See Like a Scientist

See Like a Scientist.

See Like a Scientist:

Visuals and Context


Hang on to your hats for a newsflash!  Sometimes no matter how good you are at interpreting visuals, you will come across one where none of your rules of thumb seem to help you.  The first thing that should come to your mind is that the mystery in front of you might be specific to discipline, which has an understood system for how to interpret the visual, one that does not rely on titlesaxes, or legends.  And where you do not know what a point, a trend, or the general message of the visual is. One such visual is the cladogram.  Cladograms are used by biologists to show relatedness between species of organisms.  For example the image in the upper right hand corner relates that flies are more closely related to moths than ants.  But how does knowing evolutionary theory impact your understanding of this visual? Let’s find out.


Go through the following tutorial at the Understanding Evolution website (you only need to see the first 4 slides on reading phylogenetic trees):

Then watch the phenomenal Mr. Bozeman create his own cladogram video


Understanding a topic allows you to see additional relationships in data that are specific to that discipline.


Experts in fields are often able to see relationships in data and visuals that are missed by novices. This happens partly because experts know what they are looking at because the data and visuals are very familiar to them, and partially because experts know what to look for. Sometimes an expert’s ability to understand a visual translates across fields, while other times it does not. For example, most scientists can read simple x-y graphs no matter what data is being displayed. That is, a chemist would be able to understand a graph displaying biological data. At the same time, every discipline has unique visuals. Focal mechanism plots used by geophysicists to convey information about earthquakes would be very difficult for a biologist to understand, just as phylogenetic trees used by biologists would be difficult for geophysicists.


1) Pick an occupation that you are interested in and find a visual that is specific to that discipline.

2) Comment on your ability to decipher the visual.

3) Find a website that helps you to better understand how to construct or understand the visual.


You will be evaluated based on the following criteria:

Level See Like A Scientist
None (0) Missing.
Emerging (2) Visual is taken from class materials. Minimal or no discussion of ability to decipher visual. Website related to better understanding or construction of visual is missing or broken, or misaligned with visual interpretation.
Developing (4) Visual is identified from an outside source and clearly linked or posted. Ability to decipher visual is discussed. Website related to better understanding or construction is present and readable.
Proficient (6) Visual is identified from an outside source and clearly linked or posted. Ability to decipher visual is linked to characteristics of the visual, individual bias, and other concepts from course. Website related to better understanding or construction is described and used to lay foundation for discussion of best practices in visual reading and design.

See Like a Scientist

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