More to Uncertainty

A point I mentioned in the previous post on uncertainty mentioned the interest I had in Foody’s point on zoning.  In his article entitled “Uncertainty, knowledge discovery and data mining in GIS”, he discusses how uncertainty is inherent in geographical data, and furthermore, suggests it is compounded by the way we use our data.  He says, “[c]hanges in administrative boundaries, for example, significantly handicap population studies, with incompatible zoning systems used over time”.  I said in my last point that it appears uncertainty is another challenge that may be mediated by making assumptions explicit.  I would like to examine this point further.

In saying that explicitness can mediate this problem, I don’t assume that merely laying out steps can “fix” error and uncertainty, but rather, by understanding, accepting, and most importantly, working with these issues at each step is incredibly important.  Similarly to the issue of scale, uncertainty is something that (while not “applied”, as scale is) at least occurs at almost each stage of working with data—observation and analysis.  This can be problematic because of the possibility to compound “layers” of uncertainty at various stages, resulting in even greater amounts of uncertainty by the end of the project.  So I believe by recognizing uncertainty at each scale, it becomes much easier to work with.  And as Foody notes, GIS can be thought of as “a means of communicating information”, which can extend to a means of communicating error.  However, I also believe that by understanding and communicating uncertainty and error, it can lead to better formulated and deeper questions, which may make use of error and uncertainty in data and factor that into the question itself, similarly to how errors in zoning with regards to scale can be used to illuminate beyond the surface of the data.



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