Ever since Geography was recognised as a subject in the 19th century, geographers have strived to make geography a ‘scientific’ subject, acceptable in the eyes of academics, hence its foundation as a university discipline.
So, for many years geographers followed scientific methods, in order to shape geography into an academic subject, and recognised fully as a science. But has this been achieved?
The Penguin dictionary of geography defines science as “Knowledge gained by detailed observation by deduction of the laws governing changes and conditions and by testing these deductions by experiment.” (Clark 1998: 358) Whilst on the surface geography seems to fit this description, in truth this is merely the tip of the iceberg, it can be seen that there are elements pointing to geography being a science, but also elements pointing to the opposite viewpoint. This essay will include a multitude of sources relating to this subject, highlighting the indicators that geography is in fact a science, and also a variety of counterarguments to this point. However it is clear that due to the on going nature of the argument it is clear that there will be no definite answers provided, merely guides to what may be, and as such this answer can probably never be fully concluded.
Throughout history geographers have strived to have geography recognised as a science, as this was deemed necessary for it to be accepted in the eyes of academics worldwide. This tradition has carried on into modern day society, with geographers indicating that the subject is indeed a science. As we can see there have been many academic journals and books written about geography, and this status alone help to prove that geography is in fact a science. On the other hand other subjects that are widely regarded as sciences (such as chemistry, biology and physics) may contest this, and would argue that many of its scientific qualities are in fact taken from them, for example geography is strongly linked with biology in many areas. However this may further help to show geography’s scientific nature, as ideas are taken and used from other sciences, meaning that it to must be a science if it has taken from other scientific subjects.
Every self proclaimed geographer today will be able to tell you that he or she has something to do with data collection, and this can be a major indicator towards whether geography is indeed a science or not. For the most part physical geographers are involved with data collection of a Quantative nature, for example beach sediment samples or the measurement of rainfall in different areas. This on its own suggests that geography is a science, as this fulfils the “detailed observation” and “testing deductions by experiment” parts of the science definition (Clark 1998: 358). Also the data gathered is empirical, which is strong indicator of a scientific subject. However Geography also incorporates human elements, which traditionally use Qualitative data. As qualitative data is not numerical many people would not believe it to be scientific, hence showing that there are areas of geography which not everybody would call scientific. Even still all data collection in all forms can be seen to be scientific, as long as the ‘science’ is not only interested in empirical data, this therefore is another indicator that geography is indeed a science. However if data collection is all that is required for a subject to be scientific then there is little to stop any other subject being considered a science, as most areas of interest.