Articles by nsaunders

The real meaning of spurious correlations

February 2, 2017 | nsaunders

Like many data nerds, I’m a big fan of Tyler Vigen’s Spurious Correlations, a humourous illustration of the old adage “correlation does not equal causation”. Technically, I suppose it should be called “spurious interpretations” since the correlations themselves are quite real, but then good marketing is everything. There ...
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Taking steps (in XML)

February 1, 2017 | nsaunders

So the votes are in: Your established blog is mostly about your work. Your work changes. Do you continue at the current blog or start a new one? — Neil Saunders (@neilfws) January 23, 2017 I thank you, kind readers. So here’s the plan: (1) keep blogging here as frequently as possible (perhaps ...
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Evidence for a limit to effective peer review

December 18, 2016 | nsaunders

I missed it first time around but apparently, back in October, Nature published a somewhat-controversial article: Evidence for a limit to human lifespan. It came to my attention in a recent tweet: Just wow — Nick Loman (@pathogenomenick) December 11, 2016 The source: a ...
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An Analysis of Contributions to PubMed Commons

December 1, 2016 | nsaunders

I recently saw a tweet floating by which included a link to some recent statistics from PubMed Commons, the NCBI service for commenting on scientific articles in PubMed. Perhaps it was this post at their blog. So I thought now would be a good time to write some code to ...
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Putting data on maps using R: easier than ever

November 23, 2016 | nsaunders

Using R to add data to maps has been pretty straightforward for a few years now. That said, it seems easier than ever to do things like use map APIs (e.g. Google, Open Street Map), overlay quite complex data visualisations (e.g. “heatmap-style” densities) and even generate animations. A ...
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The y-axis: to zero or not to zero

November 20, 2016 | nsaunders

I don’t “do politics” at this blog, but I’m always happy to do charts. Here’s one that’s been doing the rounds on Twitter recently: A quick look at turnout data: It seems 2016 was nothing special for the Rep-candidate. It's the Dem-candidate that didn't get the vote ...
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Let’s (briefly) revisit the Nobel API

October 9, 2016 | nsaunders

It’s always nice when 12-month old code runs without a hitch. Not sure why this did not become a Github repo first time around, but now it is: my RMarkdown code to generate a report using data from the Nobel Prize API. Now you too can generate a “gee, ... [Read more...]

Novelty: an update

October 21, 2015 | nsaunders

A recent tweet: @neilfws I enjoyed this: Have you published (or are you thinking about publishing) this analysis anywhere? — Marcus Munafo (@MarcusMunafo) October 7, 2015 made me think (1) has it really been 5 years, (2) gee, my ggplot skills were dreadful back then and (3) did I really not know how ...
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R and the Nobel Prize API

October 20, 2015 | nsaunders

The Nobel Prizes. Love them? Hate them? Are they still relevant, meaningful? Go on admit it, you always imagined you would win one day. Whatever you think of them, the 2015 results are in. What’s more, the good people of the Nobel Foundation offer us free access to data via ...
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Searching for duplicate resource names in PMC article titles

September 16, 2015 | nsaunders

I enjoyed this article by Keith Bradnam, and the associated tweets, on the problem of duplicated names for bioinformatics software. I figured that to some degree at least, we should be able to search for such instances, since the titles of published articles that describe software often follow a particular ... [Read more...]

Analysis of gene expression timecourse data using maSigPro

May 28, 2015 | nsaunders

About a year ago, I did a little work on a very interesting project which was trying to identify blood-based biomarkers for the early detection of stroke. The data included gene expression measurements using microarrays at various time points after the onset of ischemia (reduced blood supply). I had not ...
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Some basics of biomaRt

April 27, 2015 | nsaunders

One of the commonest bioinformatics questions, at Biostars and elsewhere, takes the form: “I have a list of identifiers (X); I want to relate them to a second set of identifiers (Y)”. HGNC gene symbols to Ensembl Gene IDs, for example. When this occurs I have been known to tweet “... [Read more...]

R 3.1 -> 3.2 upgrade notes

April 19, 2015 | nsaunders

My machines upgraded from R version 3.1.3 to version 3.2.0 last week, which means that existing code suddenly cannot find packages and so fails. Some notes to myself, possibly useful to others, for what to do when this happens. Relevant to Ubuntu-based systems (I use Linux Mint). 1. Update packages 1.1. rJava issues My ... [Read more...]

Project Tycho, ggplot2 and the shameless stealing of blog ideas

April 14, 2015 | nsaunders

Last week, Mick Watson posted a terrific article on using R to recreate the visualizations in this WSJ article on the impact of vaccination. Someone beat me to the obvious joke. @BioMickWatson @pathogenomenick Nice quilt plot. — Ed Yong (@edyong209) April 9, 2015 Someone also beat me to the standard response whenever base ...
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Configuring the R BatchJobs package for Torque batch queues

March 31, 2015 | nsaunders

I was asked recently to look at some R code which performs “embarrassingly parallel” computations (the same function, multiple times, different parameters) and see whether I could modify it to run on one of our high-performance computing clusters. The machine has 63 virtual compute nodes and uses the TORQUE batch queue ... [Read more...]

PubMed retraction reporting update

March 23, 2015 | nsaunders

Just a quick update to the previous post. At the helpful suggestion of Steve Royle, I’ve added a new section to the report which attempts to normalise retractions by journal. So for example, J. Biol. Chem. has (as of now) 94 retracted articles and in total 170 842 publications indexed in PubMed. ... [Read more...]

Just how many retracted articles are there in PubMed anyway?

March 19, 2015 | nsaunders

I am forever returning to PubMed data, downloaded as XML, trying to extract information from it and becoming deeply confused in the process. Take the seemingly-simple question “how many retracted articles are there in PubMed?” Well, one way is to search for records with the publication type “Retracted Article”. As ... [Read more...]
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