatics is all about: creating knowledge from data... but what kind of data? I don't think its a "kind", but rather what is the origin of the data? Sure, most of it comes from "biology", but I think that "Life Sciences" is a much better enclosing term:
The life sciences comprise the fields of science that involve the scientific study of living organisms – such as microorganisms, plants, animals, and human beings.
And so, our venn diagram becomes something like:
While not perfect, I think that these three terms encompass the fields that make up what we know as "bioinformatics" — and the the more I think about it, the more I think that bioinformatics is Life Science Informatics: Creating knowledge from life sciences data. Wikipedia's bioinformatics page contains this jewel:
Historically, the term bioinformatics did not mean what it means today.