Re: GIS – Tool or Science? The Chicken or the Egg: GIS or GIScience

The article by Wright et al in 1997, describes three positions on GIS, that of a tool, that of toolmaking and that of a science and summarizes the debate on these three positions based on listserve discussion from 1993. I agree that these positions exist but do so in harmony. However, it seems to me that there should be some consideration of the evolution of the tool of GIS in terms to the thought process that led to its development as it was not arbitrarily designed but was designed for a specific purpose following specific principles. I would argue that geographic information science was needed to develop geographic information systems and since that time, this science was not eliminated but forgotten and is only being consciously rediscovered at present.

As for any discovery or new knowledge or awareness on a subject gained through science, a problem or issue must first be recognized as requiring additional analysis. In this case, it was necessary to recognize that a more sophisticated and faster way of overlaying data could be accomplished on a computer than by hand. From this, additional geographic information was stored and analyzed on a computer in GIS. The decisions of how exactly to do this were based on knowledge from various disciplines such as statistics, economics, cartography, computer science and geography (Goodchild 2010 p.5) and were the roots of GIScience. In my opinion, these decisions, although perhaps made by only one of these disciplines such as the data models produced by computer science or that spatial adjacency mattered from geography, have now been synthesizes under the name of GIScience. That neither of these individual disciplines could produce and utilize GIS on their own suggest that there was out of necessity a new science was created to combine and further examine issues.

Thus, the roots of GIScience, the decisions that were made before GIS could be created, preceded GIS itself and it is only now that GIScience has been given a name and debate has arisen over what exactly it encompasses as science. To me, it is the decisions that were made in the creation of GIS that constitute GIScience as these decisions could have taken different paths at the time of creation and the concepts and questions of GIScience today as noted by Goodchild (2010, p.7) were addressed originally in some intrinsic and perhaps unintentional form in the creation of the first GISs. GIScience evolves today as these initial decisions are critically examined in terms of their impacts on research using GIS as a tool.

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.

Goodchild. 2010. Twenty years of progress: GIScience in 2010. Journal of Spatial Information Science. 1(2010) pp.3-20

-Outdoor Addict

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