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EMBO Practical Course: Bioinformatics and Genome Analysis, 5–17 June 2017.

Visual Design Principles—Communicating Effectively

This talk happened on Thursday, Mar 21st 2013 at VIZBI 2013 at the Broad Institute in Boston.

How often people speak of art and science as though they were two entirely different things, with no interconnection. An artist is emotional, they think, and uses only his intuition; he sees all at once and has no need of reason. A scientist is cold, they think, and uses only his reason; he argues carefully step by step, and needs no imagination. That is all wrong. The true artist is quite rational as well as imaginative and knows what he is doing; if he does not, his art suffers. The true scientist is quite imaginative as well as rational, and sometimes leaps to solutions where reason can follow only slowly; if he does not, his science suffers. —Isaac Asimov (The Roving Mind)

For more visualization and design resources, see my VIZBI 2012 tutorials, Nature Methods Points of View column, and rant about colors.

Do not allow encoding or other design choices to hijaack your message. Each element on the page must meaningfully contribute to your figure.

presentation video

The video will be posted at vizbi.org.

presentation slides

Slides are available as PDF and keynote (zipped).

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A poet is, after all, a sort of scientist, but engaged in a qualitative science in which nothing is measurable. He lives with data that cannot be numbered, and his experiments can be done only once. The information in a poem is, by definition, not reproducible. He becomes an equivalent of scientist, in the act of examining and sorting the things popping in [to his head], finding the marks of remote similarity, points of distant relationship, tiny irregularities that indicate that this one is really the same as that one over there only more important. Gauging the fit, he can meticulously place pieces of the universe together, in geometric configurations that are as beautiful and balanced as crystals. —Lewis Thomas (The Medusa and the Snail: More Notes of a Biology Watcher)

breakout session—making good figures

Sketch notes by the inimitable Francis Rowland from our breakout group. The question was: what do you need to make good figures? (PDF)

small, medium and big data visualization

If you're asking how to visualize big data, first make sure you're doing a good job on small and medium data. Each scale requires good design.

Do not expect to use one way
to tell many stories

Also consider that there is a very large number of combinations of data sets, hypotheses and possible patterns. Because of this, you cannot expect to use one way to tell many stories. There is no Holy Grail of big data visualization. But there are many good questions to ask and practices to follow that make up a process which can help you get there.

Medium data visualization. This is what happens when you show the data (a strategy that works for small data), instead of explaining it. Yup, we need to work on this too. (A) Qi X et al. J Biotech 144:43 (2012) (Saturation-Mutagenesis in Two Positions Distant from Active Site of a Klebsiella pneumoniae Glycerol Dehydratase Identifies Some Highly Active Mutants) (B) Alekseyev, M.A. et al. Genome Res 19:943 (2009) (Breakpoint graphs and ancestral genome reconstructions)
Big data visualization. Yes, data sets are growing but are visual and cognitive abilities are not. There are many data sets, each requiring its own approach. You cannot use one way to tell many stories. Lewis SN et al. PLoS ONE 6:e27175 (2011) (Prediction of Disease and Phenotype Associations from Genome-Wide Association Studies)
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Tabular Data

Tue 11-04-2017
Tabulating the number of objects in categories of interest dates back to the earliest records of commerce and population censuses.

After 30 columns, this is our first one without a single figure. Sometimes a table is all you need.

In this column, we discuss nominal categorical data, in which data points are assigned to categories in which there is no implied order. We introduce one-way and two-way tables and the $\chi^2$ and Fisher's exact tests.

Altman, N. & Krzywinski, M. (2017) Points of Significance: Tabular data. Nature Methods 14:329–330.

Happy 2017 $\pi$ Day—Star Charts, Creatures Once Living and a Poem

Tue 14-03-2017

on a brim of echo,

capsized chamber
drawn into our constellation, and cooling.
—Paolo Marcazzan

Celebrate $\pi$ Day (March 14th) with star chart of the digits. The charts draw 40,000 stars generated from the first 12 million digits.

12,000,000 digits of $\pi$ interpreted as a star catalogue. (details)

The 80 constellations are extinct animals and plants. Here you'll find old friends and new stories. Read about how Desmodus is always trying to escape or how Megalodon terrorizes the poor Tecopa! Most constellations have a story.

Find friends and stories among the 80 constellations of extinct animals and plants. Oh look, a Dodo guardings his eggs! (details)

This year I collaborate with Paolo Marcazzan, a Canadian poet, who contributes a poem, Of Black Body, about space and things we might find and lose there.

Check out art from previous years: 2013 $\pi$ Day and 2014 $\pi$ Day, 2015 $\pi$ Day and and 2016 $\pi$ Day.

Data in New Dimensions: convergence of art, genomics and bioinformatics

Tue 07-03-2017

Art is science in love.
— E.F. Weisslitz

A behind-the-scenes look at the making of our stereoscopic images which were at display at the AGBT 2017 Conference in February. The art is a creative collaboration with Becton Dickinson and The Linus Group.

Its creation began with the concept of differences and my writeup of the creative and design process focuses on storytelling and how concept of differences is incorporated into the art.

Oh, and this might be a good time to pick up some red-blue 3D glasses.

A stereoscopic image and its interpretive panel of single-cell transcriptomes of blood cells: diseased versus healthy control.

Interpreting P values

Thu 02-03-2017
A P value measures a sample’s compatibility with a hypothesis, not the truth of the hypothesis.

This month we continue our discussion about $P$ values and focus on the fact that $P$ value is a probability statement about the observed sample in the context of a hypothesis, not about the hypothesis being tested.

Nature Methods Points of Significance column: Interpreting P values. (read)

Given that we are always interested in making inferences about hypotheses, we discuss how $P$ values can be used to do this by way of the Benjamin-Berger bound, $\bar{B}$ on the Bayes factor, $B$.

Heuristics such as these are valuable in helping to interpret $P$ values, though we stress that $P$ values vary from sample to sample and hence many sources of evidence need to be examined before drawing scientific conclusions.

Altman, N. & Krzywinski, M. (2017) Points of Significance: Interpreting P values. Nature Methods 14:213–214.