Data from an experiment may appear rock solid. Upon further examination, the data may morph into something much less firm. A knee-jerk reaction to this conundrum may be to try and hide uncertain scientific results, which are unloved fellow travelers of science. After all, words can afford ambiguity, but with visuals, “we are damned to be concrete,” says Bang Wong, who is the creative director of the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard. The alternative is to face the ambiguity head-on through visual means.
I still struggle with uncertainty and visualization. I haven’t seen many worthwhile solutions other than the old standbys, boxplots and histograms, which show distributions. But how many people understand spread, skew, etc? It’s a small proportion, which poses an interesting challenge.