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The Use of Diagrams in Science

An Examination of Trends in Articles Published in Science between 1880 and 2010

Lillian P. Fanjoy, A. Luke MacNeill, and Lisa A. Best University of New Brunswick, Psychology Department, Box 5050, Saint John, NB E2L 4L5 d9za0,s8me9,

Abstract. Scientists use inscriptions, such as tables, graphs, and illustrations to provide readers with a visual representation of data. A sample of articles from the journal, Science was collected and a random selection of eight articles was drawn from each decade from inception to the present decade (2008 - 2010). Overall, we found different trends in the use of graphs, tables, and non-graph illustrations.
Keywords: Visual inscriptions, Trends over time, Science.

1 Scientific Inscriptions

A scientific inscription device is a specific type of visualisation aid that provides an illustrative display in a scientific text [1]. Collection of empirical data began in the middle ages [2], and, by the 17th century, scientists presented numerical information in data tables [3] and used early graphical methods, including anatomical drawings, geographical and astronomical maps, and geometric diagrams. Furthermore, mechanical recording devices were created that produced moving line graphs of natural events [2]. During this time, graphical methods were underutilized. Gross et al. [3] found that only 38% of articles published in the 17th century contained a visual representation.

Founded in 1880, Science is a scientific journal with widespread readership and appeal. Science reaches an estimated worldwide readership of more than 1,000,000 people, its articles consistently rank among the world’s most cited research, and each year, less than 8% of submissions are published. Both the age and prestige of Science make it an ideal focus for the sampling of historical graph use [4]. The primary purpose of this study was to analyze the use of visual inscriptions in the Science, with a particular emphasis on how the use of these figures has changed over time.

2 Methods

A sample of eight articles was randomly selected from Science for 14 time periods (every ten years from 1880 to 2010). Book reviews, addendums, and errata were excluded from the sample, as the study focused solely on the use of visual inscriptions 304 L.P. Fanjoy, A.L. MacNeill, and L.A. Best in scientific writings (empirical articles, experiments, etc.). Inscription information was recorded, including the number and type of inscriptions, as well as the total area and fractional area for each inscription. Information was recorded about three types of inscriptions: visual inscriptions (included graphs and non-graph illustrations, NGI); non-visual inscriptions (included tables and equations); and, montages (included two or more types of inscriptions; see [5]).

3 Results

A total of 111 articles (only seven articles were selected from 1880, due to the dearth of empirical articles) were sampled. Averaged over all decades, 33.33% of articles contained at least one graph, 36.04% contained at least one table, and 35.14% contained at least one illustration. Figure 1 shows trends in graph use, NGI use, and table use.

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