Pixels or Perish
The art of scientific illustration will have to adapt to the new age of online publishing
The D3 project is one of many to come from a thriving creative community that works under the banner of info vis or data vis (with close connections to those who do stat vis and sci vis). Michael Friendly of York University in Toronto has described the present era as a new golden age in data visualization. The old golden age was the 19th century, when William Playfair, Florence Nightingale, Charles Minard and a few others perfected many of the graphic devices (pie charts, line graphs) that are now standard apparatus throughout the sciences. The modern revival has brought us new forms of quantitative graphics suited to an age when considerable computational power is available even in a Web browser.
I am enthusiastic about the prospects of the info-data-stat-sci-vis biz. It has the potential to make science communication at all levels—from schoolbooks to scholarly journals—more effective and more fun. But worrisome problems remain.
Second, the quality of graphic output is not yet up to the highest publication standards. One reason is simply the low resolution of most computer screens. This will doubtless change, but in the meantime we have to cope with issues such as the Heisenpixel problem (see illustration at right).