It’s that time – top 10 lists of the past year! And since my domain is science, I once more reviewed research data visualizations. Here are a couple of trends that I noticed on science twitter and in scientific journals throughout the year 2022. Disclaimer, this is not a survey but rather a personal collection for you to enjoy with me!
#1 Color schemes are literally all over the color wheel!
Colors can encode sequential data. In life sciences, Jet/Rainbow were prevalent but are less common as their pitfalls became known (new colormaps). Instead Viridis became the default color scheme in Python, but since then more and more color schemes have been invented. It now requires attention to decide if color encodes increasing, decreasing, divergent or continuous values. As a further complication, sometimes different color schemes co-exist – I once counted 5 different color schemes in one publication alone. (And, at times, legends are entirely missing, making interpretation impossible!).
— update: see also the color analysis by Xan Gregg, he compared color schemes used in parallel in the Fourth National Climate Assessment. https://rawdatastudies.com/2023/01/07/climate-assessment-color-gradients/.
#2 – Tufte’s grey shades at last!
Speaking of color, it seems more people have read their Tufte books! At least his command to use gray instead of black for background chart elements (tick marks, axes, control data etc) was one of the biggest lessons I learned from him. I see gray becoming quickly popular to de-emphasize data that is not the focus – in line plots, tSNE plots and for indicating treatment regiments in time-courses.
#3 – Hybrid chart-tables
This was a surprise – tables have been popular in genomics as heat map for many years. This year however I saw a huge number of hybrid “table + area charts” combo’s! In these the numbers are not encoded by color, but by bubble size. And, to take things further, this is combined with color-coded bubbles to gain a fourth dimension (whether that is always understandable is another debate).
#4 – Genomic figures get smaller and smaller…
Fetch your magnifying glasses, genomic data plots get smaller and smaller as more and more data are squeezed into each panel and figure. The small plot in b literally has thousands of data points and all it needs to show is: there are clusters.
Maybe we should at some point ask ourselves “does this need a graphic?” or perhaps we instead revert back to summary statistics. Speaking of statistics…
#5 – Error bar? Nah, “T” suffices – the most iconic mishap of 2022!
The most iconic mishap of the year in scientific publications surely was the study that could not be bothered to plot error bars and instead simply placed the letter “T” on top of a bar chart! Needless to say, all bars had the same letter point size and thus identical error ranges. As the figure made the rounds on social media, the journal actually did care and swiftly retracted the publication.
The authors did not enlighten us on how they actually prepared this creative solution, but of course only a Christmas break later we now have a R package for the … Terror-bar! Do not use at home folks! Check out the hilarious package description by Milan Valášek: https://mival.netlify.app/blog/2023/01/introducing-geom_terrorbar/
#6 – Axis breaks…..
The good news first, bar charts for summary statistics have mostly been eradicated (in high impact journals at least…). Fewer bar chart should also mean fewer axis breaks, right? Wrong! Instead, it means more inventive axis breaks! First, bar charts for quantities are still popular, with and without axis breaks – and sometimes two breaks! Secondly, a lot more worrying, scientists (n=1) invented a way to also break the axis of dot plots – let’s hope this does NOT become a new trend!
#7 – Icon libraries for graphical abstracts
Oh yes, graphical abstracts keep surging in popularity, in fact I get a ton of requests to help with those. And I like making them, it’s fun and I can play around with new ideas a bit! Thanks to Biorender and its large icon library, making graphical abstracts has become a piece of cake for all scientists, but it comes with a hefty price tag.
Here are a couple of free icon libraries:
- Bioicons https://bioicons.com/ is a free and open source SVG collection, which can be directly imported in Inkscape or used as PNG in e.g. Powerpoint.
- Reactome: the https://reactome.org/icon-lib/ library has been around for quite a while, and..
- I recently also discovered https://smart.servier.com/ with lots of medical icons!
- And of course there always is https://fontawesome.com/icons and https://thenounproject.com/ , both should be used with attribution.
#8 – Climate stripes are still omnipresent
This year was again, the warmest recorded ever, making the climate change really the biggest topic at least on my radar. While only symbolic, I did give up traveling by plane for short distances and have now post-Covid explored the night train options!
The iconic chart displaying the science behind the climate analysis is the warming stripes by Ed Hawkins from the University of Reading. This year they were used as cover for Greta Thunberg book, on train stations, as fashion art and more. And, we have also seen new versions illustrating that along with increasing temperatures comes a loss of biodiversity.
#9 – Images are big
2022 was once again a year of images – new telescopes imaged far away stars and biologists deep into the angstrom scale. But AI is really starting to shape our daily life. From AI-assisted image generation tools such as DALL-E that kept all of us captivated, to new AI-assisted image analysis there was something for everyone. In the hospital I am most impressed how we are reaching a stage where clinical images can indeed be screened with robots faster and better than by medical staff!
Some good news: scale bars in images are a thing (see our survey on scale bars) and in personal news, our QUAREP initiative will publish our community developed guidelines for image publishing soon, stay tuned.
#10 – Cutie of the year: fluffy t-SNE plots
On trend with fluffy hats and fluffy jackets, also t-SNE plots became fluffy in 2022!
Can’t wait to see what 2023 will bring!