Monday, May 5, 2014

GISc: Science or Tool?

Is GIS a science or a tool.  Take either side. 

Taking a side on whether GISc is a Science or a tool is akin to choosing whether a pen asserts is value in that it can write or by merit of what it has written.  And to be clear, it , the pen, writes only what the pen holder can imagine within the parameters of its utility, those parameters being the amount of ink at disposal, the intensity of ink flow, the shape of the dispenser, ballpoint or otherwise, as well as the medium on which it stains.  If this were a debate to be defended and one was forced to emphasize which aspect of the pen is most noteworthy or most important  to its denotative existence it seems that we’d only end up in a contradictory landscape of the “either or”.  Ergo, GISc might neither be a tool nor a science and yet both a tool and a science; integral to itself in both regards.  For what use is a tool that has no purpose and what use is a purpose for which one has no tools?  One might concede that the tool is fundamental to having the science, but if they thought a little more would have to admit there is a science to creating the tool in the first place, on and on ad infinitum.  So where does that leave us? 

Well according to the University of North Dakota,

Geographic Information Science (GISc) is the foundation of Geographic Information Systems (GIS). It is the general term for mapping technologies used by business, government, and education.  

GISc integrates spatial data sets in the form of:

digital maps
digital aerial photos
remotely sensed imagery
global positioning system (GPS) coordinates

The technologies are used to assess, plan, and manage many facets of society, including:

population growth
natural resource management
economic development
energy production and transmission
air and water pollution
business marketing and site location
access to medical care
city planning
building design
urban infrastructure

So, as a nominal reference alone, GISc as a term is a direct reference to the set of “technologies,” or tools to be consistent, that allow for the assessment, planning and management of this abbreviated list of facets, via the creation of data-laden maps.  To reiterate the interdependency of tool to science, however, how would GISc as a tool be relevant without the input of how society wants to use it for these applications?  This point alone leads one to see that GISc is more of a science than a tool.  And the tools that are needed to create its infrastructure are ultimately abstract ideas humans have about how to represent society in two dimensions. 

Then again, tools aren’t necessarily tangible, but at the same time, everything is tangible.  Even ideas, which seem to be intangible, are the output of atomic neural firings which become amplified audibly or otherwise as stimuli to the receptors of anyone or thing consciously or subconsciously receiving.  That would imply all of science is absolutely dependent on the tools of even  and especially our constantly evolving biology towards this techno-sphere of modern times.  So the question remains, is GISc a science or a tool?  In itself, which is to say, absolutely stagnant and without consideration of past nor future, only in what exists of GISc on a hard drive, right in this instant, it must be a tool.  To become a science GISc would require the input of data manipulators - people - at which point, it is no longer “GISc” on its own, but GISc in action, whereby it becomes a scientific process. 

If this has finally been settled, we haven’t really gotten anywhere other than exhausting the fact that we can all agree that GISc is a tool  and that we as GISc participants can continue to scientifically, and even artistically, further its utility as such for ongoingly grasping the relationships of the topographic world, entirely relevant, as that captures the majority of that which can be represented. 

1 comment:

  1. This is an interesting and engaging article that really makes the reader think. This claim and the argumet that follows: " aren’t necessarily tangible, but at the same time, everything is tangible." helped me see GIS in a different way that isn't so static and confined to one definition. Comparing tools and science to a pen and writing was a great way to help the reader see how GISc can be a science or a tool depending on which way it is being viewed or applied. There are many lenses with which one could view the application of GISc and this article is another that adds to the collective mix of differentiating viewpoints.