Archive for September, 2017

Defining Geographic Information Science (Mark, 2003)

Sunday, September 17th, 2017

Mark(2003) give a comprehensive review of Geographic Information Science (GIScience) in term of its history and components. He presents a number of GIScience definitions but doesn’t synthesize them for setting a clear boundary between GIScience and other disciplines. However, it remains to be answered nowadays since its multidisciplinary nature. GIScience, as an independent scientific discipline, is not independent because it relates to and interacts with many disciplines such as geomatics, cartography, computer sciences.

It is interesting that Mark(2003) deem GIScience as a branch of information science, which makes me consider why there is no other kinds of “information science”. For instance, we can call “bioinformatics” but not “biologic information science”. Why not regard GIScience and geomatics as the same thing? I think it is not important to explore whether GIScience is a branch of information science. The nature of “geographic” is significant, which makes GIScience standout. In any disciplines, things always happen over space and time, which can be modeled and managed as spatial information. Therefore, GIScience emphasizes on dealing with spatial data and computation. These are indicated in both Mark’s(2003) component review Kuhn’s (2012) core concepts.

On Mark’s (2003) Geographic Information Science: Defining the Field

Sunday, September 17th, 2017

Being one of the early proponents of GIScience, Mark sets out in this paper to lay out the intellectual scope of the field – what is it? What are its components? Can it be considered a legitimate multidisciplinary field? What is clear from this paper is that there is no consensus yet (or then) on what defines GIScience. Mark presents definitions of Geographic Information Science, Information, and Information Science borrowed from different organizations and as they evolved over time, but does not truly propose a crisp definition to be accepted (or not) as the standard by the community. He then sets out to list the main components of the field, borrowing from Goodchild’s (1992) and the UCGIS’s own lists, defining new headings, and reorganizing components into different topic categories.

From this paper, it seems that Geographic Information Science shares much more similarities with Information Science than the discipline of Geography. Although GIScience and Geography are intricately linked since they “address the same aspects of reality,” GIScience goes beyond the concept of spatiality and looks at aspects of ontology, representation, computation, and cognition, to only name a few, to investigate the properties and behaviour of geographic information, and how it affects people and society at large. It is a much more rounded field than I previously thought and in my eyes unequivocally qualifies as a multidisciplinary one. Studying the human-computer interaction and human cognition of geographic environments, for example, is something that is completely out of the scope of traditional Geography yet is of crucial relevance to better understand the nature of spatial relations and geographic ontology. To me and many others, Geographic Information Science is a legitimate multidisciplinary field that has only been gaining more and more attention since this paper was published.


Goodchild Discusses GIS

Sunday, September 17th, 2017

Goodchild’s article presents a brief history of GIScience, and discuses from his perspective, and from the perspectives of others, the role of GIS as well as its label as a science. It is important to note that the article leans more towards an opinion piece or a discussion rather than an objective paper to explore questions without reaching any specific conclusion; however, Goodchild does conclude by making the argument that GIScience is well established as a domain of science without risk of being absorbed into related disciplines. Effectively, Goodchild makes claims that are logical and well founded but seems to forget that the conclusions he pulls are framed within an opinion text.

I enjoyed that the other was careful to make the distinction that the arguments made are from a personal perspective. Naturally the article becomes subject to bias; that of a geographer. Personally, I found the article to be convincing and I agree with the statements made while also remaining open and critical about them. The author’s willingness to explore opposing perspectives translates well to the reader and encourages them to do the same. On the other hand, this creates some confusion and makes it more difficult to finish the reading with a firm conclusion of your own.

The lack of clarity regarding the nature of the paper encourage the reader to explore the subject further and pull their own conclusions. I think to be able to better answer the question of whether or not GIS is a proper ‘science’ could be better explored by comparing/contrasting GIS to other fields of science. While interesting, a more in-depth discussion of what counts as ‘science’ is not the primary subject of the paper and could abstract from the rest of the text.

Why the “Tool or Science” Debate Doesn’t Matter

Sunday, September 17th, 2017

The article by Wright et al. discusses how GIS should be recognized and in doing so considers multiple perspectives: what is science, what is GIS, philosophical schools of knowledge and science, the field of geography as a whole, the labels that GIS could be given, as well as why the label matters.

Effectively, I think that the article reinforced my lack of opinion surrounding the question “GIS: tool or science?”. By introducing fine detail and logical arguments supporting both sides of the debate it makes it harder to reach a conclusion. This discussion reminds me of earth system modelling problems; the main ideas can be reduced and simplified to establish a basic system with one or two inputs and outputs each. Regarding GIS, if we use simple definitions for our terms, it is easy to formulate one’s opinion of what GIS is (science vs tool). However, once we try to get further insight, problems of complexity come into play. An earth system model that strives to account for every individual micro-system within the macro-system quickly becomes too complex. in my opinion, that is, to a certain extent, what Wright’s paper accomplished in my understanding off the debate. I now find that it is harder than ever to decide which arguments are the most legitimate as a result of all the contrast. These arguments are not subject to a ‘right’- ‘wrong’/ ‘valid’ – ‘invalid’ position and this leaves the debate open.

But, unlike the earth system example where intricacies add accuracy to the model, examining the intricacies of this debate do not improve results. As I was reading, I asked myself the question “why does this debate even matter?”. If using GIS as a tool or science allows users to gain insight into our world, what matters should be the discoveries themselves; not the debate over the label of science. After turning the page and seeing the section labeled “Why Does Science Matter?”, I felt like I wasn’t going to be getting the answers I might have hoped for. The author makes the claim that the role of science does matter. This claim, although passive, leads me to believe that the author believes that the ‘Science’ label is important to him and the legitimacy of the field. However, the legitimacy of GIS related discoveries and theories should be founded in their truth, accuracy, and acceptance of peer. Even though interesting, the debate over the label of “Science”, does not improve nor degrade the quality and usefulness of the results of any GIS related project.

Twenty Years of Progress, Goodchild (2010)

Sunday, September 17th, 2017

Goodchild (2010) provided an interesting summary of the innovations in GIScience since its first conception. I appreciate the discussion of what innovation looks like in a field that is so intensely interdisciplinary. I feel that Sara Fabrikant’s interpretation of “discoveries” in GIScience as “enabling the discovery of the world” also appropriately captures the interdisciplinary nature of GIScience research implications.

In the 7 years science the article was published, I wonder how successful we’ve been in addressing Goodchild’s fifth challenge of the decade: the challenge of education. He writes that in the first twenty years since the conception of GIScience there has been a transition in the approach to education toward GIScience literacy in the general public. Still, most of my technical GIS education has been with software otherwise locked behind costly licenses or affiliation with wealth institutions. I’d imagine this approach serves to reinforce a knowledge gap between those with access and those without.

Perhaps it’s because of a lack of suitable alternatives, and I can’t speak to the experience of students at other universities, but I think it’s at least indicative of some vestige of educating a professional elite in GIS education. Of course, universities have some duty to endow students with employable skills. I suppose another challenge in GIScience will be to provide students with a knowledge of industry standards without perpetuating a culture differentiated expertise based on resources.

Core Concepts of Spatial Information (Kuhn, 2012)

Sunday, September 17th, 2017

In the paper “core concepts of spatial information for transdisciplinary research”, Kuhn(2012) demonstrates the importance of spatial information across disciplines and proposes ten core concepts for non-specialists to understand it. When reading it, we should question about whether Geographic Information Sciences (GIS) have to be transdisciplinary, and whether these ten core concepts are helpful for those kinds of research.

According to Kuhn(2012), spatial notions are the basis of transdisciplinary approaches. The example of the Amazon deforestation proves his statements which I agree with. In other words, we can regard spatial information as integrators to connect different disciplines. However, I would doubt that the ten core concepts are useful enough for people outside of GIS.

Non-specialists need to understand and apply these concepts in their practices. Therefore, the chosen concepts should appropriate for their use. Hence, I’m interested in the objects of the survey conducted by the author. Whom or what projects it refers to? What disciplines are involved? Does the information mainly provided by GIS-related practitioners or researchers? Answering these questions may help us know how useful the concepts could be for non-specialists. Besides, some of the descriptions of concepts are straightforward enough, while some are confused. For non-specialists, the isolate description of “field”, “object”, “meaning” or “value” is not able to make them well-understood. For example, “neighborhood” can be thought as a region, “field” also. “Field” can answer what is here, “object” also. “Meaning” and “value” sometimes may refer to the same thing. Non-specialists still have few concept of these “core concepts”. Unless, there is more discussion about the relationships among core concepts, the situation may be improved. That said, it is necessary to organize these core concepts so that they can be understood accurately. In conclusion, Kuhn notes that core concepts should be formalized into an ontology when use, but it remains to be asked whether we can have them more structured in ahead of the practice.

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

Sunday, September 17th, 2017

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.

Goodchild – 20 Years of GIS progress

Sunday, September 17th, 2017

Michael Goodchild in 2010 published an article attempting to grasp the progress that GIS science had made over the course of its 20-existence. He uses this paper as a way to encapsulate the state that it is seen is from Academia, touching on the debate as to whether GIS is a science, discussed its major accomplishments and discussed further dilemmas the GIS world will soon be needing to address. A few statements proved to be prophetic, he stated that we may soon be in a world in which all public transportation vehicles would be possible to monitor in real time and it has come to be that way. Many websites free to the public offer this service. Issues of privacy and data collection come at the forefront as citizens become both consumers and producers of geographic information, which has become ubiquitous since the mass popularity of smartphone devices. People are thus always tracked, and governments, app developers and other private interest may have access to these things. Would it be the role of GI Science to determine the opacity and access of their produced results? If it were to be a science, its ethics would have to be more clearly defined. As I had been learning GIS as an undergraduate, I understood the ethical dilemmas being dealt with on a case-by-case basis. He brings up issues of education quite often, would ethics be necessary to be taught with a university context? I would say so, it’s important to acknowledge the utility and the potential dangers of such a tool. Harkening back to the major accomplishments Goodchild discusses in the second part of his article, perhaps a major accomplishment GIS can aim for is the recognition of a universal ethical code.


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

Sunday, September 17th, 2017

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.

Kuhn (2012) – Core concepts of spatial information

Sunday, September 17th, 2017
Kuhn’s argument is structured around central questions we can ask about spatial information: where is it located, what is it near to, what else is there, what are its properties, what is it connected to, how has it changed over time, how precise/ correct/ valuable is it? Scale, uncertainty and visualisation are presented as overarching themes, covering ten core concepts. Does this provide are fair representation of the field, and what does it do to address the obstacles of interdisciplinary research?
I found Kuhn’s list of questions the easiest way to navigate a paper which was (perhaps necessarily) conceptually dense. These provided a strong starting point for thinking broadly about spatial information. Similarly to Mark’s paper, the author characterises their area of interest by breaking a core idea down into its constituent parts. While ten is a nice round number, I would argue that some important areas might be more explicitly represented. Namely, concepts which answer the questions of how is spatial information perceived, why it is produced and who produces it.
A basic, but key challenge to the exchanging of ideas across different fields is language – each has its own set of definitions, syntaxes and assumptions. Interdisciplinary work must therefore seek common ground and anticipate potential sites of conflict. This paper communicates to the GISc community and makes some suggestions as to how this community might function to map between other disciplines. Perhaps the ideas could be made clearer for other audiences by relating back to some of the examples given in the introduction (e.g. biodiversity, climate change, poverty), or by further discussing applications of the core concepts in other fields.

Mark (2003) – Defining GISc

Sunday, September 17th, 2017
In this paper, Mark characterises the emergence of Geographic Information Science (GISc) as a field of scientific inquiry, building upon previous definitions in a call for consensus among researchers. As an influential, early proponent of GISc, the author makes assertions about what constitutes GISc (spatial ontology, representations/ indices of geographic data, spatial cognition, human/ machine interaction with geographic information etc). The paper is also speculative, seeking reaffirmation from others in the field to help establish a concerted vision for GISc.
Nearly 15 years after publication, we might ask how well these definitions hold. In this time, important new actors have changed the way we collect, contribute and interact with spatial data. For example, smartphone users are able to efficiently search rich geographic databases (like Google Maps) for information relevant to them, in exchange for their own (partially) anonymised data. This widespread adoption of new technologies perhaps requires an even larger diversity of interdisciplinary work than anticipated by Mark, with issues of geosurveillance, privacy and big data necessarily introducing perspectives from law and data ethics. These developments have also changed who GISc is done by and done for – academics, governments, companies, citizens?
I would argue that GISc has securely established its place as a legitimate scientific discipline (it has its own Wikipedia page). Funding is an interesting proxy for legitimacy raised by Mark and other bloggers, and was certainly important during GISc’s infancy for addressing a research agenda, establishing networks/ standards through GISc organisations, and training students.  Over the last decade, there has been huge investment and contribution towards geospatial resources outside of academia, from private companies (Google, Facebook) and other social platforms. Has this further legitimised GISc as a field of research – both in leading development of new technologies, and by providing new research areas for GISc?

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

Sunday, September 17th, 2017

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.


Core concepts, Kuhn (2012) – Nice to have?

Sunday, September 17th, 2017

I found the overall article creates more complexity than simplifying the proposed concepts. If the target of the article is to communicate the opportunity of interdisciplinary integration, I find the language used to express Geospatial Information’s primitives (and cores) too complex if not supported by pragmatic and clear examples.

In reading the article I question why the metadata concept is not part of the core discussion given the fundamental roles it plays in information and moreover in the geospatial domain. This concept could have been elaborated in the accuracy section.

The author provides an unequivocal interpretation of the core components in Geospatial Information. That said, he also let me think that in a society driven by a strong economical drive, measuring the economic value of Geospatial Information is complex and difficult to estimate.  So how can we estimate its impact on the budget planning of a project based activity?

This gap suggests me that the Geospatial Information could remain in the ‘Nice to have’ basket when planning project’s resource investment (which the primary focus in not Geospatial Information).

Lastly, because things change constantly, I am still debating where the concept of time sits in the Geospatial Information realm. Is it a core element or should it be considered an external factor?

– Giancarlo –

Defining the field- Mark (2003) – stuck with a definition ?

Saturday, September 16th, 2017

In reading the article I found that in the definition of UCGIS may lack a fundamental “application” element in its definition. Stating the objectives of the Geographical Information Science (GI Science) as “the transformation of geographic data into useful information…” I think denotes rather a weak goal that is not necessarily ethical. This weakness may generate the ambiguity of where this science should find a proper location in the scientific discussion.
The article conveys to me the benefits to the societal realm (not limited to the societal construct); therefore, that “positive net element” should be clearly stated in any definition.
Is the goal of GI Science to answer fundamental scientific questions? I am not convinced; I believe GI Science plays a critical role to link scientific methods to the application of technology, which eventually must deliver a net benefit to society.
The above characteristics create a new concept which is nor represented by the traditional Geoscience disciplines (Geology, Geophysics) nor implicitly disclosed by the Geographic disciplines.
The problem is that recycling existing words or using old concept (like GIS), and forcing the community to distance itself from it doesn’t help and eventually, as expressed in the article, creates ambiguity and confusion.
So are we stuck with a definition that eventually could trigger loss of opportunity and risky outcomes like the inevitable repercussion in recruiting investments, critical to the survivability of this scientific approach?
Should we redesign a name that unequivocally represents the scientific effort into the Geo Information domain?

– Giancarlo –

Twenty years of progress: GIScience in 2010 (Goodchild)

Saturday, September 16th, 2017

I thought this paper was a natural complement to the previous article which discussed the question of GIScience/Tool, and the domain of geo-information science in its nascence. Goodchild discusses events which have raised the profile of the field, like the 20th anniversary of US National Center  for Geofraphic and Information and Analysis by the National Science Foundation and the appointment of GIScientists to prominent roles in the public sector. He also recognizes the highly subjective nature of his assertions, and how “successes” or “discoveries” have a broad and malleable definition, especially for a field still grappling with its academic identity.

I found the diagrams to be very helpful in gauging the various subfields of GIS and which ideas and authors have bee influential in shaping the discourse, especially Figure 2. The spatial grouping of authors by category and the correlation between size/citing frequency were additional helpful features.

Like the 1997 paper, there was some hand-wringing about the “second-class status” (p5) that would be suffered by practitioners of GIS if it were to rely too much on technology and not on theory. Clearly, the desire to prove the fundamental theoretical importance of GISciences remains alive and well.

As a Cognitive Science/ Urban Systems double major, I enjoyed the emphasis on the interdisciplinary nature of GIS throughout, especially when he equates advancements in the field of human genomics and neuroscience as having implications for spatial analysis in GIScience. As we know, there is considerable overlap between these two fields for example in the use of agent-based modeling, topographical analysis, and neural cartography. I found this to be a compelling argument for GIS being a novel, multi-disciplinary science for a new era of heightened  information and connectivity.

I am not sure if I agree with Marc Amstrong’s claim (pg 8) that GIScience “was not so much about discovery as about transformation.” Whereas the processes might be transformative (literally going from paper to digital), I think the trends, patterns, and answers that GIS produces through its visualizations can be categorized as discoveries.

I appreciated the discussion of “error” and “uncertainty” and the explanation of how the former, while prevalent in the early days of GIS, came to be understood in terms of the latter when the problems faced by researchers became clearer. Tracing the jargon of a discipline and how changes in language use reflect systemic changes in how a discipline is conceptualized and performed is a worthwhile endeavour.

There were a number of pressing questions put forth in the “Technology of Dynamics (4.3)” section, namely, who should have access to the vast amounts of  geographic data made possibly by mobile tracking and sensors in the environment. He makes a strong case for the need for local/national/international/ transnational organization to make sure that data is safely handled, coherent, useful. I don’t think we have answers for many of the problems and potential research areas (3D mapping) which Goodchild puts forth in his conclusion.

— futureSpock





On Wright et al (1997)

Saturday, September 16th, 2017

This article was a great kick-off to our course, as it highlighted just how far we’ve come — and the advances we can make — by discussing GIS as GIScience.

Since 1997, the number of GIS users alone has grown exponentially due to the increasing use of location-based services thanks to smartphones and the widespread use of the internet worldwide. GIS users are no longer required to have formal training to use software, and the average person can contribute data about locations, contributing to the success of platforms such as OpenStreetMaps, Waze, GasBuddy, and many others.

Also, because of the incredible advancements in technology and GIS more specifically in the last 20 years, there should be a new review of those who think about the science of GIS. It seems to me, anyways, that most GIS users are just that- users (ie. tool users and toolmakers, by Wright et al’s definition). It would be interesting to see if the new users of GIS, like computer scientists, entrepreneurs, planners, surveillance technicians, volunteer cartographers, or even everyday people, evaluate GIS as a science, and if so, how they define science or how they define GIScience according to their experiences.

And, does GIS need to be defined as a science today? Many people who use GISystems are using a variety of platforms and creating a variety of platforms that rely on the tool to answer questions (à la the Scientific Method). The creation of these platforms shows that there is recognition of the GIS (tool) as a tool in the toolbox of researchers and scientists and less than simply the investigation of irregularities/trends in spatial data. I will be interested in learning more about why the definition of “science” is important, since it seems like today, most do not concern themselves with such nuanced definitions. 

Core concepts, Kuhn (2012)

Saturday, September 16th, 2017

Much like Mark (2003) , Kuhn (2012) seeks to create a comprehensive list of core concepts in GIScience. Kuhn emphasizes the multi-disciplinarity of GIScience, and its importance in the growth GIScience. In general, I think that multi-disciplinarity is beneficial to any field, as different perspectives can provide fresh outlooks. Kuhn’s list of 10 core concepts is approachable for researchers in many disciplines, which can help promote cross-disciplinary GIScience research.

The core concepts are all relatively basic, but Kuhn’s more philosophical approach to them is really interesting. I found the discussion of location and accuracy particularly thought-provoking. Kuhn states that nothing has a true location, as location is based on relativity and context. While I immediately agreed that the understanding of a location is based on context, it took me a while to wrap my head around the fact that a theoretically unmoving object’s location would necessarily be relative to something else in order to establish its location (ie. I can’t be ‘here’ unless there is a ‘there’). I haven’t ever considered location as a dualism, but Kuhn has opened up my mind to the notion.

In the discussion on accuracy, Kuhn suggests that one aspect of accuracy depends on regularity in repeated measurements, but goes on to say that measurements must be understood as a random process. I will readily agree that units of measurement can be random, but shouldn’t the outcome of a measurement be far from random? Either I haven’t thought t enough about it, or a more in-depth explanation of this would be helpful.

Defining the field- Mark (2003)

Saturday, September 16th, 2017

In Geographic Information Science: Defining the field, Mark (2003) presents the “intellectual scope” of GIScience, and seeks to precisely define the science in a way that Goodchild (1992) did not do. He does this by suggesting that GIScience is a multi-disciplinary branch of information science, comparable to computer science. Mark clearly lays out the basic tenets of GIScience, and, in my opinion, successfully presents Geographic Information Science as a discipline that reaches far beyond GISystems and their applications. While reading the article, I often thought about the shortcomings in my GIS education during my undergraduate degree. GIS was presented almost exclusively as GISystems, and this article helped to provide me with a  base understanding of GIScience, its scope and its importance.

One thing that stood out to me, is that Mark suggests that GIScience became a truly academic field when the National Scientific Fund of the US began funding GIScience research. I find the use of agency funding as a source of science legitimacy incredibly interesting. On the one hand, funding is a crucial component of science and academia: without any funding, scientific research cannot be done. On the other hand, the fact that Mark’s understanding of the basic components of GIScience rests partially on successful funding proposals seems troubling. If government funding agencies have the power to define the scope and content of the science, is the science moving forward freely?

While this is a philosophical and ethical question that speaks more to our society than GIScience itself, given the personal privacy concerns tied to GIScience that we discussed in class, I feel somewhat perturbed by this. If government funding is pushing forward the scope and content of GIScience, how will citizen and consumer rights be protected?

Comments on Wright et al. (1997)

Friday, September 15th, 2017

Let me start off by saying that I’m happy that Wright et al. (1997) acknowledge that GIS can have many different identities. GIS can be different things to different people – it can be used to answer research questions or fuel new ones. I was introduced to GIS as a tool, and initially saw it as a mechanism which allowed me to investigate spatial data and produce maps to show my findings. As I am now delving further into GIS, I am realizing that it is important to interrogate GIS as a means of producing knowledge and look into any errors or biases that GIS itself introduces. I don’t really know if this qualifies GIS as a “science”, but to me, this type of investigation goes beyond considering GIS as merely a tool.

I appreciated that Wright et al. (1997) discussed the various philosophical approaches underpinning science. It’s important to talk about the pedestal that we often put science on and the types of knowledge that it values. In the context of GIS, I think that the label of “science” is problematic in that it, while perhaps elevating the field, inevitably becomes exclusionary to those outside of academia or other similar positions of privilege. I’m not convinced by that author’s rationalization of why being able to call GIS a science is important. If we’re fighting to call GIS a science to give it academic legitimacy, isn’t this just giving in to the skewed status quo? Furthermore, I’m not clear on where this meta discussion of what GIS “is” actually gets us. Nothing is stopping anyone from talking about or using GIS in different ways. Why do we need to put so much effort into rigorously defining its many identities? Aren’t there more pressing problems which need solving?

World peace, Vancouver’s astronomical housing prices, Donald Trump…???

  • janejacobs

Thoughts on ” GIS: Tool or Science?” (1997) (Wright et al.)

Friday, September 15th, 2017

Right off the bat, the antiquity of this article stood out. When the authors discuss how it has become necessary to “refer to information that may exist only in electronic form”, and how new methods of citation will need to be developed for websites,  one realizes that the context in which this review was written is very different from that of present day where citing electronic sources in research is second nature. This point is relevant because we can treat the text almost as a historical document, an insight into how the question of GI-tool/GI-Science was being discussed at the conception of the “field” of GIS.

The initial description of the GIS-L presents an interesting case of how issues in GIS were first being discussed on an online platform by geographically distant scholars and interested individuals. It is difficult to imagine an academic paper devoting so much space to a conversation that took place on a discussion board. There is clearly some ambiguity about how to treat the discussion, with the authors positing that that the bulletin board “falls into the realm of personal communication”. Surely no one would make the mistake of assuming that anything they post to the internet today is “personal” or protected by some common understanding of privacy and discretion.

I enjoyed their discussion of GIS belonging on a fuzzy continuum. Their justification for caring about  about GIS’s scientific identity seemed a little circular to me: “labeling a field as a science…may…secure it greater funding and prestige.” Seeing as the authors have a vested interest in securing funding for their area of research, it seemed like it would be in their interest to argue for GIS as a science, to expand their prospects in the academy.

The “GIS as a tool” section raised a few questions for me. The authors state that “The tool itself is inherently neutral…it’s development and availability driven by application.” I am not sure I agree with this statement, seeing as the prohibitive cost of many packages make them decidedly un-available to the majority of people, and the development of the programs are always with the products in mind, which have political and social implications (gerrymandering using GIS, for one example.)

In their section on GIScience, the authors laid down four conditions for a discipline to be considered a “Science” which begged the question; who decides whether these conditions have been met or not? The language was (deliberately?) vague, citing “ sufficient significance” , “sufficiently challenging”, “sufficient commonalities”. This language makes it nearly impossible to arrive at a definitive or quantifiable answer as to whether something is a science or not, and perhaps this is the point.

I thought it was interesting how the authors discussed the problems that arise from the subjugation of GIS at both a theoretical level (what is science?) and a fine-grain, administrative one, recognizing how hard it would be for academics in the field to secure jobs and train students while devoting time to research.

In their conclusion they discussed how GIS may be a “new kind of science”, and I think this was a prescient observation as the diversity of fields within GIS today validate this point.