In French, we use the term informatique for computer science, as the latter can be seen as the science that studies the treatment of information. Is informatics a synonym for computer science? If not, what is the difference?

  • 2
    by the way, in Dutch Computer Science is called Informatica, so almost the same :) – Ivo Beckers Jul 7 '14 at 7:17
  • Do you mean the latter or the former? – O. R. Mapper Jul 7 '14 at 7:33
  • 1
    If anything, this question is primarily opinion-based — but it is definitely not answerable with a dictionary, since the word informatics doesn't have a well-established meaning, nor is the extent of computer science consensual. – Gilles Jul 7 '14 at 12:37
  • @OR : I did mean the latter but now given the current answers it sounds like the right choice would have been former :) – Franck Dernoncourt Jul 7 '14 at 14:56
up vote 6 down vote accepted

It depends — different people use the words in different ways. Don't assume any particular nuance from the use of computer science vs. informatics without clarifying context.

Computer science is more commonly described among its practitioners as the science of computation than the science of information. While laypeople cannot be expected to understand what “science of computation” is, the term computer science is not nearly as prone to the interpretation “knowing how to fix your computer” like the word informatique is in French, due to containing the word science.

Informatics, on the contrary, is usually the science of information, often (but not always) with a focus on its social implications. The term information science also gets some use; it has a more consensual meaning covering how societies process information.

Just to add to the confusion, information theory has a precise meaning; it is the branch of theoretical computer science that studies mathematical models of information with a quantitative perspective.

Informatics is not a very common word and does not have a single widely-agreed meaning. Nuances and trends are still evolving. Wikipedia currently gives a particular meaning in its introduction section:

Informatics is - in a general sense - the science of information. As an academic field it involves the practice of information processing, and the engineering of information systems. (…) The field considers the interaction between humans and information systems alongside the construction of computer interfaces. It also develops its own conceptual and theoretical foundations and utilizes foundations developed in other fields. As such, the field of informatics has great breadth and encompasses many individual specialisations including the more particular discipline of computing science.

Certainly, by some definitions, everything that is listed here could be considered aspects of applied computer science. For example, human-computer interaction is often classified as bridging computer science with sociology and other fields. For example (more or less random), the CMU HCI Institute defines itself as “headquartered within the School of Computer Science, [but representing] a broad spectrum of the CMU campus including the College of Humanities and Social Sciences, Tepper School of Business, College of Fine Arts, Carnegie Institute of Technology, Software Engineering Institute, as well as the School of Computer Science.”

The history section and talk page provide differing perspectives on the word. It started out as a translation of the German Informatik and French informatique (which cover a wide range of meanings including computer science and information technology).

Wars (at least flame wars) have been fought over which term should apply to which concept, and whether X is a subdiscipline of Y or an overlapping discipline, etc. Tread with care, and define your terms.

  • That's a very clear and interesting answer to a not so clear concept. I don't know how people feel about cross-posting on ELL and ELU but this answer could very well answer that other question on ELU. – Laure Jul 7 '14 at 16:57
  • You didn't emphasize that the term "computer science" is completely misleading. Computer science is not the science of the computer. In my opinion, this expression is a lot worse to express what computer science really is than the case of "informatics", which can be interpreted as information automatized, which is also a little bit misleading because who studies informatics does not study just how to automatize information, but also studies theoretical aspects of computation. – nbro Dec 15 '16 at 17:19
  • In summary, I think that people use both terms wrongly. In my opinion, the most indicative term to generically describe what these people really do at the very end is "computation science", since this is all about computation, applied or not. – nbro Dec 15 '16 at 17:25
  • Of course the curricula changes from faculty to faculty, but at the least the term computer science is stupidly used (and it makes me think that people who invented this term really didn't know anything about "naming") and thus should be removed from the usage. – nbro Dec 15 '16 at 17:32
  • @nbro I favor “computing science” myself, but an overwhelming majority of the English-speaking world, and even of comput(er|ing|ation) scientists, use “computer science”. So from a language perspective, “computer science” is the term people need to know, and “comput(ing|ation) science” is a detail. “Computation science” has the downside of being extremely similar to “computational science” which has a completely different widely-accepted meaning. – Gilles Dec 15 '16 at 18:04

No, they are not the same, though they do have much in common.

Informatics is the study of information and its processing. This need not involve computers; for example, our brains perform massive amounts of information processing every day. US universities (according to a cursory web search) often treat informatics as the study of the intersection of computing and society (1, 2, 3).

Computer science is the study of mechanical computation and its applications. On the informatics page, Wikipedia lists computer science as a sub-discipline of informatics. CS, as many a joke about the field hints, is strictly technological and doesn't study society or its interactions with technology.

  • 2
    Thanks, but didn't E.W. Dijkstra say that Computer Science is no more about computers than astronomy is about telescopes? – Franck Dernoncourt Jul 7 '14 at 1:23
  • 3
    Your link indicates a dispute over whether or not he really said that. Regardless, I don't claim that CS is about physical computers, but mechanical computation - that is, computation performed by defined processes without intuitive or emotive leaps. See definition 3a here. – Esoteric Screen Name Jul 7 '14 at 1:30
  • I have a feeling like "No, they are not the same" could be expanded to "No, they are not the same in theory (while in practice they generally are)". – O. R. Mapper Jul 7 '14 at 7:38
  • 1
    The terms (especially informatics) have less consensual meanings than your answer suggest. Give it another 20 of 50 years and maybe the trends will have stabilized. – Gilles Jul 7 '14 at 12:36

As per Informatics and (et) Informatique, IEEE Annals of the History of Computing, Vol. 18, No. 2, 1996, both terms have the same meaning.

The fact that the term Computer Science is used instead of Informatics in the English language has nothing to do with them having different meanings. The terms Informatics (English) and Informatique (French) were each coined separately, by Walter F. Bauer in the USA and Phillipe Dreyfus in France, in the same month of the same year, March 1962. Bauer and Dreyfus were the founders of the companies Informatics General Corporation and Societe pour L’Informatique et Applique, respectively. In France, the term was adopted a few years later as a French word by the Academie française, and, adapted to local languages (Informática, Informatik, etc.), immediately spread across all of Europe. As part of Bauer’s company name, the English term Informatics was, however, protected by American law. This prevented its use (note that the Association for Computing Machinery applied to Bauer for permission to change its name to Society for Informatics and, on the advice of the company’s lawyers, was refused). In the English-speaking world, then, Computer Science or Computing, which were not protected, became popular and are now the terms in common usage. At any rate, when Bauer’s company went out of business, institutions in English-speaking countries, at the University of Edinburgh (UK), Indiana University (USA) or Flinders University (Australia), for example, began to adopt the name of School of Informatics. Source: Informatics and (et) Informatique, Walter F. Bauer, IEEE Annals of the History of Computing, Vol. 18, No. 2, 1996.

Just in case you are looking to obtain equivalence for your qualification elsewhere, you may be interested in matching your own skills to what's covered in job descriptions in the disciplines we are now calling Information and Communications Technology (ICT).

"Informática", which means "Informatics" in Portuguese, is a term that is widely used in Brazil and is derived from the French word "Informatique" which is the junction of the French words "Information" and "Automatique" meaning that it is at the same time the Applied Science and the Technique of dealing with Information using Automatic Equipment (computers) and their Softwares for this. Here the word "dealing" means to withdraw information from computers as well as to put information into computers in order to process such information for specific goals. In this sense, I think that "Informatics" is much more near to what people in the USA call "Information Technology (IT)" or "Information and Communication Technology (ICT)". Examples of Informatics applications are: Information Management Systems, Data Processing / Computer Statistics, VOIP (Voice on Internet Protocol), etcetera.

On the other hand, "Computer Science" ("Ciência da Computação" or simply "Computação" in Brazilian Portuguese) deals much more with the development of Mathematical Models (Pure Science) to be used in a Wide Variety of Applications, and not only with Information and Data processing. These applications include computer graphics and drawing (CAD/CAM for instance), image processing (Computer Tomography or Astrophotography for instance), sound processing (Voice Synthesis for instance), etcetera.

So, Informatics and Computer Science are both related with computers, but they can interact with each other or not, depending simply on the application.

Your Answer


By clicking "Post Your Answer", you acknowledge that you have read our updated terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy, and that your continued use of the website is subject to these policies.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.