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A use for tables (really)

After our recent discussion of semigraphic displays, Jay Ulfelder sent along a semigraphic table from his recent book. He notes, “When countries are the units of analysis, it’s nice that you can use three-letter codes, so all the proper names have the same visual weight.”

Ultimately I think that graphs win over tables for display. However in our work we spend a lot of time looking at raw data, often simply to understand what data we have. This use of tables has, I think, been forgotten in the statistical graphics literature.

So I’d like to refocus the eternal tables vs. graphs discussion. If the goal is to present information, comparisons, relationships, models, data, etc etc, graphs win. Forget about tables.

But . . . when you’re looking at your data, it can often help to see the raw numbers. Once you’re looking at numbers, it makes sense to organize them. Even a displayed matrix in R is a form of table, after all. And once you’re making a table, it can be sensible to set it up as a semigraphic display. So if there is room for tables in statistics, that’s where they go, I think.

2 Comments

  1. Seth Roberts says:

    "If the goal is to present information" — uh, isn't that always the goal?

  2. David C. says:

    For my own purposes or sharing with others, I'm used to using a color-coded table for presenting correlations. Should I be using graphs with weighted edges for some of this? Or some other graphical display?