Martin Krzywinski / Genome Sciences Center / Martin Krzywinski / Genome Sciences Center / - contact me Martin Krzywinski / Genome Sciences Center / on Twitter Martin Krzywinski / Genome Sciences Center / - Lumondo Photography Martin Krzywinski / Genome Sciences Center / - Pi Art Martin Krzywinski / Genome Sciences Center / - Hilbertonians - Creatures on the Hilbert Curve
Trance opera—Spente le Stellebe dramaticmore quotes

visualization: exciting

DNA on 10th — street art, wayfinding and font

communication + science

Nature Methods: Points of View

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

The first Points of View column was about color coding in the July 2010 issue of Nature Methods. In its 5 year history, the column has established a significant legacy— it is one of the most frequently accessed parts of Nature Methods. The community sees the value in clear and effective visual communication and acknowledges the need for a forum in which best practices in the field are presented practically and accessibly.


Bang Wong, in collaboration with visiting authors (Noam Shoresh, Nils Gehlenborg, Cydney Nielsen and Rikke Schmidt Kjærgaard), has penned 29 columns in the period of August 2010 to December 2012, covering broad topics such as salience, Gestalt principles, color, typography, negative space, layout, and data integration.


The announcement of the return of the column, together with its history and a description of me, the new author, are available at the Nature Methods methagora blog. Humor is kept by repeated reference to my now-dead-but-once-famous pet rat.

When it was A.C. Greyling's turn to speak at a debate in which Christopher Hitchens and Richard Dawkins already made their points, Greyling said

When one gets up to speak this late in a debate, one is a bit tempated to quote that Hungarian M.P. who after a long, long, long discussion in the parliament in Budapest stood up and said, "Everything has been said but not everybody said it yet." (watch on YouTube)

Indeed, this is quite how I feel after being offered to be the new author of Nature Methods Point of View column. Both Bang and Hitchens provide significant inspiration for me, so Greyling's words are particularly fitting.

To improve on the column is impossible. My challenge is to identify useful topics that have not yet been covered. I will be working closely with Nature Methods and Bang to ensure that the columns strike the right balance of topic, tone and timbre.

In 2013 the Points of View column spawned the Points of Significance column, which deals with statistics in biological science.

For the month of August 2013, the entire set of 35 columns is available for free.

2015 and beyond

The column continues to run, though no longer monthly.

A PDF eBook of the 38 Points of View articles published between August 2010 and February 2015 is now available at the Nature Shop for $7.99 under the title Visual strategies for biological data: the collected Points of View.


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
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
3.6 gigapixel map of the near side of the Moon, annotated with 6,733. (details)
Martin Krzywinski @MKrzywinski
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
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
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
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
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
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.