A Natural Curiosity of How Things Work, Even If You’re Not Responsible For Them

Roger Peng

I just read Karl’s great post on what it means to be a data scientist. I can’t really add much to it, but reading it got me thinking about the Apollo 12 mission, the second moon landing.

This mission is actually famous because of its launch, where the Saturn V was struck by lightning and John Aaron (played wonderfully by Loren Dean in the movie Apollo 13), the flight controller in charge of environmental, electrical, and consumables (EECOM), had to make a decision about whether to abort the launch.

In this great clip from the movie Failure is Not An Option, the real John Aaron describes what makes for a good EECOM flight controller. The bottom line is that

A good EECOM has a natural curiosity for how things work, even if you…are not responsible for them

I think a good data scientist or statistician also has that property. They key part of that line is the “even if you are not responsible for them” part. I’ve found that a lot of being a statistician involves nosing around in places where you’re not supposed to be, seeing how data are collected, handled, managed, analyzed, and reported. Focusing on the development and implementation of methods is not enough.

Here’s the clip, which describes the famous “SCE to AUX” call from John Aaron: