Changes in thought and perceptions of science, tools and GIS

Wright, Goodchild, and  Proctor in their article “GIS: Tool or Science?” outline the varying cases for GIS being a tool or a science.  The article may point to opening our definition of science and shifting how science is quantified by results to a broader definition of applied and practical use. However, one can ask how does one’s perception and thought on, what is a tool? and what is a science? influence how GIS is viewed, and thus how it is defined. Can GIS not be both a tool and a science? Does not every science include tools and equations to understand the variability in nature and our world, and does not every tool rely on science to have a use? I believe GIS is a tool and a science. One just has to think of mathematics or physics where equations originally developed as a tool to answer a question have themselves become a science. For example, quantum mechanics where once only considered a tool to understand the atom but has since become a field of science and scientific research, although quantum mechanics can still be a tool. Any tool can become a science and any science can become a tool.

Science is derived in latin from the word for knowledge, therefore it can be considered as the pursuit and modification of knowledge and is that   not what GIS allow people to accomplish through the gathering and modification of information. Yet GIS is still a tool because it offers a means to an end (i.e. it allow a person to modify data to get a result). The way a person thinks, influences how they may perceive GIS. For instance if GIS is a means to an end, it is a tool, like a surveyor’s station to a surveyor who is plotting a map. Oppositely, if GIS is used to gather and study, it is a science, like a surveyor’s station to a geologist who is gathering data to understand the relationships of rocks to a point.  At present, technology and science are at a crux where both are intertwined, yet have the same definitions given centuries ago and are perceived in that same old fashion. Maybe it is time for a new definition to be created, as development in our world advances the tools and sciences we do as humans,where to integrate both GIS as a means and an end together.


Tags: , ,

Comments are closed.