Art is science in love.
— E.F. Weisslitz
Science cannot move forward without storytelling. While we learn about the world and its patterns through science, it is through stories that we can organize and sort through the observations and conclusions that drive the generation of scientific hypotheses.
With Alberto Cairo, I've written about the importance of storytelling as a tool to explain and narrate in Storytelling (2013) Nat. Methods 10:687. There we suggest that instead of "explain, not merely show," you should seek to "narrate, not merely explain."
Our account received support (Should scientists tell stories. (2013) Nat. Methods 10:1037) but not from all (Against storytelling of scientific results. (2013) Nat. Methods 10:1045).
A good science story must present facts and conclusions within a hierarchy—a bag of unsorted observations isn't likely to engage your readers. But while a story must always inform, it should also delight (as much as possible), and inspire. It should make the complexity of the problem accessible—or, at least, approachable—without simplifications that preclude insight into how concepts connect (they always do).
Just like science, explaining science is a process—one that can be more vexing than the science itself!
In science one tries to tell people, in such a way as to be understood by everyone, something that no one ever knew before. But in poetry, it’s the exact opposite.
—Paul Dirac, Mathematical Circles Adieu by H. Eves [quoted]
I have previously written about the process of taking a scientific statement (Creating Scientific American Graphic Science graphics) and turning it into a data visualization or, more broadly, visual story.
The process of the creation of one of these visual stories is itself a story. A story about how the genome is not a blueprint, a discovery of Hilbertonians, which are creatures that live on the Hilbert curve, how algorithms for protein folding can be used to generate art based on the digits of `\pi`, or how we can make human genome art by humans with genomes. I've also written about my design process in creating the cover for Genome Research and the cover of PNAS. As always, not everything works out all the time—read about the EMBO Journal covers that never made it.
Here, I'd like to walk you through the process and sketches of creating a story based on the idea of differences in data and how the story can be used to understand the function of cells and disease.
The visual story is a creative collaboration with Becton Dickinson and The Linus Group and its creation began with the concept of differences. The art was on display at AGBT 2017 conference and accompanies BD's launch of the Resolve platform and "Difference of One in Genomics".
Starting with the idea of the "difference of one", our goal was to create artistic representations of data sets generated using the BD Resolve platform, which generates single-cell transcriptomes, that captured a variety of differences that are relevant in genomics research.
The data art pieces were installed in a gallery style, with data visualization and artistic expression in equal parts.
The art itself is an old school take on virtual reality. Unlike modern VR, which isolates the participants from one another, we chose a low-tech route that not only brings the audience closer to the data but also to each other.
The data were generated using the BD Resolve single-cell transcriptomics platform. For each of the three art pieces, we identified a data set that captured a variety of differences.
The real surprise and insight is in difference that ultimately advance our thinking (Data visualization: amgibuity as a fellow traveller. (2013) Nat. Methods 10:613-615).
Figuring out which differences are of this kind requires that instead of "What's new?" we ask "What's different?"
Quantile regression explores the effect of one or more predictors on quantiles of the response. It can answer questions such as "What is the weight of 90% of individuals of a given height?"
Unlike in traditional mean regression methods, no assumptions about the distribution of the response are required, which makes it practical, robust and amenable to skewed distributions.
Quantile regression is also very useful when extremes are interesting or when the response variance varies with the predictors.
Das, K., Krzywinski, M. & Altman, N. (2019) Points of significance: Quantile regression. Nature Methods 16:451–452.
Altman, N. & Krzywinski, M. (2015) Points of significance: Simple linear regression. Nature Methods 12:999–1000.
Outliers can degrade the fit of linear regression models when the estimation is performed using the ordinary least squares. The impact of outliers can be mitigated with methods that provide robust inference and greater reliability in the presence of anomalous values.
We discuss MM-estimation and show how it can be used to keep your fitting sane and reliable.
Greco, L., Luta, G., Krzywinski, M. & Altman, N. (2019) Points of significance: Analyzing outliers: Robust methods to the rescue. Nature Methods 16:275–276.
Altman, N. & Krzywinski, M. (2016) Points of significance: Analyzing outliers: Influential or nuisance. Nature Methods 13:281–282.
Two-level factorial experiments, in which all combinations of multiple factor levels are used, efficiently estimate factor effects and detect interactions—desirable statistical qualities that can provide deep insight into a system.
They offer two benefits over the widely used one-factor-at-a-time (OFAT) experiments: efficiency and ability to detect interactions.
Since the number of factor combinations can quickly increase, one approach is to model only some of the factorial effects using empirically-validated assumptions of effect sparsity and effect hierarchy. Effect sparsity tells us that in factorial experiments most of the factorial terms are likely to be unimportant. Effect hierarchy tells us that low-order terms (e.g. main effects) tend to be larger than higher-order terms (e.g. two-factor or three-factor interactions).
Smucker, B., Krzywinski, M. & Altman, N. (2019) Points of significance: Two-level factorial experiments Nature Methods 16:211–212.
Krzywinski, M. & Altman, N. (2014) Points of significance: Designing comparative experiments.. Nature Methods 11:597–598.
Celebrate `\pi` Day (March 14th) and set out on an exploration explore accents unknown (to you)!
This year is purely typographical, with something for everyone. Hundreds of digits and hundreds of languages.
A special kids' edition merges math with color and fat fonts.
One moment you're
:) and the next you're
Make sense of it all with my Tree of Emotional life—a hierarchical account of how we feel.