Let's Take A Closer Look

Explaining complicated subject matter simply since 1986

Doe, a deer, a female deer; Ray, a drop of golden sun; Me, a name I call myself; Far, a long, long way to run; Sew, a needle pulling thread; La, a note to follow so; Tea, I drink with jam and bread; that will bring us back to do, oh oh oh. Guido d’Arezzo was a Benedictine monk who figured that Gregorian chants could be more easily learned if he assigned a syllable to each note of the scale. The song Do-Re-Mi from The Sound of Music was written by Rogers and Hammerstein and used by Maria the governess to teach the musical scale to the children of the Von Trapp family. When the song was translated into German, it was rewritten as C wie Cellophanpapier. That last word looks like cellophane paper, don’t you think?

The scales of justice

Held aloft in one hand by Justitia, the Goddess of Justice, the scales symbolize the evidence as presented by the accuser and the accused and purports to determine the truth by weighing the evidence. The idea is that the side that presents the more complete, credible, and convincing evidence will win because their evidence outweighs that of the losing side.

Among the many versions of the goddess, the one we are most familiar with shows her blindfolded to represent her objectivity and impartiality. Today many of us see the legal system as not so impartial, and the winners at trial as the ones with the best lawyers, not the the ones with the best evidence.

 

Why do fish have scales?

These tough, bony, overlapping plates come in many shapes and sizes but all are made from keratin, the same material in human fingernails and hair. They are constantly growing and are shed from the fish’s body as they age.

Scales provide the fish with protection from parasites and predators as well as helping them regulate their body temperature. Most people don’t know that fish scales are a key ingredient in lipstick along with the corpses of crushed beetles.

Temperature scales

The two most common are Fahrenheit (freezing is 32 degrees and boiling is 212) and Celsius (freezing is 0 and boiling is 100). Most of us know only one or the other. Travelers who find themselves in countries that use the scale we don’t know struggle to do the mental calculations required to convert back to the system they grew up with.

Bathroom scales

If you live in the USA, your bathroom scale measures your weight in pounds. British scales have an extra line to indicate a person’s weight in stones (14 pounds). This is a holdover from the days of weighing wool shorn from sheep. Some scales also measure kilos.

Survey scales

The simplest are the ones you get from Amazon.

Semantic differential scales

These are bipolar scales that range from highest to lowest, best to worst, most to least, and any polar opposites. They’re used with survey questionnaires that ask people to subjectively rate products and services by clicking on a scale that may have anywhere from two (yes or no) to 100 choices. Most people have taken one of the surveys we are bombarded with them every time we buy a product or use a service. Here are a few things to keep in mind next time you come across survey scales:

Odd or even?

Those in favor of using odd-numbered scales do so to allow survey takers to give a neutral response because odd-numbered scales have a midpoint. Survey takers’ choices tend to gravitate toward the middle, so you’ll get a bunch of fence-sitters.

Those who use even-numbered scales do so to force survey takers to take a positive or negative position by removing the mehddle (meh middle) to force you one way or another. Critics say whatever results you get are biased by the scale’s design.

Which one or ones do you use and why?

Most study sponsors can’t answer that question. If your research provider didn’t discuss this with you in a planning meeting, get a new research provider, one that shows you the options so you can make the choice.

Likert scales

If you took a statistics class in school, you learned about Likert scales, designed to capture variance in survey questionnaires. Instead of asking if you like something or not (Yes/No), Likert scales try to measure intensity, as I may like something a little and you may like the same thing a lot. The most common Likert scales have 5 points: Strongly Agree, Agree, Neither Agree nor Disagree, Disagree and Strongly Disagree. Below is a 7-point Likert scale that adds a “Somewhat” to either end in an effort to find greater distinctions.

They’re highly popular

But as a graduate student, I learned that most people cannot reliably discriminate more than five or six levels of nearly anything, so I never approved their use and still won’t. Did your research provider tell you about this?

10-point scales

One school of thought says these scales came about because of the grading systems we use in schools. Another says we use them because of the prevalence of Top Ten lists on late-night talk shows. Either way, they are to be avoided because, for the most part, people are unable to describe the difference between adjacent ratings such as 3 and 4 or 7 and 8 unless they are experts. When you see zero as a choice, the survey designer has actually given you an 11-point scale. Look at the survey below. Can you see anything wrong in the time it takes you to read it?

Here’s what I see

The label Indifferent has two values (5,6). Those who choose 5 are on the dissatisfied side of indifferent. Those who choose 6 are on the satisfied side of indifferent, implying no survey taker is completely indifferent. If that’s the case, why use that label? The way the scale is designed gives the researchers the choice of bundling five and six together and labeling them as Indifferent, or splitting them to move Dissatisfaction and Dissatisfaction from having four measurable levels to having five. This is too complicated for people who are not in the business of buying and selling research but should serve as a warning to learn what questions to ask of your researchers and how to evaluate their responses.

100-point scales

The more points you put on a scale, the more variance you get. Statisticians love variance because it allows them to argue over tiny statistical differences which make sense only to those striving for tenure in one ot the nation’s universities that granted 150,000 doctoral degrees in 2021.

100-point scales are 10 times more useless than 10-point scales, especially when innumerate braggarts are out there giving it 110%.

Bonus

The only time those two temperature scales agree is at -40 degrees.

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