Alternatives to some statistical conventions II: Visual exploration of data

The plot below allows risk to be displayed in relation to two variables. The contours on this plot are derived from a non-linear model fit to the data. What we see is that there are regions where slightly below average growth in the first year results in higher mortality than lower growth, even though the general trend is for higher birth weights and higher growth rates to result in lower mortality. This effect would be hard to detect in a conventional analysis of statistical significance.

Source: Barker, D. J. P. (1998). Mothers, Babies, and Health in Later Life. Edinburgh, Churchill


About Peter J. Taylor

Peter Taylor teaches and directs programs on critical thinking, reflective practice, and science-in-society at the University of Massachusetts Boston. He studies the complexity of environmental and health sciences in their social context as well as innovation in teaching, group process, and interdisciplinary collaboration (see He is especially interested in conversations with others who are, in diverse ways, "troubled by heterogeneity" (
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