Doing Science: Design, Analysis, and Communication of Scientific Research

By Ivan Valiela | Go to book overview

8
Presenting Data in Tables

Our discussion of the scientific paper in chapter 6 mentioned that every result given in the results section has to be based on data, and that the text needs to show where readers may find the data supporting these results. I also mentioned that there are two modes of data presentation, tables and figures. In this chapter we discuss tables, how they developed as ways to group data to make them more easily understood, and some ways to present data clearly and economically in tables. The effort to show the information clearly has another important consequence: it forces us to better understand our data.


8.1 Why Show Data in Tables?

Early in the history of scientific literature, the subject matter was primarily observations and deductions, or citations of earlier authorities such as Aristotle. Eventually, numbers were collected to quantify observations, and numbers began to burden the prose. To clarify the arguments and present the numbers in a more compelling form, scientists began to segregate numbers within their text. In the text detail opposite, we can see how van Leeuwenhoek did just that, so that he could clearly show the numbers underlying his argument that the fecundity of flies is enough to provide “great multitudes of Flies. ”

In short order tables became more structured and were shown as separate items in papers. Figure 8.1 reproduces a table of deaths in Constantinople, in which one column lists deaths during 1752, a fairly “healthy” year, clearly intended to be compared to a second column containing deaths at a similar time of year for 1751, a Black Plague year. Data on deaths were obtained from records, kept by the guards, of corpses carried through one of the city's gates. The differences between the two years are striking—let us ignore that the data for the plague year were collected during a longer period—the difference is still there if we equalize the duration of data collection. (A remarkably large number of corpses passed daily through just one gate in Constantinople at that time, even in a relatively healthy year. ) This table design could serve a modern comparative study, in which one year is the untreated control for another year.

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Doing Science: Design, Analysis, and Communication of Scientific Research
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page *
  • Preface v
  • Contents vii
  • Doing Science 1
  • 1 - Obtaining Scientific Information 3
  • Sources and Further Reading *
  • 2 - Elements of Scientific Data and Tests of Questions 29
  • Sources and Further Reading *
  • 3 - Statistical Analyses 49
  • Sources and Further Reading *
  • 4 - Principles of Research Design 79
  • Sources and Further Reading 97
  • 5 - Communication of Scientific Information: Writing 99
  • Sources and Further Reading *
  • 6 - Communicating Scientific Information: the Scientific Paper 127
  • Sources and Further Reading *
  • 7 - Other Means of Scientific Communication 147
  • Sources and Further Reading *
  • 8 - Presenting Data in Tables 171
  • Sources and Further Reading *
  • 9 - Presenting Data in Figures 183
  • Sources and Further Reading *
  • 10 - Case Studies of Graphical Data Presentation 219
  • 11 - Perceptions and Criticisms of Science 255
  • Sources and Further Reading *
  • Index 285
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