This lavishly illustrated book provides an interesting perspective on how scientists and engineers can improve their efforts to communicate research results by presenting scientific data in a variety of graphic forms. Rather than simply compare examples of effective and ineffective scientific graphics, the authors offer a conceptual framework for their observations, criticisms, suggestions, and recommendations.
The authors contend that:
(1) there are two categories of scientific graphics, based on the purpose or objective of the graphics -- explanatory graphics ("used to communicate a point or call attention to patterns or concepts" and exploratory graphics (used "to invite the viewer to discover information"); and
(2) graphical representations of scientific data can be categorized as three different major types: (a) "those that illustrate form and structure," (b) "those that illustrate processes over time and space," and (c) "those that encourage readers to compare and contrast."
The authors support these two basic contentions with explanations, arguments, and examples in the Overview section of the book.
In three sections of the book (entitled "Form and Structure," "Time and Space," and "Compare and Contrast"), the authors explore each of the three major types of graphic representations by using examples. Then, in the Case Studies section, the authors present brief essays by several researchers who explain how they created and adapted scientific graphics to better communicate complex and potentially confusing data. Finally, in the Interactive Graphics section, the authors show how interactive graphics are being used online to present scientific graphics that engage the readers by allowing them to explore the graphics interactively. The Appendix describes a Web site that the authors use to further explore the themes and ideas of the book, as well as a Further Reading list.
The book approaches a challenging subject in an interesting manner that offers the reader much to think about. Although it is definitely a worthwhile book, it should not be considered to be the definitive or final word on the subject of scientific graphics. Readers interested in the subject of how to better communicate scientific data should consider also looking at the following books: Stephen M. Kosslyn, Elements of Graph Design; Edward R. Tufte, The Visual Display of Quantitative Information; Edward R. Tufte, Visual Explanations: Images and Quantities, Evidence and Narrative; Howard Wainer, Graphic Discovery: A Trout in the Milk and Other Visual Adventures; and Dona M. Wong, The Wall Street Journal Guide to Information Graphics: The Dos and Don'ts of Presenting Data, Facts, and Figures.