GIS: Tool or Science, Wright et al. (1997)

Initially I had some trouble appreciating the importance of the debate summarized by Wright et al. (1997). The discussants bring up some interesting points about the nature of science, but I’m curious about how productive the conversation can be beyond the need for some scientists to act as gatekeepers. Particularly in the sense that the science/non-science dichotomy, as noted by the authors, “presumes the superiority of one or another approaches to generate knowledge.” I was reminded of how similar discourse in the field of environmental science has been used to delegitimize traditional ecological knowledges–”similar” in how the discussants try to incorporate the concept of GIS into their own understanding of science, not necessarily in the context or implications of the discussion. I’m not so sure that science lends itself to such unambiguous ingroup/outgroup designations. I can, however, appreciate the very real challenge of securing research funding and by extension the need for asserting academic legitimacy.

I think how some discussants so boldly assert their opinions really demonstrates how strongly our ideas are shaped by our world view. For example, the argument that GIS is analogous to math and statistics and therefore not science is less compelling without the assumption that math is not a science. I was eager to see the authors draw the comparison between GIScience and computer science, which arose with the development of digital computing, a powerful tool for processing information. I imagine now few would question its place as a shining example of STEM-hood.

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