Goodchild (2010)’s reflection on 20 years of GIScience Progress

I found Goodchild’s argument refreshing, as it encompassed all the issues that I felt were present (but relatively left unsaid) during my time learning how to use GIS software. His discussion of the achievements of GIScientists (like Tobler’s First Law (“nearby things are more similar than distant things”) and Anselin’s spatial heterogeneity) really helped me to better understand the difference between GISoftware (tool) and GIScience. It became clearer to me that GIScience is its own domain, which helps it find applications in both theoretical and technical fields, including but not limited to computer science, economics, politics, and marketing/business.

He also acknowledged what I have found worrying about geography academia– the tendency of scholars to look solely to academia to bolster their argument.  In my experience, the papers that look solely to academia to make their claims papers end up rehashing the same arguments, not offering any new or terribly groundbreaking ideas. It is one thing to refute arguments and conduct new hands-on research into phenomena, but many that I have experienced as a liberal-arts undergraduate student rephrase and slightly elaborate on claims that have already been made, which Goodchild calls “problematic”.

Finally, Goodchild’s observations on the “future of GIScience” are very well thought out and many of his questions remain unanswered today. I was particularly interested in his discussion of user-volunteered data, particularly about the social strata of data volunteers as well as their motivations to collect and provide this data. I am particularly interested in participatory planning practices, and today, many of the ways of collecting public input involves some iteration of online surveys. Many towns– including my small (and fairly technologically challenged) hometown– conduct surveys which take longer than 30 minutes, requiring users to place points on online maps or drawing lines on online maps to show commonly taken routes, for example, in order to plan for a better use of space. Goodchild asks: who is actually volunteering this data, and why? I think some question that also need to be asked are: Who is not volunteering this data, and why? Does the lack of technology or time or interest (or, more likely, a combination of the three) dissuade everyone from volunteering this information? And how could those who do not volunteer this information (the elderly or others who do not own personal computers, people who work over 40 hours per week) provide this information in another way? Even 7 years after the publication of this reflective article, information about data volunteers is rarely studied (though sometimes in these surveys, this data is collected/volunteered) and therefore efforts to be more encompassing are often in name only.

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