Archive for January, 2012

GI Systems vs. GI Science – Wright et al reading

Sunday, January 22nd, 2012

Wright et al.’s paper provided a summarized history of the debate over GIS as a tool or a science and opinions from a forum exchange. I felt that our in-class discussion overemphasized the societal pressures that favour those fields popularly deemed “sciences”. While politicization undoubtedly plays a role, I also accord sciences merit by whether they offer a fundamentally different way of understanding something (and thus generate new knowledge).  

A sticking point from some of the opinions shown in Wright’s paper emphasized that GIS is a tool and a feat of engineering. If this is to be accepted, progress in GIS should be measured merely in terms of faster computing, greater data storage, more efficient processes – linear improvements. Yet, innovations like the incorporation of streaming data provide a new understanding of the temporal dimension of spatial phenomena. Perhaps geographically distanced people tweeting at the same time may be more socially similar than we would expect based on their isolation from one another. Immediate reports about a flood may emerge from a spatially clustered origin, reflecting new understandings of emergent behaviour. Both these examples escape being labelled as simple technological advancements because do-ers of GIS take this raw data and run it through a suite of their own manipulations and methods (e.g. geocode, vectorize, overlay).

Implicitly then, there is evidence of a conscious and rational decision to represent data as maps with linked attribute tables. GIS fundamentally offers a different understanding of what a police station may be: engineering perceives it as load-bearing pillars, level surfaces, and well-joined edges. GIS offers topology, relationships to surrounding polygons, and a correlative effect with nearby crime rates. Thus, I would argue terming GIS as a science has some merit beyond societal pressures.

– Madskiier_JWong

the ‘Modifiable Area Unit Problem (MAUP)’

Saturday, January 21st, 2012

Posted by sah:

My interest in Geography lies primarily with issues of health, and human interactions with, and interpretations of, their environments with regards to their health. On that note, in another class I recently completed a literature review discussing the mental health literature and the interpretation of the terms (and thus, environments) “urban” and “rural” as variables influencing depression. I found a great lack in both the quantitative and qualitative description of these terms–most went no further than to throw out a number of people, not even necessarily a density. I think this would be a really interesting subject with which GIS could interact (as a tool, a science, who knows?). What I would like to do is present my seminar on the topic of Modifiable Area Unit Problem (MAUP), and tentatively, in my project, look at how the areas given for the population densities used to define a certain environment (urban or rural) will greatly influence the final qualities of said environments. What is the value and justification given behind the areas for various governmental classifications, for example the Census Metropolitan Area and Census Agglomerations? Hopefully, this problem of “urban” vs. “rural” will lend itself well to an explanation and investigation of the MAUP.

GIS on a Continuum

Saturday, January 21st, 2012

Posted by sah:

I think the debate surrounding whether GIS is a tool or a science may have been blown out of proportion in the field of GIS. In fact, I particularly agree with the idea put forth in GIS: Science or Tool? which suggests that GIS may exists along a continuum, from tool to toolmaker to science. Despite this suggestion, the way the author dwells on GIS as a computer application in this paper in my mind express both an underestimation of the power of GIS, as a tool or science, as well as mark on this paper as outdated, a product of its time (1997).

The authors quote Tomlinson, saying, “…Tomlinson was clear enough in his definition of a GIS as a computer application designed to perform certain specific functions…”. To me this implies that GIS is little more than a computer application—a fact repeated later in the article, when the authors say, “Many of those who argued on the ‘tool side’ of the issue could not see how a computer application could be described as a science”. I would argue however that GIS is spatial analysis that can be facilitated by Geographic Information Software. An example discussed in class involves community participatory mapping as a form of GIS, without using a computer, but still ultimately creating a functional product to analyze the space in which this community lives. And this can be made into data points to be input into a computer, if necessary.

So to put it briefly, whether GIS is a science or tool, we must realize today that we cannot underestimate it, for it continues only to evolve, as we can see from the ideological change over just 10+ years since this article was published.

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.

Twenty Years of Debate

Saturday, January 21st, 2012

Posted by sah:

Twenty Years of Progress… to me, this translated to Twenty Years of Debate. While reading Goodchild’s article on the evolution of GIScience, the question that came to mind was really, “Why are we still debating”? GIScience, as it is defined by Goodchild, has evolved as a technology, and perhaps discipline, but also largely as a debate, over the last twenty years—and it would appear that it really has been debate that has dominated this field for its recent history. In class we came up with some interesting reasons as to why the debate may still be raging—legitimacy as a field and science, and thus funding and prestige for practitioners being a large aspect of this. That may be all well and good, albeit a topic for another post, but as a topic of Goodchild’s article, I was a little disappointed.

The debate is surely interesting, but was not, according to the abstract and introduction, what the article was expressed to be about: history AND accomplishments and future advancements. There could have been much more emphasis on the successes and evolution, and not just who deems a success a success. Goodchild’s personal reflections and the institutional accomplishments were most interesting, as well as the final section, Looking to the Future. This encapsulated what I anticipated of the article, and highlighted critical thoughts, most interestingly, the proper education of such a rapidly evolving and increasingly popular [tool, technique, science], and the way it can be used by the public. The proposed advancements raise a lot of questions about how GIS can be applied in the future, and what challenges this may present. In my mind, this could in fact be a reason to continue the debate: will we consider this a tool to be properly taught, or a science to be above the everyday use and understanding of the citizen?

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