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Scientific graphical abstracts — design guidelines

visualization + design

81 digits of $\pi$ as a forest of trees: standard, bat cave and underwater editions. ( BUY ARTWORK )
The 2021 Pi Day art celebrates the digits of $\pi$ with a forest! Visit the bat cave and underwater ecosystems for the full experience.

The art of Pi ($\pi$), Phi ($\phi$) and $e$

2021 $\pi$ reminds us that good things grow for those who wait.' edition.
2019 $\pi$ has hundreds of digits, hundreds of languages and a special kids' edition.
2018 $\pi$ day stitches street maps into new destinations.
2017 $\pi$ day imagines the sky in a new way.

2016 $\pi$ approximation day wonders what would happen if about right was right.
2016 $\pi$ day sees digits really fall for each other.
2015 $\pi$ day maps transcendentally.
2014 $\pi$ approx day spirals into roughness.

2014 $\pi$ day hypnotizes you into looking.
2014 $\pi$ day
2013 $\pi$ day is where it started
Circular $\pi$ art and other distractions

Numbers are a lot of fun. They can start conversations—the interesting number paradox is a party favourite: every number must be interesting because the first number that wasn't would be very interesting! Of course, in the wrong company they can just as easily end conversations.

did you see something special?

These three numbers have the curious property that they are almost Pythagorean. In other words, if they are made into sides of a triangle, the triangle is nearly a right-angled triangle (89.1°).

The numbers $\pi$, $\phi$ and $e$ nearly form a right-angled triangle. Creepy.

Music for the Moon: Flunk's 'Down Here / Moon Above'

Sat 29-05-2021

The Sanctuary Project is a Lunar vault of science and art. It includes two fully sequenced human genomes, sequenced and assembled by us at Canada's Michael Smith Genome Sciences Centre.

The first disc includes a song composed by Flunk for the (eventual) trip to the Moon.

But how do you send sound to space? I describe the inspiration, process and art behind the work.

The song 'Down Here / Moon Above' from Flunk's new album History of Everything Ever is our song for space. It appears on the Sanctuary genome discs, which aim to send two fully sequenced human genomes to the Moon. (more)

Happy 2021 $\pi$ Day—A forest of digits

Sun 14-03-2021

Celebrate $\pi$ Day (March 14th) and finally see the digits through the forest.

The 26th tree in the digit forest of $\pi$. Why is there a flower on the ground?. (details)

This year is full of botanical whimsy. A Lindenmayer system forest – deterministic but always changing. Feel free to stop and pick the flowers from the ground.

The first 46 digits of $\pi$ in 8 trees. There are so many more. (details)

And things can get crazy in the forest.

A forest of the digits of '\pi$, by ecosystem. (details) Check out art from previous years: 2013$\pi$Day and 2014$\pi$Day, 2015$\pi$Day, 2016$\pi$Day, 2017$\pi$Day, 2018$\pi$Day and 2019$\pi` Day.

Testing for rare conditions

Sun 30-05-2021

All that glitters is not gold. —W. Shakespeare

The sensitivity and specificity of a test do not necessarily correspond to its error rate. This becomes critically important when testing for a rare condition — a test with 99% sensitivity and specificity has an even chance of being wrong when the condition prevalence is 1%.

We discuss the positive predictive value (PPV) and how practices such as screen can increase it.

Nature Methods Points of Significance column: Testing for rare conditions. (read)

Altman, N. & Krzywinski, M. (2021) Points of significance: Testing for rare conditions. Nature Methods 18:224–225.

Standardization fallacy

Tue 09-02-2021

We demand rigidly defined areas of doubt and uncertainty! —D. Adams

A popular notion about experiments is that it's good to keep variability in subjects low to limit the influence of confounding factors. This is called standardization.

Unfortunately, although standardization increases power, it can induce unrealistically low variability and lead to results that do not generalize to the population of interest. And, in fact, may be irreproducible.

Nature Methods Points of Significance column: Standardization fallacy. (read)

Not paying attention to these details and thinking (or hoping) that standardization is always good is the "standardization fallacy". In this column, we look at how standardization can be balanced with heterogenization to avoid this thorny issue.

Voelkl, B., Würbel, H., Krzywinski, M. & Altman, N. (2021) Points of significance: Standardization fallacy. Nature Methods 18:5–6.

Graphical Abstract Design Guidelines

Fri 13-11-2020

Clear, concise, legible and compelling.

Making a scientific graphical abstract? Refer to my practical design guidelines and redesign examples to improve organization, design and clarity of your graphical abstracts.

Graphical Abstract Design Guidelines — Clear, concise, legible and compelling.

"This data might give you a migrane"

Tue 06-10-2020

An in-depth look at my process of reacting to a bad figure — how I design a poster and tell data stories.

A poster of high BMI and obesity prevalence for 185 countries.