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The Nature Methods Points of View column column offers practical advice in design and data presentation for the busy scientist.
With the publication of Uncertainty and the Management of Epidemics, we celebrate our 50th column! Since 2013, our Nature Methods Points of Significance has been offering crisp explanations and practical suggestions about best practices in statistical analysis and reporting. To all our readers and coauthors: thank you and see you in the next column!

Nature Methods: Points of Significance

Martin Krzywinski @MKrzywinski mkweb.bcgsc.ca
Points of Significance column in Nature Methods. (Launch of Points of Significance)

Access all columns for free at Statistics for Biologists Nature Collection.

A Statistics Primer and Best Practices

The Points of Significance column was launched in September 2013 as an educational resource to authors and to provide practical suggestions about best practices in statistical analysis and reporting.

This month we launch a new column "Points of Significance" devoted to statistics, a topic of profound importance for biological research, but one that often doesn’t receive the attention it deserves.

The "aura of exactitude" that often surrounds statistics is one of the main notions that the Points of Significance column will attempt to dispel, while providing useful pointers on using and evaluating statistical measures.
—Dan Evanko, Let's Give Statistics the Attention it Deserves in Biological Research

The column is co-authored with Naomi Altman (Pennsylvania State University). Paul Blainey (Broad) is a contributing co-author.

Free Access

In February 2015, Nature Methods announced that the entire Points of Significance collection will be free.

When Nature Methods launched the Points of Significance column over a year ago we were hopeful that those biologists with a limited background in statistics, or who just needed a refresher, would find it accessible and useful for helping them improve the statistical rigor of their research. We have since received comments from researchers and educators in fields ranging from biology to meteorology who say they read the column regularly and use it in their courses. Hearing that the column has had a wider impact than we anticipated has been very encouraging and we hope the column continues for quite some time.
—Dan Evanko, Points of Significance now free access

Also, in a recent post on the ofschemesandmemes blog, a new statistics collection for biologists was announced.

The pieces range from comments, to advice on very specific experimental approaches, to the entire collection of the Points of Significance columns that address basic concepts in statistics in an experimental biology context. These columns, originally published in Nature Methods thanks to Martin Krzywinski and guest editor Naomi Altman, have already proven very popular with readers and teachers. Finally, the collection presents a web tool to create box plots among other resources.
—Veronique Kiermer, Statistics for biologists—A free Nature Collection

continuity and consistency

Each column is written with continuity and consistency in mind. Our goal is to never rely on concepts that we have not previously discussed. We do not assume previous statistical knowledge—only basic math. Concepts are illustrated using practical examples that embody the ideas without extraneous complicated details. All of the figures are designed with the same approach—as simple and self-contained as possible.

news + thoughts

How Analyzing Cosmic Nothing Might Explain Everything

Thu 18-01-2024

Huge empty areas of the universe called voids could help solve the greatest mysteries in the cosmos.

My graphic accompanying How Analyzing Cosmic Nothing Might Explain Everything in the January 2024 issue of Scientific American depicts the entire Universe in a two-page spread — full of nothing.

Martin Krzywinski @MKrzywinski mkweb.bcgsc.ca
How Analyzing Cosmic Nothing Might Explain Everything. Text by Michael Lemonick (editor), art direction by Jen Christiansen (Senior Graphics Editor), source: SDSS

The graphic uses the latest data from SDSS 12 and is an update to my Superclusters and Voids poster.

Michael Lemonick (editor) explains on the graphic:

“Regions of relatively empty space called cosmic voids are everywhere in the universe, and scientists believe studying their size, shape and spread across the cosmos could help them understand dark matter, dark energy and other big mysteries.

To use voids in this way, astronomers must map these regions in detail—a project that is just beginning.

Shown here are voids discovered by the Sloan Digital Sky Survey (SDSS), along with a selection of 16 previously named voids. Scientists expect voids to be evenly distributed throughout space—the lack of voids in some regions on the globe simply reflects SDSS’s sky coverage.”

voids

Sofia Contarini, Alice Pisani, Nico Hamaus, Federico Marulli Lauro Moscardini & Marco Baldi (2023) Cosmological Constraints from the BOSS DR12 Void Size Function Astrophysical Journal 953:46.

Nico Hamaus, Alice Pisani, Jin-Ah Choi, Guilhem Lavaux, Benjamin D. Wandelt & Jochen Weller (2020) Journal of Cosmology and Astroparticle Physics 2020:023.

Sloan Digital Sky Survey Data Release 12

constellation figures

Alan MacRobert (Sky & Telescope), Paulina Rowicka/Martin Krzywinski (revisions & Microscopium)

stars

Hoffleit & Warren Jr. (1991) The Bright Star Catalog, 5th Revised Edition (Preliminary Version).

cosmology

H0 = 67.4 km/(Mpc·s), Ωm = 0.315, Ωv = 0.685. Planck collaboration Planck 2018 results. VI. Cosmological parameters (2018).

Error in predictor variables

Tue 02-01-2024

It is the mark of an educated mind to rest satisfied with the degree of precision that the nature of the subject admits and not to seek exactness where only an approximation is possible. —Aristotle

In regression, the predictors are (typically) assumed to have known values that are measured without error.

Practically, however, predictors are often measured with error. This has a profound (but predictable) effect on the estimates of relationships among variables – the so-called “error in variables” problem.

Martin Krzywinski @MKrzywinski mkweb.bcgsc.ca
Nature Methods Points of Significance column: Error in predictor variables. (read)

Error in measuring the predictors is often ignored. In this column, we discuss when ignoring this error is harmless and when it can lead to large bias that can leads us to miss important effects.

Altman, N. & Krzywinski, M. (2024) Points of significance: Error in predictor variables. Nat. Methods 20.

Background reading

Altman, N. & Krzywinski, M. (2015) Points of significance: Simple linear regression. Nat. Methods 12:999–1000.

Lever, J., Krzywinski, M. & Altman, N. (2016) Points of significance: Logistic regression. Nat. Methods 13:541–542 (2016).

Das, K., Krzywinski, M. & Altman, N. (2019) Points of significance: Quantile regression. Nat. Methods 16:451–452.

Convolutional neural networks

Tue 02-01-2024

Nature uses only the longest threads to weave her patterns, so that each small piece of her fabric reveals the organization of the entire tapestry. – Richard Feynman

Following up on our Neural network primer column, this month we explore a different kind of network architecture: a convolutional network.

The convolutional network replaces the hidden layer of a fully connected network (FCN) with one or more filters (a kind of neuron that looks at the input within a narrow window).

Martin Krzywinski @MKrzywinski mkweb.bcgsc.ca
Nature Methods Points of Significance column: Convolutional neural networks. (read)

Even through convolutional networks have far fewer neurons that an FCN, they can perform substantially better for certain kinds of problems, such as sequence motif detection.

Derry, A., Krzywinski, M & Altman, N. (2023) Points of significance: Convolutional neural networks. Nature Methods 20:1269–1270.

Background reading

Derry, A., Krzywinski, M. & Altman, N. (2023) Points of significance: Neural network primer. Nature Methods 20:165–167.

Lever, J., Krzywinski, M. & Altman, N. (2016) Points of significance: Logistic regression. Nature Methods 13:541–542.

Neural network primer

Tue 10-01-2023

Nature is often hidden, sometimes overcome, seldom extinguished. —Francis Bacon

In the first of a series of columns about neural networks, we introduce them with an intuitive approach that draws from our discussion about logistic regression.

Martin Krzywinski @MKrzywinski mkweb.bcgsc.ca
Nature Methods Points of Significance column: Neural network primer. (read)

Simple neural networks are just a chain of linear regressions. And, although neural network models can get very complicated, their essence can be understood in terms of relatively basic principles.

We show how neural network components (neurons) can be arranged in the network and discuss the ideas of hidden layers. Using a simple data set we show how even a 3-neuron neural network can already model relatively complicated data patterns.

Derry, A., Krzywinski, M & Altman, N. (2023) Points of significance: Neural network primer. Nature Methods 20:165–167.

Background reading

Lever, J., Krzywinski, M. & Altman, N. (2016) Points of significance: Logistic regression. Nature Methods 13:541–542.

Martin Krzywinski | contact | Canada's Michael Smith Genome Sciences CentreBC Cancer Research CenterBC CancerPHSA
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