GI Systems vs. GI Science – Wright et al reading

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

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