You Gotta Know These Scientific Scales

Science requires lots of comparisons. To make comparisons easier, scientists have devised many scales over time. Broadly speaking, the most common scales can be divided into four categories: linear scales, logarithmic scales, power scales, and empirical scales.

Linear scales

Linear scales are based on straight lines: equal differences between values on the scale indicate equal differences in the phenomenon being described.

Logarithmic scales

Logarithmic scales are based on the concept of logarithms: a gap of one unit between measurements on the scale always corresponds to the same ratio between the phenomena being described.

Power scales

While logarithmic scales take the logarithm of the measured number, power scales raise it to an exponent. These two scales happen to use an exponent of 3/2:

Empirical scales

These scales assign numbers that make sense relative to each other, but are arbitrary in the sense that there is no fixed quantitative relationship between values on the scale.

This article was contributed by NAQT editor Samer T. Ismail.

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