Change in the graphics of journal articles in the life sciences field: analysis of figures and tables in the journal “Cell”

Kana Ariga, Manabu Tashiro

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Citation (Scopus)


The purpose of this study is to examine how trends in the use of images in modern life science journals have changed since the spread of computer-based visual and imaging technology. To this end, a new classification system was constructed to analyze how the graphics of a scientific journal have changed over the years. The focus was on one international peer-reviewed journal in life sciences, Cell, which was founded in 1974, whereby 1725 figures and 160 tables from the research articles in Cell were sampled. The unit of classification was defined as a graphic and the figures and tables were divided into 5952 graphics. These graphics were further classified into hierarchical categories, and the data in each category were aggregated every five years. The following categories were observed: (1) data graphics, (2) explanation graphics, and (3) hybrid graphics. Data graphics increased by more than sixfold between 1974 and 2014, and some types of data graphics including mechanical reproduction images and bar charts displayed notable changes. The representation of explanatory graphics changed from hand-painted illustrations to diagrams of Bezier-curves. It is suggested that in addition to the development of experimental technologies such as fluorescent microscopy and big data analysis, continuously evolving application software for image creation and researchers’ motivation to convince reviewers and editors have influenced these changes.

Original languageEnglish
Article number33
JournalHistory and Philosophy of the Life Sciences
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 2022 Sept


  • Diagram
  • Figure
  • Illustration
  • Scientific visualization
  • Visual culture
  • Visual representation


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