16 June 2016

Search engines for technical graphics

How important are academic graphics? A new pre-print in arXiv argues, “Pretty damn important.” This news summary of the technical article says:

(T)heir most remarkable discovery is that the most successful papers tend to have more figures. By plotting the number of diagrams in a paper against its impact, the team concludes that high impact ideas tend to be conveyed visually.

Lee and co say there are two possible explanations for this: “That visual information improves the clarity of the paper, leading to more citations, and higher impact, or that high impact papers naturally tend to include new, complex ideas that require visual explanation.”

The team has a search engine for scientific graphics called Viziometrics. My first pass, for “crayfish,” gave a mess on non-intuitive results (click to enlarge):

Things improved markedly when I selected only for diagrams and photos, however.

Speaking of searchable graphics databases, Atlas looks promising for some purposes. I tried searching for something that I thought must get plotted a lot in science, “Impact Factor”:

Nothing looked relevant to scientific publication, so I tried a couple of other topics familiar to me. I had success with “lobster”, because I reckoned there would be fisheries data. There was:

Things get good when you drill down to a single graph:

There’s a reference, so you know where the data came from. You can download the image created by Atlas, or download the data yourself in a plain text (CSV) file. Atlas is a product of the Quartz online news outlet. I’m not sure yet if it only includes data from Quartz stories.

These are not going to replace Google Images or Flickr any time soon, but they might be useful for some purposes.

Hat tip to Ananyo Bhattacharya for Viziometrics and to Knight Science Journalism for Atlas.

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