GIS: Tool or Science?

Wright et al. (1997) compound the debate amongst the GIS-L community as to whether GIS should be regarded as a tool or as a science.  In doing so Wright et al. also delve into profounder topics such as defining “doing science”.  Wright et al. identify three positions, on a sliding spectrum between tool and science: GIS as a tool, GIS as a toolmaking, and, GIS as a science.

My experience with GIS thus far is to utilize it as a tool for answering geography related questions; nevertheless, I fully understand and accept the view of GIS as a science when looking at research within the field.  Encountering this dichotomy in my everyday suggests the importance of how GIS is used on a case-by-case basis.  While Wright et al. do address this; I believe it was underemphasized in the article (and similarly the debate) as this is essentially the basis for the argument for a necessary shift from the “black-and-white” to a “fuzzier continua” of descriptions for conceptualizing GIS (1997: 358).

Secondly, this article brought to my attention the merit of regarding something as a science simply as a means of maintaining “academic legitimacy” (1997: 354).  Not all usages of GIS will be regarded as science, however this should not devalue it as a discipline.  I think this dilemma as presented to us by Wright et al. is extremely important to defy and not only in the fields of geography and GIS.  The idea that something is automatically more reputable because we somewhat arbitrarily categorize it under “doing science” means we are likely limiting our advancements as a society and I applaud Wright et al. for raising this issue.



One Response to “GIS: Tool or Science?”

  1. sieber says:

    Thanks, BannerGrey, for being the first post of GEOG506 2015!