In a previous post we offered some solid supportive resources for learning R – a healthy dinner with lots of great vegetables. Here we offer a dessert cart of rich resources for data visualization and graphing. It’s a powerful motivation for using R.
First up is The New R Graph Gallery – extensive, useful, and actually new. “It contains more than 200 data visualizations categorized by type, along with the R code that created them. You can browse the gallery by types of chart (boxplots, maps, histograms, interactive charts, 3-D charts, etc), or search the chart descriptions. Once you’ve found a chart you like, you can admire it in the gallery (and interact with it, if possible), and also find the R code which you can adapt for your own use. Some entries even include mini-tutorials describing how the chart was made.” (Description by Revolutions.)
Sometimes we want (or need) plain vanilla – something clean and elegant rather than extravagant. Check out A Compendium of Clean Graphs in R, including code. Many examples are especially well-suited for the spartan challenge of conveying information in grayscale. The R Graph Catalog is a similar resource.
If you’re just getting started with R, take a look at the Painless Data Visualization section (p. 17 onward) in this downloadable Beginner’s Guide.
If you’re already skilled in R and want a new challenge, an indirect method of harnessing some of the power of D3.js for interactive web visualizations is available through plotly for R. Here’s getting started with plotly and ggplot2, plotly and Shiny, and a gallery. The resources offer code and in some cases the chance to open a visualization and modify its data.
Science is a team sport. Collaborations allow us to ask more ambitious science questions, but also intensify the need to connect disparate datasets across scales of time and space. Solving data interoperability challenges requires technological solutions not yet in place, so we’re taking the initiative to review potential solutions.
A platform from EarthCube is some time and distance away, but we have a chance to start assembling tools already at hand and in use for coral reef research workflows and do some testing. The process also helps us ground the ideal in the practical.
What are some criteria for a great infrastructure platform?
Ideally, solutions are: 1) modular, so when an improved tool is available it can be incorporated without restructuring the system; 2) free or low cost, so solutions are sustainable for most research labs; and 3) open source, allowing continued development from multiple disciplines and directions. However, we also want to start where people are, with the tools we’re already using – many of these are less than ideal but we make them work. That’s our starting place, and we want to hear about all of your tools.
It is tempting to set up a workbench for the challenge of analysis alone, but in a coral reef research lab we immediately crash into the realities of group data collection, field and lab work, physical specimens, and intersecting projects. All of these characteristics create additional layers of challenge. In the long run, infrastructure should help capture data and metadata generation at the source, and ease tracking, analysis, and replicability.
Good infrastructure solves more problems than it creates in compliance, skill demand, and management. An effective system helps graduate students and postdocs develop robust skills in managing data into the future, with guidelines that work for people, labs, and collaborators. Interoperability challenges must be solved for datasets that range from remote sensing to ecological surveys to bioinformatics work. Data cleaning, analysis, visualization, and mapping must be supported in flexible ways to clearly communicate research insights.
We have an opportunity to construct a preliminary array of tools and workflows on a cyberinfrastructure workbench for coral reef research, so if this is going to be a broadly useful start we need to know what you already like using and what more you wish you had. Dream big to start with, and along the way we’ll acknowledge the distinction between perfect and good-enough solutions.
We are driven to learn like sharks: constantly take in new flows, or die. In a recent workshop, when coral reef scientists were asked: “How many of you use R?” 60% raised a hand. To: “How many of you are comfortable with and love using R?” only about 15% kept a hand up.
Here’s where to go to learn to love R more.
You likely already know of the R Project, free and open source software for statistical computing and graphics. You may already know of the reliability of the Comprehensive R Archive Network or CRAN repository, favored by many over other potential sources of community-generated code because of their metadata and testing requirements; it now hosts over 9,300 packages (sorted by date and name).
You may not know of the new R course finder, an online directory you can search and filter to find the best online R course for your next step (note there are often free versions or segments of even the pay courses listed). There are YouTube videos for R learning, like twotorials (two-minute tutorials) and YaRrr! (because pirates) with book.
A very recent new book is getting rave reviews from both statistics and programming viewpoints: The Book of R by Tilman Davies (preview it here). The author writes:
“The Book of R …represents the introduction to the language that I wish I’d had when I began exploring R, combined with the first-year fundamentals of statistics as a discipline, implemented in R…. Try not to be afraid of R. It will do exactly what you tell it to – nothing more, nothing less. When something doesn’t work as expected or an error occurs, this literal behavior works in your favor…. Especially in your early stages of learning…try to use R for everything, even for very simple tasks or calculations you might usually do elsewhere. This will force your mind to switch to ‘R mode’ more often, and it’ll get you comfortable with the environment quickly.”
We’ll soon host a guest blogpost on some exploratory coral symbiont data analyses, visualizations, and comments generated in R Markdown, which is RStudio’s method for preserving code and output in one running web document. The work is beautiful and useful, and highlights the use of an electronic notebook as a way to capture and share data exploration, analysis and visualization, and to tell a data story. (A major advance to that software was announced this week in the form of R Notebook, which will ship within the next couple of months.)
Why is it worth learning to love R more?
R helps make sure your data work is reproducible (such an issue for science), repeatable (valuable for any processing you have to do periodically), and reusable (on other datasets or data versions, or by colleagues or your future self).
A couple of high-level languages, like R and Python, are becoming more popular each year, and are finding their way as general purpose tools into analytical platforms. These will serve as primary sources of flexibility in cyberinfrastructure platforms now available or under development. Our future selves thank us for the learning investment.
I would suggest that they get a copy of the R for Data Science book written by Hadley Wickham and Garrett Grolemund…. Also, when you have questions or run into problems don’t give up. There’s a lot of great activity around R on stackoverflow and other places and there’s an excellent chance you’re going to find the answers to your questions if you look carefully for them.
Further Update: In January 2018, Kaggle released resources for Hands-On Data Science learning, including lessons for R in data setup, data visualization, and machine learning.