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communication + science

Nature Methods: Points of View

Martin Krzywinski @MKrzywinski mkweb.bcgsc.ca
Points of View column in Nature Methods. (Points of View)

Guidelines for Effective Figures

Practical and concise advise on the visual presentation of data for researchers. One topic and one page at a time.

Common Challenges in Figure Design

Andreas Dahlin runs a figure making course at Uppsala University. He was kind to share with me common questions and concerns that his students have when creating figures (emphasis is mine).

I face problems for using the tools in power point to make nice illustration figures, and in addition how one can enhance the resolution of the figures to print it in a high quality mode.

In my opinion, the most difficult thing is how to draw the good-looking pictures and design the structure of slide to make it simple and substantial in content.

I find it difficult to find the right software to draw pictures.

The most difficult thing for me, when I make a figure, is to arrange the parts of the figure in a way they look nice and understandable.

I think the most difficult part is creating the concept, how to make a figure easy and fast to understand but not lacking all essential parts.

Stepping outside of my own knowledge of what the picture presents and viewing it as someone who sees it for the first time. It's easy to assume that some things are self evident and not making them clear enough in the pictures.

Figures that not are plots can also be tricky to get to look nice.

Anytime you have to draw something in paint, gimp, or other image program it requires a lot of work to make it look even slightly better than crap.

The most difficult thing (in general) is to include as much information as possible and display it in a way that is easy to understand. Figures should be intuitive for the reader, which is sometimes difficult to achieve. There might also be technical difficulties in achieving what you've visualized.

I think the most difficult part for me is to highlight the main idea I would like to express.

For me the most difficult part is making 3-D figures. Also while making figures its hard to decide on the good colors to choose for the figure.

In my opinion, the most difficult part when making a figure is don't know which software we can use and how to use.

The most difficult part for me is to start it! Because I am so meticulous and I am a painter, then it is not so easy to make decision about my figures and which one is better and so on, then finally I give up and put just one figure which of course I don't like...

I think it is difficult to put together my ideas to something that is connected and makes it easier for the viewer to understand.

It is so easy to just get an image from internet. I don’t know what is ok to do. There seems to be different rules in different communities.

To come up with a figure that does not simplify the concept too much at the same time as it does not overwhelm the viewer. To get some ideas for this is the reason why I take the course. ;-)

To me, how to make it easy to understand is the difficult part.

I think it is to save it in the correct format: Raster or vector, png or jpg or pdf... especially if I want to make some changes in the future to the figure.

I think is to choose the most appropriate figure that really help to transmit the information we want. Then, how many words can be good enough for been part of the message. At the beginning I used to use too many.

Apart from the difficulty of making the figure clear and easy to understand, the biggest problem I'm having is the captions. How long and detailed description is appropriate, so it neither steals attention from the figure nor leaves out too much important information.

I think the most difficult part is to have high resolution image once we want to save it. My experience is when finish with drawing, the file size sometimes to large for high quality image and if we downgrade it, the image becomes bad.

The most difficult part when i making a figure is the software using part, I'm not good at computer so that part is annoying for me all the time.

I think the most difficult is to find out how to condensate many ideas in one picture without making it difficult to understand.

The most difficult part is the get the image to not look too amateurish that people focus on that instead of the message.

The most difficult part when doing a figure is to let it speak for itself, i.e. to not have long caption text.

To be able to depict all the desirable results on a single figure is sometimes not that easy. It becomes more critical when a figure is to be fitted within a certain size frame. An exact placing of a figure in some text editors often comes along with difficulties.

The most difficult part when making a figure is to make it simple and still be informative.

Depends a lot on the kind of figure, but generally it is to get clarity in the design, such that the idea is conceived easily. This requires some good outline (usually an iterative process).

The most difficult part to make a figure is the need to express abstract concepts into drawings.

The compromise between include detailed information and at the same time be readable (figures in articles)

To compress all information and ideas you have in your head into short and clear message.

I feel the difficulty in choosing a right resolution of the picture and the angle that could visualize all the details. And also choosing right test/label colour, size, font. Another difficulty for me is continuation from one slide to another.

I believe that my biggest problem would be making nice flux charts. Generally the ones I draw look too crude, it does not look beautiful. I have no concern about making an image that can represent an idea, but making a beautiful image makes it more pleasing to the eyes of the people who will read my work.

It is very difficult to make the figure delicate. I am still not get used to put all the small components together to integrate the figure by the vector software, instead of drawing it out directly.

I think the most difficult part is to make the image simple but yet informative.

I find it very difficult to make an original clarity picture in a particular format after dimensioning it according to the requirement.

Some times it is difficult to limit the size (Bytes) of the picture when going for high clarity remake.

Making the figure as informative as you want while keeping it simple enough to grasp quickly.

For me, the more difficult part is to create a figure that contains or tells all the information that I want to transmit, but keeping the figure simple, clean and not overloaded.

The most difficult for me is make it easily to be understood meanwhile containing the essential information.

The most difficult thing when developing a figure is ... to remove the bloat but keep the message. (Besides the very most difficult: finding out what I want to tell.)

For me the most difficult part is to choose colors with right contrast and to make it more attractive and catchy.

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news + thoughts

Markov Chains

Tue 30-07-2019

You can look back there to explain things,
but the explanation disappears.
You'll never find it there.
Things are not explained by the past.
They're explained by what happens now.
—Alan Watts

A Markov chain is a probabilistic model that is used to model how a system changes over time as a series of transitions between states. Each transition is assigned a probability that defines the chance of the system changing from one state to another.

Martin Krzywinski @MKrzywinski mkweb.bcgsc.ca
Nature Methods Points of Significance column: Markov Chains. (read)

Together with the states, these transitions probabilities define a stochastic model with the Markov property: transition probabilities only depend on the current state—the future is independent of the past if the present is known.

Once the transition probabilities are defined in matrix form, it is easy to predict the distribution of future states of the system. We cover concepts of aperiodicity, irreducibility, limiting and stationary distributions and absorption.

This column is the first part of a series and pairs particularly well with Alan Watts and Blond:ish.

Grewal, J., Krzywinski, M. & Altman, N. (2019) Points of significance: Markov Chains. Nature Methods 16:663–664.

1-bit zoomable gigapixel maps of Moon, Solar System and Sky

Mon 22-07-2019

Places to go and nobody to see.

Exquisitely detailed maps of places on the Moon, comets and asteroids in the Solar System and stars, deep-sky objects and exoplanets in the northern and southern sky. All maps are zoomable.

Martin Krzywinski @MKrzywinski mkweb.bcgsc.ca
3.6 gigapixel map of the near side of the Moon, annotated with 6,733. (details)
Martin Krzywinski @MKrzywinski mkweb.bcgsc.ca
100 megapixel and 10 gigapixel map of the Solar System on 20 July 2019, annotated with 758k asteroids, 1.3k comets and all planets and satellites. (details)
Martin Krzywinski @MKrzywinski mkweb.bcgsc.ca
100 megapixle and 10 gigapixel map of the Northern Celestial Hemisphere, annotated with 44 million stars, 74,000 deep-sky objects and 3,000 exoplanets. (details)
Martin Krzywinski @MKrzywinski mkweb.bcgsc.ca
100 megapixle and 10 gigapixel map of the Southern Celestial Hemisphere, annotated with 69 million stars, 88,000 deep-sky objects and 1000 exoplanets. (details)

Quantile regression

Sat 01-06-2019
Quantile regression robustly estimates the typical and extreme values of a response.

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?"

Martin Krzywinski @MKrzywinski mkweb.bcgsc.ca
Nature Methods Points of Significance column: Quantile regression. (read)

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.

Background reading

Altman, N. & Krzywinski, M. (2015) Points of significance: Simple linear regression. Nature Methods 12:999–1000.

Analyzing outliers: Robust methods to the rescue

Sat 30-03-2019
Robust regression generates more reliable estimates by detecting and downweighting outliers.

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.

Martin Krzywinski @MKrzywinski mkweb.bcgsc.ca
Nature Methods Points of Significance column: Analyzing outliers: Robust methods to the rescue. (read)

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.

Background reading

Altman, N. & Krzywinski, M. (2016) Points of significance: Analyzing outliers: Influential or nuisance. Nature Methods 13:281–282.

Two-level factorial experiments

Fri 22-03-2019
To find which experimental factors have an effect, simultaneously examine the difference between the high and low levels of each.

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.

Martin Krzywinski @MKrzywinski mkweb.bcgsc.ca
Nature Methods Points of Significance column: Two-level factorial experiments. (read)

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.

Background reading

Krzywinski, M. & Altman, N. (2014) Points of significance: Designing comparative experiments.. Nature Methods 11:597–598.