Wednesday, October 7, 2009

It’s Not That Hard

Seriously NSF? You are giving me unmodified Microsoft Excel charts? Is that all you got? My students know better. If you are wondering (as I imagine you frequently are) what the fuck I’m talking about, NSF recently sent out their summary report on the merit review process for 2008. Proflike has a nice review of the important stuff here. But let’s talk charts and graphs for a moment. How familiar is the bullshit “2-D Column” chart below?




If you are thinking “looks fine, what’s the problem?” then you don’t work with numbers very much. That’s cool, I find them frustrating but necessary. If you instantly notice, well, notice isn’t the right verb because those stupid blue and purple bars are so ingrained in your head that it’s more like an instantaneous subconscious recognition, that NSF is presenting unmodified Excel charts in their report then you are familiar with quantified data. You’ve made thousands of such things (and have probably long since abandoned Excel), but you know how utterly lame it is to present such a figure. The colors, the stupid symbols for “Line Charts”, the inappropriate scale it always picks, the gridlines…fuck. You have to take that shit and customize it! Failure to do so is lazy and/or naïve, it is the equivalent of sticking some unmodified SPSS statistical summary into your paper as a Table or starting a paper with the dictionary definition of your topic. The Oxford Dictionary defines “grant” as the: blah, blah, blah. The horror! Seriously NSF? You can’t do any better?

Is there a qualitative data equivalent? Shakespeare quotes, images of “The Thinker” or something?

9 comments:

  1. How about "Throughout history, people have always been lazy. It has been argued that people will always do the least amount of work necessary." as the intro for an essay on the history of labor. Extra points for sweeping generalizations and vague references.

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  2. Excel is not my friend. I do not work with numbers. Actually, I do not work anymore. But still I know of what you speak. People are morons.

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  3. Lol, unmodified Excel! I HATE gridlines!

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  4. I am coauthor on a manuscript just submitted to a GlamourMag. All of the motherfucking graphs are straight out of Excel. I considered asking to have my name taken off of the paper, it's so goddamn unprofessional.

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  5. I can think of two, one of which Anonymous already pointed up but which has been written about elsewhere just lately, the "Throughout history my chosen prejudice has been the case, or so I assert not having bothered to check, therefore dogmatic answer and can I have my essay prize nao plz"; the other would be what I call regula magistri argument, "Such and such a learned authority wrote this in 1910 and he was ANCIENT and THEREFORE KNEW MORE THAN YOU DO so citing him makes me know that too and therefore I win." This is not so lazy but still much easier than engaging with the evidence yourself. Or, for images, there is one particular scribe whom medievalists have made work very very hard indeed and now wants a break. However, even we sometimes use and recognise these graphs too. Historians are much too easy to dazzle with numbers though.

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  6. I am taking part of this post and printing it out for my grad students. It gets really old after staring at the umpteenth lab report with that exact same graph, despite detailed instructions on customization options.

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  7. Oh, rats. I only use unmodified Excel graphs and I do append all the SPSS print-outs as an appendix. I'm no lazier than the next person...just a tad more ignorant...

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  8. One should take pride in their figures. They are the one place in your work where you can express yourself with pictures instead of words. The beauty of a simple, clean, and well made bar graph (without gridlines, legends, a chart title, gray background, 3D etc.) speaks for itself. When NSF does this, it makes you lose confidence in those who are paid to guide those of us in the scientific community. Go get 'em, Dr. No!

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  9. Whew! Wasn't sure if it was just me...

    (Great links Tenthmedieval)

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