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      Error bars in experimental biology

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          Abstract

          Error bars commonly appear in figures in publications, but experimental biologists are often unsure how they should be used and interpreted. In this article we illustrate some basic features of error bars and explain how they can help communicate data and assist correct interpretation. Error bars may show confidence intervals, standard errors, standard deviations, or other quantities. Different types of error bars give quite different information, and so figure legends must make clear what error bars represent. We suggest eight simple rules to assist with effective use and interpretation of error bars.

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          Most cited references 11

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          Neurotransmitter synthesis and uptake by isolated sympathetic neurones in microcultures.

          Assays of isolated single sympathetic neurones show that their transmitter functions can be either adrenergic or cholinergic depending on growth conditions. The data suggest that the number of transmitters made by most mature individual neurones is restricted.
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            Inference by eye: confidence intervals and how to read pictures of data.

            Wider use in psychology of confidence intervals (CIs), especially as error bars in figures, is a desirable development. However, psychologists seldom use CIs and may not understand them well. The authors discuss the interpretation of figures with error bars and analyze the relationship between CIs and statistical significance testing. They propose 7 rules of eye to guide the inferential use of figures with error bars. These include general principles: Seek bars that relate directly to effects of interest, be sensitive to experimental design, and interpret the intervals. They also include guidelines for inferential interpretation of the overlap of CIs on independent group means. Wider use of interval estimation in psychology has the potential to improve research communication substantially. ((c) 2005 APA, all rights reserved).
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              On Judging the Significance of Differences by Examining the Overlap Between Confidence Intervals

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                Author and article information

                Journal
                J Cell Biol
                jcb
                The Journal of Cell Biology
                The Rockefeller University Press
                0021-9525
                1540-8140
                9 April 2007
                : 177
                : 1
                : 7-11
                Affiliations
                [1 ]School of Psychological Science and [2 ]Department of Biochemistry, La Trobe University, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia 3086
                Author notes

                Correspondence may also be addressed to Geoff Cumming ( g.cumming@ 123456latrobe.edu.au ) or Fiona Fidler ( f.fidler@ 123456latrobe.edu.au ).

                Article
                200611141
                10.1083/jcb.200611141
                2064100
                17420288
                Copyright © 2007, The Rockefeller University Press
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