Home > Public Domain Data > Connecting the 4 SIFT moves to geospatial technology

Connecting the 4 SIFT moves to geospatial technology

Mike Caulfield’s 4 SIFT moves are a helpful set of easy-to-remember guidelines designed to help students sort truth from fiction and to think critically. The SIFT moves give people a short list of things to do when looking at a source, and each is connected to 1 or 2 highly effective web techniques. The four moves are: S Stop, I Investigate the source, F Find better coverage, and T Trace the original context.

The 4 SIFT moves. Thanks Mike Caulfield!

Mike is an educator, but these 4 moves I believe are appropriate even to those who are not students: GIS professionals, and to anyone consuming information today (which is all of us). Being wary of sources, context, and agendas is nothing new, but the awareness and the need for doing so is more acute now than ever: There is an amazing volume and variety of information at our fingertips, both accurate and inaccurate. A major part of information is geo-information, in the form of maps, map layers, infographics, dashboards, and storymaps. How can we continually think critically about data, and geospatial information in particular? That is the one of the chief purposes of this blog and our book. And since this geo-information is used to understand problems and to solve them, the need for critically evaluating information will remain important.

One thing I like about these 4 moves is the advice to ask who the speaker or publisher is. “What’s their expertise? What’s their agenda? What’s their record of fairness or accuracy?” In today’s big data mapping world, sometimes digging this information out goes far beyond just reading the metadata (or lack of it). It may require going to each organization producing the geospatial information, looking up their mission, the background of their researchers, and so on.

Another thing I like about Mike’s advice is, “Do you have to agree with the consensus once you find it? Absolutely not! But understanding the context and history of a claim will help you better evaluate it and form a starting point for future investigation.” Again I find excellent connections to GIS work but I also offer this advice to the GIS community: Do you have to accept every map that you see? No! Maps have an air of authenticity; they tend to believed. Everyone is a mapmaker these days, with open data portals, web GIS tools, and ways to share results as maps and web mapping applications. I encourage you to spend the time to dig into the sources, the methods, the tools used for data that you are considering using in your project that others have created. And if you have time, don’t just disagree with the source–map the issue or phenomena yourself, using analysis methods, classification, symbology, and other tools that you feel better represents that issue or problem. Our world is complex, and the problems in our world need multiple viewpoints and methods applied: Your investigation could add to what could be a more well-rounded understanding of that issue.

To dig deeper, Mike also offers a free mini-course in these techniques.

–Joseph Kerski

Categories: Public Domain Data
  1. Bartz, Gerald
    July 4, 2022 at 5:23 pm

    Is GIS attempting to reinvent the wheel of developing the pathway to critical thinking? GIS is a cross curriculum skill set. A university is a cross curriculum education institution. In its days of inception, the universities set up divisions of schools based upon the strengths of the schools.

    Among the schools that developed critical thinkers are the schools of physical science. The ethics of a physical scientist is to find the truth through critical thinking. The pathway to the truth is built upon the five basic steps of the Scientific Method.

    The scientific method has five basic steps, plus one feedback step (number 6).

    Make an observation. 2. Ask a question. 3. Form a hypothesis, or testable explanation. 4. Make a prediction based on the hypothesis. 5. Test the prediction. 6. Iterate: use the results to make new hypotheses or predictions.

    Modify this to other disciplines and perhaps the number of critical thinkers will increase.

    I follow the teaching methodology of the great teachers that I have had. Presentations might incoporate phrases similar to: The data trend is consistent with….. Based upon the results of other currently available data… Previous studies led to this conclusion but recent data have led us to rethink…..

    In other words, there is no settled science In critical thinking. Personally I am the author of 4 scientific patents that are proof that science is not always settled.

    I am closing this response with a statement and a paraphrased quote. The statement. I am documented critical thinker problem solver and not a skilled wordsmith.

    I apply the following quote to all areas I work in. I believe this attitude is one key to developing critical thinkers:

    “We usually find gas in new places with old ideas. Sometimes, also, we find gas in an old place with a new idea, but we seldom find much gas in an old place with an old idea. Several times in the past we have thought that we were running out of gas, whereas actually we were only running out of ideas.”

    • josephkerski
      August 15, 2022 at 3:09 pm

      Thanks Professor B and for reading the Spatial Reserves blog, too! –Joseph Kerski

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