I'd like to introduce you one of the faces of the project: Alex, the genomics rat idol.
Arguably, Alex is the most popular rat on the internet. For the justification of this strong statement, read on.
Alex was born in May 2000. It's well known that a rat's cuteness reaches maximum at about 3-4 weeks. After this critical time, a pet store rat is less likely to be purchased and may be asked to act as snake food. In Alex's case, she was perilously close to her deadline. Luckily for her, we paid a ransom of $6.99 to the Noah's Ark pet shop in Vancouver. She was on her last cute leg.
From May 2000 Alex spent most of her time hoarding food pellets and riding on shoulders.
Alex liked to bite. And rats only bite hard — they don't nibble. Her contention for this unattractive behaviour was the uncanny similarity between a finger and a pellet of food.
Other than unpredictable bouts of biting (by far the most exciting aspect of her personality), Alex lacked other distinguishing characteristics.
Alex died of a seizure in late 2002. She was buried outside of the Museum of Anthropology. A ratty pair of underwear served as a burial shroud.
And I hope you got that last pun.
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Despite my best efforts at meaningful work, this web page continues to be the most popular of all my online offerings, making for a somewhat embarrassing achievement.
Alex's images consistently show up first in Google's web search for 'rat', 'rat image' and image search for 'rat'.
Finally, Alex appears as the first entry in Google images for 'rat'.
Alex's Public Appearances
More recently, she's appeared on the cover of Ethnologie Francaise (Jan-Mar 2009 issue).
The topic of the issue was the relationship between animals and humans. It is fitting therefore to recount here the relationship I shared with Alex during her sojourn with us.
In collaboration with the Phil Poronnik and Kim Bell-Anderson at the University of Sydney, I'm delighted to share with you our 8-part video series project about thinking about drawing data and communicating science.
We've created 8 videos, each focusing on a different essential idea in data visualization: encoding, shapes, color, uncertainty, design, drawing missing or unobserved data, labels and process.
The videos were designed as teaching materials. Each video comes with a slide deck and exercises.
This month is our first of a two-part article about P values. Here we look at 'P value hacking' and 'data dredging', which are questionable practices that invalidate the correct interpretation of P values.
We also illustrate how P values can lead us astray by asking "What is the smallest P value we can expect if the null hypothesis is true but we have done many tests, either explicitly or implicitly?"
Incidentally, this is our first column in which the standfirst is a haiku.
Altman, N. & Krzywinski, M. (2017) Points of Significance: P values and the search for significance. Nature Methods 14:3–4.
Krzywinski, M. & Altman, N. (2013) Points of significance: Significance, P values and t–tests. Nature Methods 10:1041–1042.
Appeal to intuition when designing with value judgments in mind.
Figure clarity and concision are improved when the selection of shapes and colors is grounded in the Gestalt principles, which describe how we visually perceive and organize information.
The Gestalt principles are value free. For example, they tell us how we group objects but do not speak to any meaning that we might intuitively infer from visual characteristics.
This month, we discuss how appealing to such intuitions—related to shapes, colors and spatial orientation— can help us add information to a figure as well as anticipate and encourage useful interpretations.
Krzywinski, M. (2016) Points of View: Intuitive Design. Nature Methods 13:895.