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Pictures of data: methods of improving scientific illustration

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If you have a question about this talk, please contact Mandy Carter.

As Napoleon said “A good sketch is better than a long speech”. This presentation will talk about how to communicate scientific information without words. The first half of the presentation will focus on graphs – what makes a good graph, how to chose the style of graph (line, bar, etc) to match your data and to include the statistical information behind your graph. The second half of the presentation looks at other types of figures: time lines, statistical maps and spatio-temporal data. We will finish with a discussion of example figures provided by the students.

There’s very little formal reading that I would recommend to the students – I’m personally fond of Edward Tufte’s work ( I also took some useful hints from Allen, Erhardt & Calhoun (2012). However, since I’ll cover material from that paper in the lecture there’s no need to read this beforehand. Instead, I ask that before the class they email me one figure/graph/picture that is important to their research. They should come to the class ready to describe: 1) what information they take from the illustration, (2) what they like about how this information is communicated and (3) what might they do differently.


Allen, E.A., Erhardt, E.B. & Calhoun, V.D. (2012) Data Visualization in the Neurosciences: Overcoming the Curse of Dimensionality. Neuron, 74(2), 603-8.

This talk is part of the Graduate Programme in Cognitive and Brain Sciences series.

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