I had an interesting conversation with Raymond Page, a Vermont LS, which touched on the question of whether surveying was art or science. We both agreed there are elements of each in the profession. The comment that should trouble professional surveyors was, “I fear that, as surveyors, we are ushering in many technicians, but few professionals.” Before anyone sends any harsh comments Raymond’s way, let me frame the discussion.
Raymond approached me with an interesting commentary, which I read and we discussed as becoming a future guest column. We talked about many of the facets of surveying, including those which are science and technology based, and those that are more related to history, law, evidence, and interpretation. He commented that a mentor of his described surveying as both science and art.
Metrology is pretty easy to explain. Once it’s clear we’re not talking about the weather, the science of measurement seems pretty straightforward. The tools have advanced to the point that it is much easier to measure very accurately. Just compare how we measure and lay out boundaries today to what Mason and Dixon had to do. (See “Drawing the Line – How Mason and Dixon Surveyed the Most Famous Border in America”)
Has technology shifted the focus and made the discussion more about the science and less about the art of surveying? Educators are working hard to promote STEM education – science, technology, engineering, and math. Geospatial professions, including surveyors, touch all four of these categories, and there is plenty of exciting technology involved. When a local television station started promoting an upcoming series on “girls in STEM,” I contacted them to suggest they look in our direction too.
Like many of the educators, I add an “A” to the popular acronym. STEAM education balances the science and the art. The art of surveying is not just in rendering a point cloud into a beautiful image (though that could win you an Oscar). Just taking two terms Page used – evidence and interpretation – starts us down one path to the art of surveying.
Jeffrey Lucas and Kristopher Kline have plenty to say about evidence and interpretation. In their columns, A+B does not always equal C. If it did, the legal side of surveying would be very much like the metrology. Jeffrey Turner also talks a lot about the art of surveying if you look closely. He explains to an apprentice the difference between marking a “shed” on a survey document and describing a “corn crib.” There could be implications in the more precise description. My grandfather’s farm had a chicken coop and a spring house on the property. When the township took the property to build a school, there are certainly clear implications in not calling a spring house a shed. As the name implies, it was located at an outcropping of an underground spring.
As we describe surveying, let’s make sure we stress the art as well as the four elements of STEM. When we do that, surveyors can’t be mistaken for technicians, and we can all worry a little less about whether surveying is recognized as a profession.