VISUALISATION / GRAPHICS
5 March 2012
Reviewed by Felix Grant
One of the most popular technical graphics products used in scientific research, SigmaPlot benefitted in its last release from wholesale import of analytic tools provided by its stable mate, SigmaStat. This decision pushed it firmly into the exploratory statistics segment of the market, which it had already penetrated on a de-facto basis for many users. The strategy continues in the current release, with the inclusion of enzyme kinematics, of which more below.
Looking first of all at SigmaPlot’s core purpose, there are of course additions spread between different visualisation types and functions. Macros are, by definition, things we could build for ourselves; but, in the real world, we often do not. One of the new prewritten examples in this release, well designed and serving as an example of what can be done, produces a dot density graph of unusual visual quality. Other new macros provide rich series exploration facilities and comparison vehicles for multiple methods, fitted lines or distributions. Curve fitting gains added subtlety with details such as parameter function weight variables. Subtyping adds sophistication to radar plots, while generic gradation and transparency controls extend the range of visual control across graphic types.
The interface sees developments to keep SigmaPlot spruced up and current. Ribbons, tabs, docking, MS Office style main button (where the file menu used to be), properties handling, and so on, keep the look and feel (and therefore productivity) in line with what is happening elsewhere in the productivity software universe.
The addition of an enzyme kinematics module is a useful development which works well, providing appropriate new analyses and graphics that significantly extend the products reach, though it is an add-in rather than an inherent component. Compared to the overall image of SigmaPlot, it has, to my eye at least, the appearance of having been a late decision which will take another release version to fully bed in. It can be found on the right hand end of the Toolbox menu ribbon, though, as with some other imported components, no obvious reference to it is made in the help file.
The module operates, as do some other imported components, as a bolt-on facility with its own way of doing things rather than seamlessly flowing from the instincts which a SigmaPlot user has learnt in the package as a whole. On the other hand, it must be said in fairness that this is a small criticism of a big addition to a big product. Analyses of enzyme assay are, in any case, specific to a particular user group, not part of the average statistical tool kit. The add-in appears next to the pharmacology group and those who want a kinematics tool will probably already know what they want to do with it and how to use it. The history of SigmaPlot development gives confidence of smoother integration to come.
Alongside enzyme kinematics, the addition this time around of Deming regression (a measurement errors regression model much used in clinical chemistry) makes good sense. It also suggests a conscious move to consolidate SigmaPlot’s already strong position in the life and health sciences.