GIS: Tool or Science?

In her article, GIS: Tool or Science?, Dawn J. Wright presents a nuanced approach to the debate about whether “doing GIS” is synonymous with “doing science”. Her commentary on GIS as “tool making” avoids dichotomous paradigms and acknowledges the fluid and complex nature of GIS. I especially found it interesting that the article is based on the output of a relatively new medium of scholarly debate. The GIS-L, an informal and open way of bringing together academics and GIS professionals, reflects the role that evolving communication technologies play in scholarly dialogue. The open discussion acknowledges consensus-driven definitions in order to enhance the validity of each side of the argument. The forum also emphasizes how key terms of GIS are subject to contestation. The author neatly presents their findings in table format to easily contrast each sides arguments.

In addition, the article addresses both the very abstract significance and the real world consequences of the tool versus science debate. For instance, the author acknowledges that the tool versus science debate includes the differences in the types of epistemologies and ontologies that constitute scientific method. On a less abstracted level, she also points out that whether GIS is perceived as a tool, toolmaking, or science affects its role in academia. The answers to these questions determine whether GIS will be taught at the undergraduate level as a technical orientation or at the graduate level as a research speciality. Therefore, whether GIS is perceived as a tool or science has very real consequences and is therefore a discussion worth having.

– GeoBloggerRB

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