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The Danger of a Big Data Episteme and the Need to Evolve GIS


DOI: 10.1177/2043820613513394

Gorman, S P. “The Danger of a Big Data Episteme and the Need to Evolve Geographic Information Systems.” Dialogues in Human Geography 3.3 (2013): 285–291. Web.

p.287: Further, the attributes of data went beyond what the computational underpinnings of GIS was originally constructed for—now integrating unstructured data and temporal attributes both at very large volume and at high speeds. -- Highlighted mar 14, 2014

p.287: One of the challenges for geography as a discipline is that ‘location as a feature’ happened outside the paradigm of geographic information science. -- Highlighted mar 14, 2014

p.287: While time– space has been an active area of study in geographic information science, traditionally data sources have not been unbounded and perpetually updating. -- Highlighted mar 14, 2014

p.288: In this construct, GIS was viewed not only as a science but as a profession, which required specialty skills and training within geography departments. While this created a corpus of highly trained professionals, it also created an insular approach that also manifested itself in the technical architecture of GIS. Data were created, managed, analyzed, visualized, and published all within a single system, and the result was considered authoritative and canonical. -- Highlighted mar 14, 2014

p.289: Issues of privacy and the creation of both government and corporate-driven surveillance further complicate this challenge (Dodge and Kitchin, 2007). As humans are taken out of the loop and replaced with algorithmic regulation, the application of ethics and governance is unclear.While this goes outside the scope of this position paper, it is helpful to reflect not only on the technological challenges but also on the societal repercussions, of big data. -- Highlighted mar 14, 2014

p.289: The inherent problem of having the discipline of geography create a specialty discipline for every aspect of science that has a location or geographic component has long been recognized as ‘the recurring identity crisis that plagues modern geography and its practitioners’ (Tuason, 1987). -- Highlighted mar 14, 2014

p.290: Now sample sizes come close to the size of the actual population but are also incredibly biased (e.g. Twitter provides a massive sample, but it is biased to only those using Twitter). Recent work by the Oxford Internet Institute found large biases just in different methods of accessing Twitter to query data for analysis—search APIs versus streaming APIs (Gonzales-Bailon et al., 2012). There is still a lack of fundamental science in understanding what the geographic and demographic biases are of the producers of big data, through the variety of user-driven services that create the content. -- Highlighted mar 14, 2014

p.290: This begins to provide some perspective on the challenges big data holds for geographic methodologies, which only become more complex when applied to more sophisticated geographic methodologies utilizing big data. -- Highlighted mar 14, 2014

p.291: While the concept of a human-powered sensor web driven by the adoption of mobile devices is compelling, there is little understanding of themacroscale dynamics.Who andwho is not connected?Who contributes and who passively consumes? How does this breakdown by demographics and geography? The digital divide is much more than connectivity, but so too is participation on the various services riding across networks that generate big data. What are the ‘data shadows’ created by the interactions of human and machines across networks that compress time and space (Graham, 2013)? -- Highlighted mar 14, 2014

p.291: Exploring how big data has evolved points to its perceived emergence as an episteme.What began as an evolution in computation has morphed in popular culture to be a field of science. Those who work with big data are even referred to as ‘data scientists’. The reductionist methods of understanding reality in big data produce new knowledge and methods for the control of reality. Yet it is not a reality that reflects the larger society but instead the small minority contributing content. -- Highlighted mar 14, 2014