Archive for January, 2012

Problems with Basic ABMs

Friday, January 27th, 2012

Multiple, differing agent-based models, being “simulation[s] that [use] agents to represent actors in the real world,” (O’Sullivan, 542), can produce results “that would match with empirical observations equally well” (546). Many basic, abstract models can reach the same conclusion, but how well can these be applied to specific occurrences in different locations?

In geography we know about the importance of locational specificity; the particular environmental, social, economic, political etc. factors that influence—and ultimately shape—the place. Abstract ABMs disregard any detail of real world situations, and therefore the emergent phenomena is incredibly abstract itself—making it impractical for it be applied to a wide variety of different places. Things occurring in one space cannot be blindly applied to a different one without acknowledging the different factors which comprise and inhabit the space. The substitutability of space is an inherent problem.

Abstract ABMs may not be seeking to generate results explaining phenomena for a particular location, but then what is their use in GIScience? Without incorporating any specific spatial entities, micro-level factors cannot be discerned and, ultimately, the phenomena cannot be explained. In the real world, the local has a great influence on agent behavior and interactions which is being overlooked in abstract ABMs. ABMs focus on the heterogeneity of individual agents, but basic models don’t consider the heterogeneity of different environments and how it influences agent behavior.

From a GIScience perspective, it seems that basic models don’t hold much weight in the explanation of phenomena for specific locations. Knowing that circumstances change in different areas, the behaviour depicted in abstract ABMs is incredibly superficial without model concerns for the particular.

O’Sullivan, David. (2008). “Geographical information science: agent-based models.” Progress in Human Geography, 32(4) 541-550.

-sidewalk ballet

Agent-Based Modeling: Computation and Cost?

Thursday, January 26th, 2012

Agent-based modeling (ABM) can do ANYTHING — the basic claim being made by Eric Bonabeau in his article, Agent-based modeling: Methods and techniques for simulating human systems.  And indeed, it does appear that ABM is quite useful, particularly when examining heterogeneous populations, as we can see in “virtually every example in this article”, to quote the author himself.  While I still wonder about the validity of ABM in certain situations, and can’t help but feel unsure about the authors’ exuberant claims in his writing, there was one thing particularly that I found missing from this article: computation and cost.

While Bonabeau does devote one or two sentences at the very end of the article to the high level of computational power required for these types of models, he does not, in my opinion, adequately express not only how important this one factor may be, but also all the additional factors inherent with data-heavy models such as this.  For example, he makes no reference to the amount of data collection that must go into creating these models.  Even a basic GIS user understands that a superficial layer of data is not interesting, but anything more than that requires a lot of commitment to collecting data.  In this case, working with human systems, to me that implies surveying people about their behaviours, how they make decisions, and so on.  This means time and monetary commitment.  And this leads to my larger criticism: the most telling aspect was how the companies he referred to were primarily established, and I would assume, wealthy, companies or organizations who could afford to use ABMs to make better management decisions.  Despite this, nowhere does he discuss cost.  Surely this technology does not come cheap?  And if it does, wouldn’t that make it even more desirable, and worthwhile to include?

With this knowledge, the reader (and potential user) could make a more informed decision about if ABM is not only useful, but at all possible, for them.  In the end, an interesting overview of applications of ABM, but lacking in answers to a few important questions.

Bonabeau, Eric. “Agent-based Modeling: Methods and Techniques for Simulating Human Systems.” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America. 99.10 (2002): 7280-7287. Print.



Monday, January 23rd, 2012

GIS as a tool-making medium is something that interests me personally. The Goodchild article touches on this, but I’m not so concerned about the debate. I’m more fascinated by the potential that GIS holds due to its open source capabilities. From the easiest “model-builder” in ArcMap to more complicated programming, GISystems have allowed users to customize the applications of the tool. I would love to create a tool(box) app.  in my personal project. I want to exploit the tool! I want to create a model and be able to program arcMap to perform simple calculations based on a set of parameters that I attribute. I want to avoid performing labour-intensive tasks; we have technology and I want to use it to my advantage—but I also want to be fully aware of the ramifications of customizing and exploiting the software. Critical GIS…?

Looking to the Future, and to Real Life Applications

GIS as a tool spans across different fields, but I might argue that without the technician behind the tool, the handling of spatial data becomes a liability. There is no issue between tool or science. It is naïve to isolate one from the other. I wonder if we should be taking a closer look at those applying GIS technology during spatial investigations. The discussion thus far has felt as if GIS exists in a vacuum, and I’m curious to know more about how GIS is misused in real life

– Andrew “GIS” Funa

Tool and Science

Monday, January 23rd, 2012

The Wright article separates GIS as a tool from the science, but while reading the article I became fascinated with the idea of how certain fields become accepted as sciences. One contributor expresses his (or her)concern with the truth:  “Beware of having too high a regard for science, especially in terms of believing that it provides the ‘truth’” (Britton 1993, 1 Nov. 12:29 PST). In class Prof Sieber hinted at social norms. It is a topic that we discussed in ENVR203 and I think it is very valuable to this discussion. In short, we looked at how sciences become accepted, why, and when they die out. Only when the new “revolutionary” idea is accepted by your peers is it believed to be “true.” We took slavery and women’s rights as an example to demonstrate how norms change, and how certain things that were at some point unimaginable become widely accepted. I will argue that it is only a matter of time (if not already a reality at present) before GIScience is widely accepted as a science. When it is accepted, how do we know that it is actually a science? Is it only politics and money? Does it really matter how we define Geographic Information Analysis?

Personally both the tool and the science are married together when I approach spatial problems. Geographers look at the big picture. Especially as an Urban System major we look at all of the different fields and attempt to synthesise the many different contributing factors to a topic of interest. I urge others to do the same when approaching debates, this on included.

– Andrew “GIS” Funa

Educating the Public

Monday, January 23rd, 2012

Goodchild’s article from 2010 terminates with a brief discussion on the author’s view of the future of GIScience. One section discusses the difficulties faced in current and future teaching of GIS and GIScience. Here, Goodchild states that it is now necessary to “provide a basic level of understanding of GIScience principles to everyone”. I agree with Goodchild’s view here that public and universal access to GIS should be taught particularly as GIS has uses in a large number of domains. By teaching GIS to many potential users and ensuring that these users understand not only the button pushing aspect of the software but the “why” behind the theories and laws of particular types of analysis, they can more efficiently and effectively use the software. Additionally, a bonus of teaching GIS, GIScience and its theory in many disciplines allows for greater potential to improve the software of GIS as new uses are found for GIS and problems and restrictions with current GISs and with current understandings of GIScience are recognized.

Goodchild, Michael F. (2010). “Twenty Years of Progress: GIScience in 2010.” Journal of Spatial Information Science, 3-20.

-Outdoor Addict

A Review of GIScience—Achievement and Challenges

Monday, January 23rd, 2012

What are the most important accomplishments in GIScience over the past twenty years? Which technologies play pivot roles in the development of GIScience? What social effect has GIScience brought by its twenty years’ progress? And what are the challenges we facing in GIScience research nowadays? Goodchild shows the answers in his paper, with insightful opinions from a large number of scientists in this field. Starting from the coining of GIScience, Goodchild introduces the rapid growth of GIScience and its position in the large family of science. Research agenda of GIScience is delineated and the accomplishments are presented from research and institution perspective respectively. Challenges are classified as five groups and discussed with future research directions.

Technologies, especially computer and information technologies have stimulated the development of GIScience, such as Web 2.0, database systems, mobile technologies and so on. The advances of geosensing systems bring new approaches for data capture, which enable detailed earth observation data with improved spatiotemporal resolution. Moreover, geospatial ontology (Web 3.0) changes GeoWeb from a visualization tool to a platform for geospatial information exchange. Cloud computing builds large computing resource pool with virtualized hardware and software, to facilitate the share of geospatial information. Currently, geospatial information is collected, analyzed, visualized, and exchanged with unprecedented amount and speed. As Microsoft has indicates in the fourth paradigm research report (, Goodchild also points out the era of information-intensive research has arrived. The social impact of the fourth paradigm should also be studied as well as its educational challenges. All the research can extend the definition of GIScience and reformat its conceptual framework.


Rethink the Definition of GIS–Wright et al. reading

Monday, January 23rd, 2012

To better understand GIS, Goodchild et al. had presented a good review about the argument whether GIS is science or tool. Authors introduced the GSL-L discussion about tool and science argument of GIS chronologically, and summarized different standpoint about GIS conceptualization. Authors further examined the definition of science, to clarify that GIS is science. Finally, with GIS and “doing GIS”, Goodchild et al. concluded three poisons on GIS: GIS as tool, tool making and science. I find these three definitions converge with the development of GIS.

I define GIS as a combination of tool, tool making and science. Nowadays, research about GIS includes a large body of disciplines, such as software engineering, pattern recognition, statistics, spatial analysis, geosensor engineering and so on. It becomes more difficult to choose a side in the argument of whether GIS is science or tool. Considering the current development of GIS, it turns out to be an integration of science and engineering. By using GIS as tools, scientists can pursue knowledge discovery in different domains. From the experience and methodologies of using GIS, we can identify and formalize GIS as science. And the theories and methodologies in GIS can help us to develop better GIS tools, as better approaches of tool making. This loop continues with better GIS tools lead to more efficient scientific research. In the future, the combination of tool, tool making and science will become even tighter in GIS, and we need to review the definition of GIS with its development.


3 in 1: GIS as a tool, toolmaking and a science

Monday, January 23rd, 2012

It is difficult to reach consensus in an interdisciplinary field. Wright et al. clearly display this by bringing forth conflicting definitions of GIS, along with general comments that add more depth to the debate. As discussed in class, the definition of GIS as a science is necessary for political and financial agendas due to funding, credibility and legitimacy. However, this should not rule out the GIS field as toolmaking or a tool, in addition to science. Wright et al. state one defining characteristic, “the answer [on the definition of GIS] depends on who is involved”, where, for example, GIS developers could see it as a science, and students could see it as a tool (350). Thus, I take all three positions — tool, toolmaking and science — on GIS to be valid.

In the article, science is defined as discovery, exploration, and problem understanding not invention (351). However, science was founded by theories. Theories and frameworks have been invented. Thus, indirectly, could science also be an invention? What makes up GIS is highly convoluted, therefore it would be safe to assume that a combination of invention through toolmaking, discovery of new facts through the use of the tool can be combined. There is intrinsic meaning behind a tool simultaneously derived from invention and discovery. The debate over the definition of GIS is overwhelming, however the authors steer us in the right direction. Wright et al. conclude that “older notions of science as the equivalent of ‘hard science’ are being replaced by a more open view [of science]” (358). Progress is seen through difference, which is promoted rather than stifled. In addition to progressive inclusion, the authors’ contend GIS is perceived as a “phenomenon” that encourages discussion and critical thought. I believe this to be a significant shift of perceptions on discovery, practicality and utilization rather than on a specific definition.

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


GIScience and uncertainty

Monday, January 23rd, 2012

The article was thought provoking, addressing numerous accomplishments, research agendas and challenges. I appreciated the author’s self awareness and frank statements when addressing his own limitations. At times, it was overwhelming as there were a lot of points covered with 20 years of theoretical and empirical accounts of GIScience.

From the challenges mentioned, I found the notion of uncertainty intriguing; a concept that is highly influential yet largely ignored. Goodchild’s conceptual framework for GIScience elucidates how the human, society and the computer are interlinked by many variables (e.g. spatial cognition, public participation GIS, data modelling). “Uncertainty” dominates the middle of the triangle, however 3 out of the 19 papers — that were most cited, and considered classics over the last 20 years — analyzed by Fisher “report work on uncertainty” (9).

The article notes Tobler’s Law and its implication that “relative errors over short distances will almost always be less than absolute errors” (12). According to Goodchild, this has significant implications for the modeling of uncertainty. From this, it can be inferred that we have confidence in addressing an issue due to its proximity, where a relative error is less intimidating than an absolute error. Goodchild further notes the transition made in our thinking about GIScience from “the accurate processing of maps to the entire process of representing and characterizing the geographic world” (11). The emphasis on the GIScience thought process has been shifted away from accuracy on a micro geographic scale in relation to maps, towards a characteristic and representation on a macro, global geographic scale. Moving from a micro to a macro scale will entail more uncertainty, while the aim is to increase accuracy these are contrary in nature.

Despite uncertainty seen as an obstacle to GIScience progress, Goodchild takes note of it as also being a salient factor in “potential undiscoveries” (6). The process of government’s adoption and application of GIScience, and further work on third, fourth and fifth dimensions, and the role of the citizen through neo-geography and VGI are all very exciting and revolutionary.

Goodchild. (2010). Twenty years of progress: GIScience in 2010.


The Role of the Citizen and GIScience

Monday, January 23rd, 2012

Goodchild posits that the “breaking down of traditional barriers between expert and non-expert has already led to widespread awareness of the power of GIS among the general public” (p. 13). He also notes that more recently, there has been a shift in GIScience to allow for a more basic understanding for everyone, away from a focus on experts within the field. As the amount of volunteered geographic information (VGI) increases, it is likely that the shift from error to uncertainty may also continue as GIS becomes less concerned about technicalities (science) and more about rethinking how to represent our world (tool-making).

On the other hand, Goodchild discusses the ability for technology to dynamically monitor various aspects of the Earth. Improvements in geographic sensors such as RFID can vastly increase the amount of accessible data. As discussed in class, the development of many fields such as computer science have progressed from being a tool, to toolmaking exercises, and lastly to becoming a science. Perhaps we are witnessing this transition taking place in GIS as well, but what does this mean for volunteered contributions and incorporating human values into GIS?

Citizen engagement will arguably increase if it is understood that a wider range of values and perceptions can be better incorporated (through more universal usage of GIS and technology improvements) into how we rethink the representations of our environment. If the concern is an access to funding and resources, perhaps the GIS as a tool vs science debate will become irrelevant as the popularity of GIS grows and as citizens become increasingly both the producers and consumers of geographic information.

Goodchild, Michael F. (2010). “Twenty Years of Progress: GIScience in 2010.” Journal of Spatial Information Science, 3-20.

– jeremy

GIS as Toolmaking

Monday, January 23rd, 2012

Wright et al. question whether or not GIS can withstand the stress of such varied usages, which demand that “critical analysis and reflection extend beyond the techniques of toolmaking to encompass questions about the social responsibilities of toolmaking” (p. 356). In a bid to assert its role within the scientific community, GIScience has arguably relegated many aspects of human geography to the sidelines. In terms of gaining access to sources of funding, it is understandable that many would take this position, since incorporating the values and varying perceptions of human beings might be considered a ‘soft’ science.

Despite this, perhaps distancing itself from traditional notions of ‘value-free’ science is where GIS finds its strength. It seems as if our understanding of human geography may be muddied by scientific theories, which have the ability to prove contradicting opinions. Look at the climate change debate, for example, which may seem to only involve ‘hard’ science, but is complicated by the fact that it directly involves the way in which people live. Is it possible for this kind of science to be effectively applied to dynamic societies when the need for social change is present?

When GIS projects are developed, they are able to consider their intended use and the values of those affected throughout every stage. A project aimed at improving Montreal’s accessibility for disabled people, for instance, may incorporate a variety of perceptions of the city, which change depending on season, age, level of disability, etc. It is possible that through improvements in technology and our ability to graphically represent many ways of seeing the world, GIS as toolmaking allows us to include the societal effects as best as we can.

Wright, Dawn J, Michael F. Goodchild, and James D. Proctor. (1997). “ForumGIS: Tool or Science?: Demystifying the Persistent Ambiguity of GIS As ‘Tool’ Versus ‘Science’”.  Annals of the Association of American Geographers, 87,2, 346-362.

– jeremy

Re: GIS – Tool or Science? The Chicken or the Egg: GIS or GIScience

Sunday, January 22nd, 2012

The article by Wright et al in 1997, describes three positions on GIS, that of a tool, that of toolmaking and that of a science and summarizes the debate on these three positions based on listserve discussion from 1993. I agree that these positions exist but do so in harmony. However, it seems to me that there should be some consideration of the evolution of the tool of GIS in terms to the thought process that led to its development as it was not arbitrarily designed but was designed for a specific purpose following specific principles. I would argue that geographic information science was needed to develop geographic information systems and since that time, this science was not eliminated but forgotten and is only being consciously rediscovered at present.

As for any discovery or new knowledge or awareness on a subject gained through science, a problem or issue must first be recognized as requiring additional analysis. In this case, it was necessary to recognize that a more sophisticated and faster way of overlaying data could be accomplished on a computer than by hand. From this, additional geographic information was stored and analyzed on a computer in GIS. The decisions of how exactly to do this were based on knowledge from various disciplines such as statistics, economics, cartography, computer science and geography (Goodchild 2010 p.5) and were the roots of GIScience. In my opinion, these decisions, although perhaps made by only one of these disciplines such as the data models produced by computer science or that spatial adjacency mattered from geography, have now been synthesizes under the name of GIScience. That neither of these individual disciplines could produce and utilize GIS on their own suggest that there was out of necessity a new science was created to combine and further examine issues.

Thus, the roots of GIScience, the decisions that were made before GIS could be created, preceded GIS itself and it is only now that GIScience has been given a name and debate has arisen over what exactly it encompasses as science. To me, it is the decisions that were made in the creation of GIS that constitute GIScience as these decisions could have taken different paths at the time of creation and the concepts and questions of GIScience today as noted by Goodchild (2010, p.7) were addressed originally in some intrinsic and perhaps unintentional form in the creation of the first GISs. GIScience evolves today as these initial decisions are critically examined in terms of their impacts on research using GIS as a tool.

Wright, Dawn J, Michael F. Goodchild, and James D. Proctor. “ForumGIS: Tool or Science?: Demystifying the Persistent Ambiguity of GIS As ‘Tool’ Versus ‘Science’”. Annals of the Association of American Geographers. 87.2 (1997): 346-362. Print.

Goodchild. 2010. Twenty years of progress: GIScience in 2010. Journal of Spatial Information Science. 1(2010) pp.3-20

-Outdoor Addict

GIS(cience)’s place in society

Sunday, January 22nd, 2012

Wright et. al have an interesting methodology for analysing the debate on the status of GIS(cience). Unforunately, graphing GIS-L posting on the “GIS as a Science” topic is probably not quite as helpful to the analysis as a  literature study, questionnaire, or live conference. We should remember when reading this paper that the frequency chart does little to show the state of debate, especially with such low frequencies (rarely more than 1-2 postings per day). However, the paper is still able to highlight and explain the arguments for all sides.

One area neither paper looks into in great detail is the state of the GIS industry and related industries. This is important as the academic GIS scene is only secondary to the economic output GIS produces. Looking at the state of industry today though, it is clear that GIS, whether you see it as just the software and hardware tools, or as a way of thinking, is here to stay. Demand for the technology will not disappear, nor become obsolete. Therefore, one can be pretty certain that we will be doing GIS in the future, no matter what form it takes. This can bring some to question whether the debate on the status of GIS is necessary at all (the short answer is ‘no’). It may eventually be that GIS becomes so ubiquitous that it becomes ‘too integrated’ into our lives, and certain knowledge of software and/or techniques becomes common knowledge within other fields. However, GIScientists should still ask themselves – “what would industry be like if there was no one to care about GIScience problems – problems of visualisation, resolution, data management and so on”. How would GIS systems have turned out if they had solely been developed by computer scientists or cartographers? Regardless of whether or not GIS is a science or tool, there will always be people around to think about GIScience problems, and that is what should matter, not the survival of research labs or government grants (in the current market, I am optimistic that money will not be too much of a constraint). GIS is in one of those positions where it can be influenced by any number of fields, since its applications are so wide-ranging. This makes it very flexible and greatly increases the chances of growth and advancement of techniques. Trying to narrow GIS into a definition of a science may not be the best approach if one wants to promote development, especially since GIS is so dependent upon the its tools and toolmaking characteristics. Currently, GIS is generally taught as more of a tool in university. The technique-based approach is certainly useful in created a workforce skilled in GIS analysis. In the computer industry, the two main degrees one can receive are an IT degree or a Comp. Sci degree, both of which are very different from one another. I think it is accurate to approximate the former to the ‘tools’ approach, and the latter as the more ‘science-y’. GIS right now tends to be viewed as akin to IT management – the challenge right now is to either turn it into Computer Science, or somehow split the two.

GIS is a field very much based upon computing technology, and as we well know, the advances in computing are often so fast and surprising, that it is difficult to predict even 5 years into the future. If the question of GIS’s status is not resolved today, it may very well be in 5-10 yrs depending on what new advances come up.

On a side note, I don’t have any definite areas of interest in Geography, but may be interested in looking at human-computer interfaces for the project.


On the Ontology of Science

Sunday, January 22nd, 2012

When we think about whether GIS represents a science or a tool, we must consider how exactly do we define science. Wright et al throw around a huge number of terms without defining them when considering just this question. Some of their suggested approaches to understanding how science explains the world include humanism, positivism, structuralism, empiricism,  realism, Marxism, and postmodernism (353). The article concludes with an analysis that suggests positivism holds the most explanatory power for understanding the world. However, they decline to take a strong position, admitting that they don’t want to “downplay the explanatory power of these alternative, non-positivistic approaches” (353). For those of us unacquainted with the philosophy of science, what exactly does this debate over the definition of science actually mean?

Positivism represents the view most of us heard in grade school where science consists of a view that in both the social and natural sciences, sensory experiences and their logical or mathematical treatment (through testing) represent the exclusive source of all worthwhile information. However, if we consider science through a humanistic lens that places human values at the center of all inquiry or a postmodern perspective that repudiates objective, sensory observation in favor of viewing reality as a social construct, our definition of science changes dramatically.

As this definition changes, so to does our consideration of whether or not GIS can be viewed as a tool or a science. From the approach of a positivist, GIS can be thought of both as a means for observing and testing data (as a tool) or a method for treating types of geographic data and examining research questions (as a science). Yet if we take a postmodern perspective, does GIS hold any weight (beyond being a tool) as a discipline reliant on particular methodologies which reveal self-evident truths about the world? Although Wright et al do a great job with their primary task of covering the GIS tool vs. science debate in their article, their lack of specificity on how to define science opens the door to a variety of theoretical questions.

– climateNYC

GIS and its Conceptual Framework

Sunday, January 22nd, 2012

Goodchild recounts eight topics that outline the research agenda for GIS, and how they fit in a conceptual framework which “[combines] three domains in different proportions,” (6), namely, the computer, the individual user, and society. Put forth in 1992, there are great additions and alterations that need to be made to modernise the framework.

For one, with the advancement of the GeoWeb 2.0, I think “public participation GIS” is better suited to have a greater proportion of society in the conceptual framework (over the human). Participatory GIS is so influential in part because of the sheer volume of it. People all over the world are creating maps in different ways, and mostly in a collaborative setting. For VGI to be beneficial it needs to come from a vast array of sources—used and updated by all of society, not one individual user.

A few additions to the framework include augmented reality, cloud computing, perhaps the geoweb itself. Geographic information is advancing at an incredible rate, and GIS needs to account for such changes. Society is playing a larger role, but how will GIS incorporate semantics and natural languages, for example, or different representations of place? We need to organise these different technologies and facets of GIS in a comprehensive (and user-friendly) conceptual framework in order to fully exploit the benefits GIS can bring to the understanding geographic information.

Goodchild, Michael F. “Twenty Years of Progress: GIScience in 2010.” Journal of Spatial Information Science. (2010): 3-20.

– Sidewalk_Ballet

Systems or Science?

Sunday, January 22nd, 2012

The ambiguity and debate of what GIS actually is convoluted, and the intricacies are accented by the exchangeability of the ‘s’ in GIS. Systems, science, studies—what should we call it? Does it make a difference, and who cares? The point of legitimacy from the Wright et al reading and class discussions stands out as unveiling the business behind the sciences, but how is this being followed through in practice?

McGill is a research university and the program is called Geographic Information Science, which according to Wright et al should “measure progress based on the accumulation of research results and contributions to human understanding,” (358). However, after taking a handful of GIS courses it seems to me that GIS is being taught as a tool, with the emphasis being placed on “their essentially technical, service orientation” (357). It’s undeniable that GIS is on a spectrum, and I think that it is one that the user (scientist?) will move across with increased familiarity. How can GIS be used as science without the initial introduction to it as a tool?

From my point of view GIS can be a tool, toolmaking, and a science at different times. I don’t think the McGill program is providing an equal focus on all facets (at least in the 300-level classes) despite being called “science”. There is great stress on applications, but I feel the “science of GIS” as I now understand it may be shorthanded, and I hope to see more of it in 506.

Wright, Dawn J, Michael F. Goodchild, and James D. Proctor. “ForumGIS: Tool or Science?: Demystifying the Persistent Ambiguity of GIS As ‘Tool’ Versus ‘Science’”.  Annals of the Association of American Geographers. 87.2 (1997): 346-362.

– Sidewalk_Ballet

Affirming GIScience’s Place in the Academy

Sunday, January 22nd, 2012

When we read Michael F. Goodchild’s review of the last 20 years of GIScience, we should be careful to note that he “does not pretend to be entirely objective” (3) in outlining his views. In particular, he goes to great length to argue that GIScience functions as a distinct scientific discipline. Although he does devote some space to the debate over whether GIScience represents a tool or science (4), Goodchild leaves little room for the dissenting view that GIScience could be viewed simply as a tool for other disciplines. In fact, he unequivocally states that the field presents “substantial research issues” that can only be solved by using the methods of GIScience (15-16). Although he calls for other practitioners in the field to reflect on the past 20 years, his aim – both in his manner of treating the subject and in what he writes – appears  to both define and establish GIScience as a sub-discipline or science in the already jam-packed academy.

In noting GIScience’s establishment, past accomplishments and possible future directions, Goodchild writes there’s “no danger” this area of study will “be absorbed into one of its intersecting disciplines” due to the “well-defined, persistent” nature of the problems that this science addresses (16). Goodchild most clearly lays out his agenda of GIScience as a discipline in Figure 1 (“A Conceptual Framework for GIScience”) by organizing various topics in GIScience according to their relationship with human beings, society or computers. This organization resembles a similar one taking place in many departments whereby researchers attempt to locate their own research questions in terms of where they might sit on a spectrum that includes both human or natural science approaches. It implies the universal, organizing principle of GIScience as a lens through which these questions should be viewed. In fact, Goodchild references the definition of geography as a science (4) before providing several definitions of how GIS also represents a lens or science (6).

As we noted in class, defining GIScience in this manner holds important implications for the discipline and for the universities where it’s taught. Just as the creation of distinct statistics departments or environmental science programs can both shape the educational program for students and the funding opportunities for researchers, Goodchild’s view of GIScience could influence future developments in the field. Having just come from a graduate marine science program that treated GIS only as an important tool worthy of a certificate showing proficiency, I can see how these questions could be central in defining how universities or other fields treat GIScience as it grows and evolves.

– climateNYC

A changing definition for “science”?

Sunday, January 22nd, 2012

20 years of progress: GIScience in 2010 (Goodchild)

I thought it was interesting how 2 out of the 3 participants Goodchild interviewed had an issue with the word “discovery” when asked about “the ten most important discoveries of GIScience to date” (7). On one hand Marc Armstrong replaces “discovery” with “transformations”, namely from one medium (paper) to another (computer) while Sara Fabrikant replaces the word with “rediscovery”; to her, GIScience is more about seeing the world from a new light. Further, these 2 participants both emphasize the idea that GIScience is the combination of many disciplines and its research is performed in “… a variety of scientific paradigms” (9). Both participants seem to value GIScience as a field that takes an amalgamation of knowledge we already know and applies it to spatial information to access new knowledge that we otherwise could not. They acknowledge GIScience not as a “new” science per se but as a new science born from previous fields of study.

At this point, Network Science springs to mind. Many things about the relatively recent development of network science are similar to that of GIScience. Network science, like GIScience, is interdisciplinary; it draws from and has relevance to many fields. Although scholars have studied networks long ago, they had few unifying theories to show to it, which motivated the formation of a Network Science. The National Research Council writes:

“Despite the tremendous variety of complex networks in the natural, physical, and social worlds, little is known scientifically about the common rules that underlie all networks. This is even truer for interacting networks. Ideas put forth by scientists, technologists, and researchers in a wide variety of fields have been coalescing over the past decade, creating a new field of thinking—the science of networks…
Does a science of networks exist? Opinions differ” (p. 7).

Perhaps these developments in Network and GI Science support the idea mentioned by Wright et al. of a change in the understanding of what constitute as “science” in the modern world.

National Research Council. (2005). Network Science. Washington, DC: National Academies Press, 2005.


Tool and toolmaking wihtout a science?

Sunday, January 22nd, 2012

GIS: Tool or Science? (Wright et al.)

Plotting GIS along a continuum of tool, toolmaking and science really helped me clarify my thoughts when it comes to thinking about what we actually mean by “doing GIS”. Personally, I think GIS must be all three things simultaneously. For instance, if GIS was merely a tool, a means to an end, one still needs to choose the appropriate analysis and to interpret the output. How do you judge whether your analysis is appropriate without others studying it through application? Or judge whether your data sets accurately reflects reality? These questions must be explored through GIS research.

However, how the concept of GIS as “toolmaking” can be separated from GIScience is still unclear to me. According to Wright et al., a GIS toolmaker should be able to perform critical analysis of/reflect on the technology’s capabilities and think about the social impacts of the tool (356). But how does one critically analyze and reflect on how well the tool is performing without also being a GIScientist? What kinds of criteria are used to judge whether a tool is good (aka able to visualize/model spatial concepts “correctly” with GIS)? Otherwise, how is a GIS toolmaker any different than a computer scientist or software engineer? This leads me to two conclusions: 1) GIS cannot occupy only one of the three positions on the continuum and 2) the next generation of GIScientists must also well versed in computer languages.

I would have really liked to see the authors elaborate on this new emerging notion of science that is more open. Science is then defined as “the pursuit of systematic and formulated knowledge and as such [it] is not confined to any particular epistemology” (358). How important is it to have to closely tie science to epistemology (positivism)? If we agree with this new definition, can History be considered as much of a “science” as Biology?

– Ally_Nash

Future issues of GIS – Goodchild reading

Sunday, January 22nd, 2012

 Goodchild’s (2010) summary of the progress of field-defining debates in GIS over the last 20 years points out several issues. He briefly reminds us of the GI Systems vs. GI Science debate, lists advances and newly identifiable theories in GIS, and poses important questions for the future. Of these issues, two stand out to me as the most pressing for public perception of GIS and the nature of GIS’s data.

How GIS manages to formalize the representation of spatial phenomena across scales is crucial to a wide range of fields. Current tools such as inverse distance weighting allow for interpolating and assigning weights based on geographic location. Even the now-ubiquitous way Google Maps has visually represented different scales (finer details visible only when you zoom in close) has changed how the public imagines different levels. The widespread impact of how GIS represents different scales has enormous potential in facilitating negotiations and public opinion on battles that require mass coordination, such as mitigating climate change. Imagine how the limitations of our current national environmental regulations could be exposed if intuitive software was developed that could easily show the origin and travel of acid rain clouds from individual factories.

Goodchild’s second major point involves the future of volunteered geographic information (VGI) in a world that is increasingly wired and sensored. There is a major deterrent to continued VGI contributions when the “knowing where everything is, at all times” is not properly regulated to handle privacy concerns. This also brings into question how much data in the future will be comprised of VGI, and how much by private interests. The proper intersection of convenience, security, and quality needs to be discussed to ensure that the average citizen’s VGI is fairly represented and is not repurposed by private companies.

– Madskiier_JWong