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Use the best colours for figures and diagrams in your science

Colours are often used in figures, diagrams and maps in natural science to show results and data. But choose the right combination of colours so that they not distort your figures. So how do you pick the right colour and colour scale? Get some help from scientists who are specially interested in colour scales, modeling and visualization of science.

The surface of Mars: Upper a rainbow-like colour scale, “MOLA” and below the scientific colour scale, “lajolla”. Find more examples in supplementary data in Crameri et al. 2020. Figure: Crameri/Shephard/Heron

The surface of Mars: Upper a rainbow-like colour scale, “MOLA” and below the scientific colour scale, “lajolla”. Find more examples in supplementary data in Crameri et al. 2020. Fig: Crameri/Shephard/Heron

From weather maps to the surface of Mars to Doppler ultrasounds; colours and scientific data often go hand-in-hand. But did you ever consider that a combination of colours could be “unscientific”? 

Pitfalls surrounding the use of rainbow-like colours have been known for many years – they effectively distort data and are unreadable to those with any form of colour blindness – but why are they still so pervasive in science?  

Scientific colour map

Researchers from CEED and Dept of Geosciences, Uni. of Oslo and Durham Uni. explain what is a “scientific colour map,” and present free-to-download and easy-to-use solutions in an open-access paper in Nature Communications. These include, but are not limited to, rainbow-like and red–green colour maps.

In their article they present a simple guide for the scientific use of colours. We show how scientifically derived colour maps report true data variations, reduce complexity, and are accessible for people with colour-vision deficiencies.

In their new article the researchers highlight ways for the scientific community to identify and prevent the misuse of colour in science, and call for a proactive step away from colour misuse among the community, publishers, and the press.

Full article:

Fabio Crameri, Grace E. Shephard, Philip J. Heron. (2020) The misuse of colour in science communication. Nature Communications.  doi:10.1038/s41467-020-19160-7

Read more on this work here: 

Using better colours in science, CEED Blog, 28.10.2020

 

Learn more about colour maps at this YouTube film from Fabio Crameri/CEED:

By Gunn Kristin Tjoflot
Published Oct. 28, 2020 3:03 PM - Last modified Oct. 30, 2020 2:41 PM