On the “quilt plot”

One of the big blow ups on twitter last week (at least in the circles that I follow) was the “quilt plot”, an article recently published in PLoS ONE. The quilt plot is actually just a heat map. Not a heat map with other bits removed, but a heat map. The article itself says that “they produce a similar graphical display to ‘heat maps’ when the ‘clustering’ and ‘dendrogram’ options are turned off”, but that misunderstands what a heat map is. While the wikipedia page for heat maps has a hierarchically clustered heat map as the example image at the top, the examples farther down do not. To claim that there is something new here is to fundamentally misunderstand what already existed.

It’s not really new, but scientists can’t be familiar with the entirety of the literature, and often “rediscover” old techniques from other fields. What one would hope, however, is that the journal itself is able to spot this, and respond appropriately. PLoS ONE actually has guidelines for whether new software methods should be published. Briefly, they say they must have

  1. Utility
  2. Validation
  3. Accessibility

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