Tool and toolmaking wihtout a science?

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


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