Perspectives on Clinical and Translational Research


Data visualization – do we need a new paradigm in academic publishing?

Over the past few months I have been doing a lot of reading about data visualization because we are building dashboards for our clinical research enterprise.  Essentially these dashboards will provide real-time or near real-time metrics for our operation. For example, we will have a dashboard for each of our studies that outlines the number of patients screened, enrolled, enrollment rate, etc.  This data will be updated once an hour and will be displayed on a wall-mounted monitor in the Clinical and Translational Research Support Center office.

As we have been building this system, I have been thinking about how we could use interactive visualization in our research to help improve understanding of our research when we publish.  The current paradigm for publication means paper copy of an article or a PDF of a paper copy of an article.  The problem with this is that we are ignoring a much richer environment for publishing than papers provide.  In particular with visualization there are so many techniques that could be used to make data come alive for the reader that could enhance our ability to make sense of it.  Some really good examples of interactive data visualizations can be found at the D3 website ( D3 is a Javascript library for writing visualizations and the website has a portfolio so you can see several of the options.

The problem is, many of these visualizations highlighted on the D3 website are unfamiliar in the biomedical academic world.  Traditionally this discipline uses a fairly limited set of visualizations (e.g. bar charts, line charts, boxplots, etc.).  So I suggest a paradigm shift in which biomedical researchers explore using more complicated visualizations that support interaction in their research and ALL publishers provide policies and infrastructures to support these visualizations. Naturally, over time a standard will need to develop as to the language and approach for interactive visualization so publishers do not have to support an excessive number of tools on their infrastructure.  But, once that can happen, our research can be much more interactive and perhaps more illustrative to our readers.


Robert Kelley • January 8, 2014

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