GIS: Tool or Science? Why not both?

Is GIS a tool or science? Wright (1997) and many other academics seem to be of the opinion that GIS needs to either be considered as just the computer software which we use to analyse and produce spatial data, or the analysis of fundamental issues raised by its use. But why does it need to be one or the other? While it is true that for anyone to properly collect, analyse, or create spatial data, they should be aware of the uncertainty and error inherent in their results, I don’t believe that an understanding of the fundamental issues surrounding GIS is required to use GIS to produce meaningful results with a high degree of certainty in more basic instances of spatial analysis. Since its use has become so widespread, much of the GIS used today is rudimentary and can done without an academic background in the field. Scientists make up a small fraction of the users of GIS software, and while their work with GIS can definitely be called GIScience, I’m reluctant to call something as simple and infallible as running a buffer function on some points “GIScience”, because it’s not science. Using it for greater purposes such as large-scale planning, research and development on the other hand does require a good awareness of the fundamental issues that surround whatever it is you are doing.



Comments are closed.