On the radar?

I missed the Twitter exchange about radar plots yesterday.

I caught up with some of the exchanges through a Ted Knutson post about Revisiting Radars.

Ted noted “The fact that lots of people have reactions to this type of work is a good thing, not a bad one”.

I have been using radar plots in my work for some time. I am mindful of the issues that Luke and Sam (@stat-sam) raise.

Some time ago (2008), I was fascinated by the title of a Purna Duggirala (Chandoo) post You are NOT spider man, so why do you use radar charts? I enjoyed Graham Odd’s (2011) critique of radar charts too.

Primed with Graham’s observation:

… the overall shape presented for a series on a radar chart does not leverage any of the pre-attentive attributes we perceive quantitatively. In essence, this means we are unable to attribute much genuine meaning to the shape of a series. The only patterns our visual perception can really discern in a data set presented as a radar chart are similarity and extreme outliers.

I tried to use my radar charts as a stimulus for conversation. Like, Ted, over the years I have found radar charts a good way to hook attention and trigger conversation. I had similar experiences to Ted in a variety of sport contexts:

In situations like this, visuals go a long way toward opening the conversation. If you show a table of numbers to a coach who isn’t already on board, you’re dead. Bar charts? Only mostly dead. Radars? Interesting… Tell me more.

My use of the charts acknowledged the limitations of the visualisation. Once the coaches had started to discuss the issues raised by a fallible (flawed) visualisation, we inevitably started to discuss how performance might be re-presented (represented) which led in many cases to some fascinating second-order conversations about observation and the narratives we build around performance … and other forms of visualisation.

My willingness to use radar charts dates back to William Anderson’s (1971) discussion of descriptive-analytic research in physical education. He notes:

Their principal concern is to collect accurate descriptive records of events in actual classrooms and to analyze these records in a way that enables a better understanding of the events. (1971:2)

He adds:

The descriptive records of teaching which emerge are in many ways like the descriptive record of a basketball game contained in a basketball shooting chart. The shooting chart is a diagram of a basketball court on which is recorded the number of each player who took a shot, the place on the court from which the shot was taken, and whether the shot was made. The shooting chart is a record of a critical dimension of “real world events” (the game). A careful examination of the chart can lead to understandings and insights which were not possible during the game itself. In much the same way, descriptive records of teaching provide a picture of real world events (classroom interaction) which lead to a deeper understanding of the teaching process. (1971:3)

Ted makes the point “As I designed them, radars exist to help you open the door with statistical novices, and from that perspective they have been wildly successful”.

This happened in conversations about pedagogy too in William Anderson’s work.

Like Ted, I am acutely aware of the flaws in radar charts. We have unprecedented expertise in sport now. The stories we can produce have immense visualisation resources to share performances. The key for me will be how we work with a variety of audiences in sport, and particularly in decision support for coaches, to achieve the level of engagement Ted reports:

Radars start a conversation. They get a reaction. And for whatever reason, football people are often more comfortable talking about and digesting them than almost any other vis type I have encountered. (Original emphasis.)

These issues are why I have included Audiences and Messages in my open, online discussion of sport informatics and analytics. We have great opportunities for conversation in our community of practice about diverse practices.

Photo Credit

Crystal web (Wendy, CC BY NC-ND 2.0)

Sharing Scholarship Openly

I followed a lead to Mark Carrigan yesterday. It was the start of a day of finding other connections too … around the theme of scholarship.

In his post, Mark observes:

Social media didn’t create the ambition to rethink scholarly communication, it gave us the tools to do it effectively.

He reminds us that rethinking communication has some fascinating precursors, including Pierre Bourdieu. Mark shares a quote from a 1975 paper in Actes de la Recherche en Sciences Sociales:

We shall present here, side by side, texts differing very greatly in their style and function: ‘finished’ texts, on the one hand, as they are called by academics journals, but also short notes, accounts of oral presentations, work in progress such as interim research projects and reports, in which theoretical intentions, empirical procedures of verification, and the data on which these are based, are all that much more visible. The desire to provide access to the workshop, which has different rules from those of method, and to present archives of a work still under way, implies a rejection of the most clearly ritual formalisms: justified typography, standard rhetoric, articles and issues of similar length, and more generally, everything that leads to the standardisation and ‘normalisation’ of the products of scholarship.

Pierre Bourdieu wrote about the importance of this workshop approach in a 2002 paper, The Social Conditions of the International Circulation of Ideas:

Texts circulate without their context; they don’t carry with them the field of production they come from, and the receivers, themselves integrated in a different field of production, reinterpret them in accordance with their position in the field of reception.

I enjoyed Mark’s discussion of Pierre Bourdieu’s work and the consideration of making visible of scholarship as a representational activity in a formative ‘field of production’.

I followed up on Mark’s post with an article in the Straits Times, recommended by Stephen Downes, Every space is a learning space. Toh Wen Li shares news of the Singapore Ministry of Education’s investment in flexible learning environments:

A jamming room and an outdoor music garden have more in common than making tunes. These are some of the informal learning spaces that some schools have been offering to students to get them to tinker in and explore in their spare time.

These are playful spaces and resonate, I think, with the open scholarship ideas Mark discusses.

The availability of social media platforms to play with and explore ideas and to share context goes beyond “ritual formalisms”. In recent years, I have really enjoyed the ways the LSE Impact Blog, has challenged this formalism and supported the formative and summative sharing of impact and curiosity.

By coincidence, Andy Miah was discussing science communication as a way of life this week too. He reports:

For me, science communication became a way of life at a very early stage in my postgraduate studies… I heard this at a time when the Internet was really taking off and so I started to think about how I could use the Web to share my work.

Andy suggests “science communication is best approached as a creative practice” and share a link to a new Masters course in Science Communication and Future Media. The course is delivered through distance learning, collaborative tasks, a creative portfolio and a final project.

It will be fascinating to learn if this new course stimulates the curiosity and creativity evident in DS106.

I imagine the future media conversations will include discussions about artificial intelligence. My final read of the day around open scholarship was David Smith’s Living with an AI. In his post, he shares his encounter with Amazon’s Alexa. He includes this section:

Let’s take a look at an Alexa skill called ArxivML. It was written by Amine Ben Khalifa, to allow him to scan the Machine Learning literature updates on arXiv whilst getting ready for work. Alexa will read out the abstracts of the ones Amine wishes to delve into further, and a more traditional title and abstract summary will be deposited into the Alexa app (where all your interactions with her are documented for posterity). The next few iterations of functionality aren’t exactly hard to think of, and not that hard to achieve either.

* Alexa Send to [Mendeley/zotero/DodgyFacebookForScholarsSites]

* Alexa Get me The PDF

* Alexa Share with …

* Alexa Save to my filestore

* Alexa Get the data from the paper

* Alexa Alert me when the authors are speaking at a conference

And so on.

Part of David’s conclusion includes:

AI is going to eat the world, and this time, it’s Scholarly Publishing that has the juicy data with which to feed the beast.

Which brings us back to 1975 and the immense opportunities that workshops will create for open, scholarly sharing connected by linked data protocols that facilitate discoverability.

Photo Credits

Keith Lyons (CC BY 4.0)


I have written about blogging as a scholarly activity in this post. I have written about blogging too. Their APA references are:

Lyons, K. (2012, June 7). Considering blogging as a scholarly activity [Blog post]. Retrieved from https://keithlyons.me/blog/2012/07/06/considering-blogging-as-a-scholarly-activity/.

Lyons, K. (2012, June 1). Blogging about blogging [Blog post]. Retrieved from https://keithlyons.me/blog/2012/06/01/blogging-about-blogging/.

Some visualisation advice … from 1891

I glimpsed a tweet two days ago. I have tried to find it since to no avail.

It started me on a treasure hunt.

The trigger? A sentence that talked about “extracting sunbeams from cucumbers”.

The source of the sentence is Arthur Farquhar and Henry Farquhar’s Economic and Industrial Delusions: A Discussion of the Case for Protection published in New York 1891. The book is available in its entirety (460 pages) on the Internet Archive.

The quote is on page 55:

This is the chart (on page ii) that prompted these observations:

This is a magnified part of the chart:

The Farquhars discuss the chart on page 61 of their book:

There is a second chart in the book (page 75):

There is this brief guide to the chart:

I am grateful to the now lost tweet that started my journey. The cucumbers arrived as I was reflecting on Edward Shortliffe and his colleagues’ (1975) exposition of how a program can “explain its recommendations when queried”. More recently, Pat Langley, Ben Meadows, Mohan Sridharan & Dongkyu Choi (2017) have discussed the importance of ‘explainable agency’.

Both resonate, I think, with the 1891 attempt to share how data are visualised.

Photo Credit

Cucumber (cthoyes, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Charts and text sections are frame grabs from the Internet Archive.

Arthur Farquhar