Were you ever explicitly taught which graphs to use to represent different types of scientific data?
I remember some very basic lessons on this subject in high school maths (and possibly biology), but once I reached university it was never again included in my formal scientific education. However, just as I received very little formal English grammar instruction but have always had a (generally) good feel for what’s right and what’s wrong just from reading anything and everything I could get my hands on*, I’ve managed to absorb some scientific graph conventions – seemingly by osmosis – from the literature, lab meetings, seminars, and poster sessions.
Unfortunately, I’ve seen enough recent examples of poor graph format choices to make me wonder whether universal formal training in this particular Dark Art is warranted…
…or whether certain people who are really far enough along in their careers to know better just don’t pay enough attention to seminars and papers.
Take the example below. The left panel recreates a graph I saw presented recently, but with fictional data; the right panel is the way I would have done it. The y axis could represent any phenotype of interest, so I left it blank:
Doesn’t the second version give you a much better sense of the relative effectiveness of the two test compounds? The original took me too long to decipher, and required what I thought was far too much on-screen text to label the various data points; this meant that I missed much of what the presenter was saying as I tried to figure out what the data were saying.
On a similar note I’ve also seen people present multiple Western blot panels (for four different conditions, sampled at the same time points) side-by-side, with separate (but identical) time point labels across the top of each one, instead of stacking them one under the other. Again, I would have found it much easier to compare the effects of the different variables if the latter approach had been used.
The second example (from a different person) is less clear-cut, I think, as the original version (on the left, again with fictional data) is just as informative as my version (on the right):
However, I think a bar chart is preferable in this case; the line chart is reminiscent of a dose-response curve, which this most certainly is not.
Were you taught which graphs to use, or did you just figure it out for yourself?
Does anyone know of any good resources to which I could direct any future offenders?
*any grammatical errors in this post are, of course, intentional.