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To design interfaces for exploratory data analysis, we need theories of graphical inference

by   Jessica Hullman, et al.

Research and development in computer science and statistics have produced increasingly sophisticated software interfaces for interactive and exploratory analysis, optimized for easy pattern finding and data exposure. But design philosophies that emphasize exploration over other phases of analysis risk confusing a need for flexibility with a conclusion that exploratory visual analysis is inherently model-free and cannot be formalized. We describe how without a grounding in theories of human statistical inference, research in exploratory visual analysis can lead to contradictory interface objectives and representations of uncertainty that can discourage users from drawing valid inferences. We discuss how the concept of a model check in a Bayesian statistical framework unites exploratory and confirmatory analysis, and how this understanding relates to other proposed theories of graphical inference. Viewing interactive analysis as driven by model checks suggests new directions for software and empirical research around exploratory and visual analysis. For example, systems should enable specifying and explicitly comparing data to null and other reference distributions and better representations of uncertainty. Implications of Bayesian and other theories of graphical inference should be tested against outcomes of interactive analysis by people to drive theory development.


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