What is GIS? Science, Tool, or the glue to fix the ‘Geographic Humpty Dumpty’?

I found this article quite interesting, not only for its commentary for the role of GIS as a science or a tool,  though also for the methodology used in this paper. This is the first paper I’ve read before the burst of the internet bubble, in which the volume and intensity of blog post entries has been used to measure interest and analyse interest in a topic. Mixing these results (quantitative) with a qualitative approach of interviewing certain GIS specialists on their views shows the author’s commitment to making this debate as legitimate as possible, and look at several angles of the debate.

The debate itself, which I understand must be important to those working closely in the field for personal reasons (as the author clearly seems annoyed at the remark of ‘something needing to call itself a science, probably isn’t one’), and for academic funding I assume, doesn’t seem all too pressing/important to me. Whether GIS is a tool, science, or both (I would argue) seems unimportant compared to how you use GIS. I found Wright’s view of GIS having three positions (tool, tool making, and science) out of date since 1997, as with the web 2.0 even all GIS users essentially incorporate all of these positions, while seldom thinking of it. In the use of a tool, your findings of new applications and sending error reports ‘builds’ these tools, and the scientific reasoning behind the use of one tool over another is a science I would argue. In modern day GIS (and post-GIS) the line between these three positions is even more as information is harvested passively through geolocational apps, and clauses in the terms of agreements to ‘help the program out’ by volunteering crash reports and bugs passively. Also the distinction between GI-Scientist and Geographic Information user becomes quite fine outside of academia as almost anyone these days is capable of placing points, lines, and polygons on a map and inferring basic analyses like clusters and buffers.


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