Miguel Panao | Professor and Author

Finding ways to improve scientific writing and academic productivity.

Did you know scientists should have an artistic vein?

Scientists have an artistic vein. Or, at least, should be artists because the job demands it. We can take an entire working period making two to three plots. Do you wonder why?

Edward Tufte said

“Clarity and excellence in thinking is very much like clarity and excellence in the display of data.”

That’s why.

artistic vein in plots

A scientist shouldn’t take how he displays his data lightly. I remember my Ph.D. supervisor telling me data should cover the plot from the lower-left to the upper-right unless you’re comparing more than one set of data.

In fact, there are numerous details to consider. The size and type of points, the thickness and type of lines, the color, label size, ranges and also additional information which is not data, but helps understand it. I care about this because I care about my data. And yes, if you think scientists are emotional about their data, you’re right, they are.

Data is the raw information that can change our perception of reality when interpreted correctly. New data leads to new knowledge and new questions, ideas, awareness. And the more we care about how we display our data, the more it will produce an impact on others.

So, yes, scientists need to develop their artistic vein to convey how insightful data can be. But there’s one more thing.

 

Recovering an artistic-scientific vein

In the past, people like Leonardo da Vinci didn’t have high-speed cameras to capture some phenomena or high-resolution cameras to capture the tiniest detail. They had their eyes, mind, hand, and pencil. And they draw reality through their eyes. Shouldn’t we recover some of that artistry?

artistic science drawings matter

A colleague and friend share with me how he had a textbook of his discipline completed but needed to make some figures before sharing it with his students. The problem was plotting them because making them in AutoCAD or Word was prohibitive. How about drawing them? My textbook of Physics in the first year at college was filled with drawings making learning easy and fun.

I wouldn’t suggest going back to the time of Leonardo. Today we have tablets allowing us to draw by hand and have our drawings with the quality regarding resolution. Apps like Autodesk Graphic, Procreate, Carbo and many others help us in this task. We just need to give the first step and be the best artist a scientist can be, and the best scientist an artist can be.


Question: are you in?

About Miguel Panao

I am a Professor at the University of Coimbra in Mechanical Engineering. I am also author of books in the fields of environmental ethics and Science and Religion. From the several research projects, this site is personal and dedicated to the search for the best approaches, tools, techniques to improve scientific productivity.

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