Morning coffee: tables

(Note: ‘Morning coffee’ will be short musings about science-related topics.)


I don’t like tables. Or, more precisely: I don’t like tables that I have to read, but I love telling my computer to read tables for me. Tables made for human eyes tend to have certain features — I don’t know whether they really help facilitate human understanding, but people seem to think they do — such as merged cells or omission of repeated values, footnotes indicated by superscript symbols and sometimes colouring that conveys meaning. There is a conflict between keeping the number of columns small enough to be readable and putting in all the statistics that readers want. Someone might want the coefficient of determination while someone who of information theoretic persuasion wants the AIC. It is more convenient for the human reader to see the table close to the text, while the computer user would probably like it in a text file. Some journals do this almost right: right below the table there is a link to download it as comma separated values. I think ideally any data would be presented as a summary table — or even better a graph! — and the underlying computer-readable data would be the click of a link away.