Geography's Contributions to Scientific Understanding

Geography contributes to science as a part of the broad, creative, multidisciplinary effort to advance the frontiers of knowledge. In so doing it offers significant insights into some of the major questions facing the sciences, related to the pursuit of knowledge both for its own sake and for the sake of improving society's well-being.

In this chapter, geography's contributions to scientific understanding, both actual and potential, are illustrated by way of example. The chapter itself is organized around the three "lenses" through which geographers view the world—integration in place, interdependencies between places, and interdependencies among scales. These constitute the major sections in this chapter, along with spatial representation. For each of these sections the chapter uses examples from geography's subject matter to illustrate how geographic thinking and approaches contribute to scientific understanding generally. The chapter then provides examples of how such thinking can be used to address important scientific and societal issues. These illustrations are followed by a similarly brief and selective discussion of spatial representation.

For the sake of brevity, and because the report is directed primarily to audiences outside of the discipline, the chapter illustrates geography's contributions by using a few examples, chosen primarily to illustrate the range of geographic research. Far more research by geographers has contributed significantly to science than is noted here specifically, of course. Examples of this research are referenced throughout this report.