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You are on page 1of 8

Level of measurement refers to the way that a variable is measured. There are four main

levels of measurement that variables can have: nominal, ordinal, interval, and ratio. Being

familiar with the level of measurement of the variables in your data set is crucial because

they will help determine what statistical procedure you use. Not every statistical

operation can be used with every variable. The type of procedure used depends on the

variables level of measurement.

There is a hierarchy implied in the levels of measurement such that that at lower levels of

measurement (nominal, ordinal), assumptions are typically less restrictive and data

analyses are less sensitive.

Statistics

At each level up the hierarchy, the current level includes all the qualities of the one below

it in addition to something new. In general, it is desirable to have higher levels of

measurement (interval or ratio) rather than a lower one. Lets examine each level of

measurement in order from lowest to highest on the hierarchy:

Nominal Level Of Measurement

At the nominal level of measurement, variables simply name the attribute it is measuring

and no ranking is present. For example, gender is a nominal variable because we classify

the observations into the categories "male" and "female." Because the different categories

(for instance, males and females) vary in quality but not quantity, nominal variables are

often called qualitative variables. An important feature of nominal variables is that there

is no hierarchy or ranking to the categories. For instance, males are not ranked higher

than females or vice versa there is no order or rank, just different names assigned to

each.

Other examples of nominal variables include political party, religion, marital status, and

race.

Nominal variables are also commonly referred to as categorical variables.

Ordinal Level Of Measurement

Variables that have an ordinal level of measurement can be rank-ordered. For example,

social class is an ordinal variable because we can say that a person in the category "upper

class" has a higher class position than a person in a middle class category, which again

is higher than "lower class."

In ordinal variables, the distance between categories does not have any meaning. For

example, we dont know how much higher "upper class" is to "middle class" or "lower

class." All we know is the order of the categories, but the interval between values is not

interpretable.

Other examples of ordinal variables include education level (less than high school, high

school degree, some college, etc.) and letter grades (A, B, C, D, F).

Interval Level Of Measurement

In interval measurement, the distance between the attributes, or categories, does have

meaning. For example, temperature is an interval variable because the distance between

30 and 40 degrees Fahrenheit is the same as the distance between 70 and 80 degrees

Fahrenheit. The interval between the values is interpretable. For this reason, it makes

sense to compute averages, or means, of interval variables, where it doesnt make sense

to do so for ordinal variables. With interval variables, however, ratios do not make sense.

That is, 80 degrees Fahrenheit is not twice as hot as 40 degrees Fahrenheit, even though

the attribute value is twice as large.

Ratio Level Of Measurement

Variables that are measured at the ratio level are similar to interval variables, however

they have an absolute zero that is meaningful (i.e. no numbers exist below zero). That is,

you can construct a meaningful ratio, or fraction, with a ratio variable.

Height and weight are both examples of ratio variables. If you are measuring a persons

height in inches, there is quantity, equal units, and the measurement cannot go below zero

inches. A negative height is not possible.

References

Frankfort-Nachmias, C. & Leon-Guerrero, A. (2006). Social Statistics for a Diverse Society. Thousand Oaks, CA: Pine Forge Press.

Level of measurement

In statistics and quantitative research methodology, various attempts have been made to

classify variables (or types of data) and thereby develop a taxonomy of levels of

measurement or scales of measure. Perhaps the best known are those developed by the

psychologist Stanley Smith Stevens. He proposed four types: nominal, ordinal, interval,

and ratio.

Typology[edit]

Stevens proposed his typology in a 1946 Science article titled "On the theory of scales of

measurement".[1] In that article, Stevens claimed that all measurement in science was

conducted using four different types of scales that he called "nominal," "ordinal,"

"interval," and "ratio," unifying both "qualitative" (which are described by his "nominal"

type) and "quantitative" (to a different degree, all the rest of his scales). The concept of

scale types later received the mathematical rigour that it lacked at its inception with the

work of mathematical psychologists Theodore Alper (1985, 1987), Louis Narens (1981a,

b), and R. Duncan Luce (1986, 1987, 2001). As Luce (1997, p. 395) wrote:

S. S. Stevens (1946, 1951, 1975) claimed that what counted was having an interval or

ratio scale. Subsequent research has given meaning to this assertion, but given his

attempts to invoke scale type ideas it is doubtful if he understood it himself . . . no

measurement theorist I know accepts Stevens' broad definition of measurement . . . in our

view, the only sensible meaning for 'rule' is empirically testable laws about the attribute.

Nominal scale[edit]

The nominal type differentiates between items or subjects based only on their names or

(meta-)categories and other qualitative classifications they belong to; thus dichotomous

data involves the construction of classifications as well as the classification of items.

Discovery of an exception to a classification can be viewed as progress. Numbers may be

used to represent the variables but the numbers do not have numerical value or

relationship.

Examples of these classifications include gender, nationality, ethnicity, language, genre,

style, biological species, and form.[2][3] In a university one could also use hall of affiliation

as an example. Other concrete examples are

in grammar, the parts of speech: noun, verb, preposition, article, pronoun, etc.

in politics, power projection: hard power, soft power, etc.

in biology, the taxonomic ranks below domains: Archaea, Bacteria, and Eukarya

Nominal scales were often called qualitative scales, and measurements made on

qualitative scales were called qualitative data. However, the rise of qualitative research

has made this usage confusing.

Mathematical operations[edit]

Set membership, classification, categorical equality, and equivalence are all operations

which apply to objects of the nominal type.

Central tendency[edit]

The mode, i.e. the most common item, is allowed as the measure of central tendency for

the nominal type. On the other hand, the median, i.e. the middle-ranked item, makes no

sense for the nominal type of data since ranking is meaningless for the nominal type.

Percentage[edit]

Percentages can be used to determine or develop a comparison of the classifications.

Ordinal scale[edit]

The ordinal type allows for rank order (1st, 2nd, 3rd, etc.) by which data can be sorted,

but still does not allow for relative degree of difference between them. Examples include,

on one hand, dichotomous data with dichotomous (or dichotomized) values such as 'sick'

vs. 'healthy' when measuring health, 'guilty' vs. 'innocent' when making judgments in

courts, 'wrong/false' vs. 'right/true' when measuring truth value, and, on the other hand,

non-dichotomous data consisting of a spectrum of values, such as 'completely agree',

'mostly agree', 'mostly disagree', 'completely disagree' when measuring opinion.

Central tendency

The median, i.e. middle-ranked, item is allowed as the measure of central tendency;

however, the mean (or average) as the measure of central tendency is not allowed. The

mode is allowed.

In 1946, Stevens observed that psychological measurement, such as measurement of

opinions, usually operates on ordinal scales; thus means and standard deviations have no

validity, but they can be used to get ideas for how to improve operationalization of

variables used in questionnaires. Most psychological data collected by psychometric

instruments and tests, measuring cognitive and other abilities, are ordinal, although some

theoreticians have argued they can be treated as interval or ratio scales. However, there is

little prima facie evidence to suggest that such attributes are anything more than ordinal

(Cliff, 1996; Cliff & Keats, 2003; Michell, 2008).[4] In particular,[5] IQ scores reflect an

ordinal scale, in which all scores are meaningful for comparison only.[6][7][8] There is no

absolute zero, and a 10-point difference may carry different meanings at different points

of the scale.[9][10]

Interval scale[edit]

The interval type allows for the degree of difference between items, but not the ratio

between them. Examples include temperature with the Celsius scale, which has two

defined points (the freezing and boiling point of water at specific conditions) and then

separated into 100 intervals, date when measured from an arbitrary epoch (such as AD)

and direction measured in degrees from true or magnetic north. Ratios are not allowed

since 20 C cannot be said to be "twice as hot" as 10 C, nor can multiplication/division

be carried out between any two dates directly. However, ratios of differences can be

expressed; for example, one difference can be twice another. Interval type variables are

sometimes also called "scaled variables", but the formal mathematical term is an affine

space (in this case an affine line).

The mode, median, and arithmetic mean are allowed to measure central tendency of

interval variables, while measures of statistical dispersion include range and standard

deviation. Since one can only divide by differences, one cannot define measures that

require some ratios, such as the coefficient of variation. More subtly, while one can

define moments about the origin, only central moments are meaningful, since the choice

of origin is arbitrary. One can define standardized moments, since ratios of differences

are meaningful, but one cannot define the coefficient of variation, since the mean is a

moment about the origin, unlike the standard deviation, which is (the square root of) a

central moment.

Ratio scale[edit]

The ratio type takes its name from the fact that measurement is the estimation of the ratio

between a magnitude of a continuous quantity and a unit magnitude of the same kind

(Michell, 1997, 1999). A ratio scale possesses a meaningful (unique and non-arbitrary)

zero value. Most measurement in the physical sciences and engineering is done on ratio

scales. Examples include mass, length, duration, plane angle, energy and electric charge.

Ratios are allowed because having a non-arbitrary zero point makes it meaningful to say,

for example, that one object has "twice the length" of another (= is "twice as long"). Very

informally, many ratio scales can be described as specifying "how much" of something

(i.e. an amount or magnitude) or "how many" (a count). The Kelvin temperature scale is a

ratio scale because it has a unique, non-arbitrary zero point called absolute zero.

Central tendency and statistical dispersion

The geometric mean and the harmonic mean are allowed to measure the central tendency,

in addition to the mode, median, and arithmetic mean. The studentized range and the

coefficient of variation are allowed to measure statistical dispersion. All statistical

measures are allowed because all necessary mathematical operations are defined for the

ratio scale.

Debate on typology[edit]

While Stevens' typology is widely adopted, it is still being challenged by other

theoreticians, particularly in the cases of the nominal and ordinal types (Michell, 1986).

[11]

Duncan (1986) objected to the use of the word measurement in relation to the nominal

type, but Stevens (1975) said of his own definition of measurement that "the assignment

can be any consistent rule. The only rule not allowed would be random assignment, for

randomness amounts in effect to a nonrule". However, so-called nominal measurement

involves arbitrary assignment, and the "permissible transformation" is any number for

any other. This is one of the points made in Lord's (1953) satirical paper On the

Statistical Treatment of Football Numbers.[12]

The use of the mean as a measure of the central tendency for the ordinal type is still

debatable among those who accept Stevens' typology. Many behavioural scientists use the

mean for ordinal data, anyway. This is often justified on the basis that the ordinal type in

behavioural science is in fact somewhere between the true ordinal and interval types;

although the interval difference between two ordinal ranks is not constant, it is often of

the same order of magnitude.

For example, applications of measurement models in educational contexts often indicate

that total scores have a fairly linear relationship with measurements across the range of an

assessment. Thus, some argue that so long as the unknown interval difference between

ordinal scale ranks is not too variable, interval scale statistics such as means can

meaningfully be used on ordinal scale variables. Statistical analysis software such as

SPSS requires the user to select the appropriate measurement class for each variable. This

ensures that subsequent user errors cannot inadvertently perform meaningless analyses

(for example correlation analysis with a variable on a nominal level).

L. L. Thurstone made progress toward developing a justification for obtaining the interval

type, based on the law of comparative judgment. A common application of the law is the

analytic hierarchy process. Further progress was made by Georg Rasch (1960), who

developed the probabilistic Rasch model that provides a theoretical basis and justification

for obtaining interval-level measurements from counts of observations such as total

scores on assessments.

Another issue is derived from Nicholas R. Chrisman's article "Rethinking Levels of

Measurement for Cartography",[13] in which he introduces an expanded list of levels of

measurement to account for various measurements that do not necessarily fit with the

traditional notions of levels of measurement. Measurements bound to a range and

repeating (like degrees in a circle, clock time, etc.), graded membership categories, and

other types of measurement do not fit to Steven's original work, leading to the

introduction of six new levels of measurement, for a total of ten: (1) Nominal, (2) Graded

membership, (3) Ordinal, (4) Interval, (5) Log-Interval, (6) Extensive Ratio, (7) Cyclical

Ratio, (8) Derived Ratio, (9) Counts, and finally (10) Absolute. The extended levels of

measurement are rarely used outside of academic geography.

The theory of scale types is the intellectual handmaiden to Stevens' "operational theory of

measurement", which was to become definitive within psychology and the behavioral

sciences,[citation needed] despite Michell's characterization as its being quite at odds with

measurement in the natural sciences (Michell, 1999). Essentially, the operational theory

of measurement was a reaction to the conclusions of a committee established in 1932 by

the British Association for the Advancement of Science to investigate the possibility of

genuine scientific measurement in the psychological and behavioral sciences. This

committee, which became known as the Ferguson committee, published a Final Report

(Ferguson, et al., 1940, p. 245) in which Stevens' sone scale (Stevens & Davis, 1938) was

an object of criticism:

any law purporting to express a quantitative relation between sensation intensity and

stimulus intensity is not merely false but is in fact meaningless unless and until a

meaning can be given to the concept of addition as applied to sensation.

That is, if Stevens' sone scale genuinely measured the intensity of auditory sensations,

then evidence for such sensations as being quantitative attributes needed to be produced.

The evidence needed was the presence of additive structure a concept comprehensively

treated by the German mathematician Otto Hlder (Hlder, 1901). Given that the

physicist and measurement theorist Norman Robert Campbell dominated the Ferguson

committee's deliberations, the committee concluded that measurement in the social

sciences was impossible due to the lack of concatenation operations. This conclusion was

later rendered false by the discovery of the theory of conjoint measurement by Debreu

(1960) and independently by Luce & Tukey (1964). However, Stevens' reaction was not

to conduct experiments to test for the presence of additive structure in sensations, but

instead to render the conclusions of the Ferguson committee null and void by proposing a

new theory of measurement:

Paraphrasing N.R. Campbell (Final Report, p.340), we may say that measurement, in the

broadest sense, is defined as the assignment of numerals to objects and events according

to rules (Stevens, 1946, p.677).

Stevens was greatly influenced by the ideas of another Harvard academic, the Nobel

laureate physicist Percy Bridgman (1927), whose doctrine of operationism Stevens used

to define measurement. In Stevens' definition, for example, it is the use of a tape measure

that defines length (the object of measurement) as being measurable (and so by

implication quantitative). Critics of operationism object that it confuses the relations

between two objects or events for properties of one of those of objects or events

(Hardcastle, 1995; Michell, 1999; Moyer, 1981a,b; Rogers, 1989).

The Canadian measurement theorist William Rozeboom (1966) was an early and

trenchant critic of Stevens' theory of scale types.

See also[edit]

Inter-rater reliability

Cohen's kappa

Hume's principle

Logarithmic scale

RamseyLewis method

Notes[edit]

1.

Stevens, S. S. (1946). "On the Theory of Scales of Measurement". Science 103

(2684): 677680. Bibcode:1946Sci...103..677S. doi:10.1126/science.103.2684.677.

PMID 17750512.

Nominal measures are based on sets and depend on categories, ala Aristotle.

accessdate=2014-08-25

"Invariably one came up against fundamental physical limits to the accuracy of

measurement. ... The art of physical measurement seemed to be a matter of compromise,

of choosing between reciprocally related uncertainties. ... Multiplying together the

conjugate pairs of uncertainty limits mentioned, however, I found that they formed

invariant products of not one but two distinct kinds. ... The first group of limits were

calculable a priori from a specification of the instrument. The second group could be

calculated only a posteriori from a specification of what was done with the instrument. ...

In the first case each unit [of information] would add one additional dimension

(conceptual category), whereas in the second each unit would add one additional atomic

fact.", pp. 14: MacKay, Donald M. (1969), Information, Mechanism, and Meaning,

Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, ISBN 0-262-63-032-X

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