Why the “Tool or Science” Debate Doesn’t Matter

The article by Wright et al. discusses how GIS should be recognized and in doing so considers multiple perspectives: what is science, what is GIS, philosophical schools of knowledge and science, the field of geography as a whole, the labels that GIS could be given, as well as why the label matters.

Effectively, I think that the article reinforced my lack of opinion surrounding the question “GIS: tool or science?”. By introducing fine detail and logical arguments supporting both sides of the debate it makes it harder to reach a conclusion. This discussion reminds me of earth system modelling problems; the main ideas can be reduced and simplified to establish a basic system with one or two inputs and outputs each. Regarding GIS, if we use simple definitions for our terms, it is easy to formulate one’s opinion of what GIS is (science vs tool). However, once we try to get further insight, problems of complexity come into play. An earth system model that strives to account for every individual micro-system within the macro-system quickly becomes too complex. in my opinion, that is, to a certain extent, what Wright’s paper accomplished in my understanding off the debate. I now find that it is harder than ever to decide which arguments are the most legitimate as a result of all the contrast. These arguments are not subject to a ‘right’- ‘wrong’/ ‘valid’ – ‘invalid’ position and this leaves the debate open.

But, unlike the earth system example where intricacies add accuracy to the model, examining the intricacies of this debate do not improve results. As I was reading, I asked myself the question “why does this debate even matter?”. If using GIS as a tool or science allows users to gain insight into our world, what matters should be the discoveries themselves; not the debate over the label of science. After turning the page and seeing the section labeled “Why Does Science Matter?”, I felt like I wasn’t going to be getting the answers I might have hoped for. The author makes the claim that the role of science does matter. This claim, although passive, leads me to believe that the author believes that the ‘Science’ label is important to him and the legitimacy of the field. However, the legitimacy of GIS related discoveries and theories should be founded in their truth, accuracy, and acceptance of peer. Even though interesting, the debate over the label of “Science”, does not improve nor degrade the quality and usefulness of the results of any GIS related project.

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