Systems or Science?

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

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