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# THE NOMINAL LEVELS OF MEASUREMENTS The nominal level of measurement is the lowest of the four ways to characterize data.

Nominal means "in name only" and that should help to remember what this level is all about. Nominal data deals with names, categories, or labels. Data at the nominal level is qualitative. Colors of eyes, yes or no responses to a survey, and favorite breakfast cereal all deal with the nominal level of measurement. Even some things with numbers associated with them, such as a number on the back of a football jersey, are nominal since it is used to "name" an individual player on the field. Data at this level can't be ordered in a meaningful way, and it makes no sense to calculate things such as means and standard deviations.

Ordinal Level of Measurement The next level is called the ordinal level of measurement. Data at this level can be ordered, but no differences between the data can be taken that are meaningful. Here you should think of things like a list of the top ten cities to live. The data, here ten cities, are ranked from one to ten, but differences between the cities don't make much sense. There's no way from looking at just the rankings to know how much better life is in city number 1 than city number 2. Another example of this are letter grades. You can order things so that A is higher than a B, but without any other information, there is no way of knowing how much better an A is from a B. As with the nominal level, data at the ordinal level should not be used in calculations. Interval Level of Measurement The interval level of measurement deals with data that can be ordered, and in which differences between the data does make sense. Data at this level does not have a starting point. The Fahrenheit and Celsius scales of temperatures are both examples of data at the interval level of measurement. You can talk about 30 degrees being 60 degrees less than 90 degrees, so differences

do make sense. However 0 degrees (in both scales) cold as it may be does not represent the total absence of temperature. Data at the interval level can be used in calculations. However, data at this level does lack one type of comparison. Even though 3 x 30 = 90, it is not correct to say that 90 degrees Celsius is three times as hot as 30 degrees Celsius. Ratio Level of Measurement The fourth and highest level of measurement is the ratio level. Data at the ratio level possess all of the features of the interval level, in addition to a zero value. Due to the presence of a zero, it now makes sense to compare the ratios of measurements. Phrases such as "four times" and "twice" are meaningful at the ratio level. Distances, in any system of measurement give us data at the ratio level. A measurement such as 0 feet does make sense, as it represents no length. Furthermore 2 feet is twice as long as 1 foot. So ratios can be formed between the data. At the ratio level of measurement, not only can sums and differences be calculated, but also ratios. One measurement can be divided by any nonzero measurement, and a meaningful number will result. Think Before You Calculate Given a list of Social Security numbers, it's possible to do all sorts of calculations with them, but none of these calculations give anything meaningful. What's one Social Security number divided by another one? A complete waste of your time, since Social Security numbers are at the nominal level of measurement. When you are given some data, think before you calculate. The level of measurement you're working with will determine what it makes sense to do. DESCRIPTIVE VS. INFERENTIAL STATISTICS Statistical procedures can be divided into two major categories: descriptive statistics and inferential statistics. Before discussing the differences between descriptive and inferential statistics, we must first be familiar with two important concepts in social science statistics: population and sample. A population is the total set of individuals, groups, objects, or events that the researcher is studying. For example, if we were studying employment patterns of recent U.S. college graduates, our population would likely be defined as every college student who graduated within the past one year from any college across the United States. A sample is a relatively small subset of people, objects, groups, or events, that is selected from the population. Instead of surveying every recent college graduate in the United States, which would cost

a great deal of time and money, we could instead select a sample of recent graduates, which would then be used to generalize the findings to the larger population. Descriptive Statistics Descriptive statistics includes statistical procedures that we use to describe the population we are studying. The data could be collected from either a sample or a population, but the results help us organize and describe data. Descriptive statistics can only be used to describe the group that is being studying. That is, the results cannot be generalized to any larger group. Descriptive statistics are useful and serviceable if you do not need to extend your results to any larger group. However, much of social sciences tend to include studies that give us universal truths about segments of the population, such as all parents, all women, all victims, etc. Frequency distributions, measures of central tendency (mean, median, and mode), and graphs like pie charts and bar charts that describe the data are all examples of descriptive statistics. Inferential Statistics Inferential statistics is concerned with making predictions or inferences about a population from observations and analyses of a sample. That is, we can take the results of an analysis using a sample and can generalize it to the larger population that the sample represents. In order to do this, however, it is imperative that the sample is representative of the group to which it is being generalized. To address this issue of generalization, we have tests of significance. A Chi-square or T-test, for example, can tell us the probability that the results of our analysis on the sample are representative of the population that the sample represents. In other words, these tests of significance tell us the probability that the results of the analysis could have occurred by chance when there is no relationship at all between the variables we studied in the population we studied.

We can classify data into 1 of 4 levels of measurement. These levels of measurement will be important, because certain calculations can be done with only certain kinds of data. How's that for vague? The first (and weakest) level of data is called nominal level data. Nominal level data is made up of values that are distinguished by name only. There is no standard ordering scheme to this data. Ex. The colors of M&M candies is an example of nominal level data. This data is distinguished by name only. There is no agreed upon ordering of this data, although we each may have an opinion about which should be listed first. I'm partial to brown and may feel that brown should always be listed first, but you may like green and feel it should go first.

The second level of data is called ordinal level data. Ordinal level data is similar to nominal level data in that the data is distinguished by name, but it is different than nominal level data because there is an ordering scheme. Ex. Movies on a certain TV show are classified as 2 thumbs up, 1 thumb up, or 0 thumbs up. There is an order here. A movie that receives 2 thumbs up is better that a movie that receives 1 thumb up (supposedly anyway). How much better is a movie that receives 2 thumbs up than a movie that receives 1 thumb up? Is it 1 thumb better? What exactly does that mean? Ex. Voters are classified as low-income, middle-income, or high-income. This is an example of ordinal level data. We do know that people in the low-income bracket earn less than the people in the middle-income bracket, who in turn earn less than the people in the high-income bracket. So there is an ordering scheme to this data. The thing that ordinal level data lacks is that you can't measure the difference between two pieces of data. We know that high-income people earn more than low-income people, but how much more. This is where the third level of data comes in. Interval level data is similar to ordinal level data in that it has a definite ordering scheme, but it is different in the fact the differences between data is meaningful and can be measured. Ex. The boiling temperatures of different liquids are listed. This is an example of interval level data. We can tell whether a temperature is higher or lower than another, so we can put them in an order. Also, if water boils at 212 degrees and another liquid boils at 284 degrees, the second temperature is 72 degrees higher than the first. So the differences between data are measurable and meaningful. The one thing that interval data lacks is a zero starting point. Is 0 degrees the absolute lowest temperature? As anyone from Hibbing, Minnesota will tell you, temperatures go below 0 degrees on a regular basis. Because there is no zero starting point, ratios between 2 data values are meaningless. Is 75 degrees three times as hot as 25 degrees? No, because the ratio of 75 to 25 (i.e. 3 to 1) is meaningless here. Think about the following cooking example. Ex. A brownie recipe calls for the brownies to be cooked at 400 degrees for 30 minutes. Would the results be the same if you cooked them at 200 degrees for 60 minutes? How about at 800 degrees for 15 minutes? I think we would get 3 different types of brownies : just right, awful gooey, and awful crunchy. The problem is that 200 degrees is not half as hot as 400 degrees, and 800 degrees is not twice as hot as 400 degrees.

This is where Ratio level data comes in. Ratio level data is just like interval level data, except that ratios make sense. I guess it's pretty well named. Ex. Four people are randomly selected and asked how much money they have with them. Here are the results : \$21, \$50, \$65, and \$300. Is there an order to this data? Yes, \$21 < \$50 < \$65 < \$300. Are the differences between the data values meaningful? Sure, the person who has \$50 has \$29 more than the person with \$21. Can we calculate ratios based on this data? Yes because \$0 is the absolute minimum amount of money a person could have with them. The person with \$300 has 6 times as much as the person with \$50. Other examples of ratio level data would be ages of people, scores on exams (graded from 0 to 100), and hours of study for a test.