10 Unusual Scientific Scales (PHOTOS)
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Hand-waving and estimation are out, and measurement is in. With the right scale, researchers can measure just about anything--even things traditionally considered too vague to quantify. In the slideshow below, we present ten of the most unusual and interesting scales, whether the weirdness comes from what they measure or how they do it.
Maybe you've heard of the Kinsey Scale of human sexuality, but how about the Kardashev Scale of advanced civilization? How about the Waffle House Index of disaster response and the Riddle Scale of homophobia? Click through to see more--you can even rate your favorites using our own scale.
The <a href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Schmidt_Sting_Pain_Index" target="_hplink">Schmidt Sting Pain Index</a> measures the pain of stings from various bees, wasps and ants on a 1.0-4.0 spectrum. An ordinary Sweat bee scores a 1.0 on the scale, and the South American Bullet ant scores a 4.0+. The commentary is particularly specific, and its colorful descriptions were the inspiration for this slideshow: a Yellow Jacket sting, rating a 2.0 on the scale, is said to be "Hot and smoky, almost irreverent. Imagine W. C. Fields extinguishing a cigar on your tongue." Image: a Bullet Ant. Creative Commons.
The Riddle Scale measures a person's degree of homophobia. Its values range from Revulsion at one end, through Pity, Tolerance, Acceptance, Support, Admiration, Appreciation and finally Nurturance. Image: Getty Images
The Bristol Stool Scale measures the consistency of human poop, with sometimes uncomfortably vivid descriptions; the scale ranges from from type 1 ("Separate hard lumps, like nuts (hard to pass)") to type 7 ("Watery, no solid pieces. Entirely liquid"). Researchers initially believed that the hardness of feces indicated how long it took to pass through the colon, and therefore could aid in diagnosis of certain bowel conditions, but this hypothesis has since been challenged. The Bristol Stool Scale may be the most well-known among the scales in this slideshow; there's even a company that <a href="http://www.zazzle.com/bristol_stool_chart_tshirt-235895582634416904" target="_hplink">puts it on T-shirts</a>. Image: Creative Commons
<a href="http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424053111904716604576542460736605364.html" target="_hplink">The Waffle House Index</a>, an informal measurement of storm damage, looks at the menu of restaurants in the Waffle House chain in an affected area and estimates the degree of disaster response that might be required. This stems from the reputation of Waffle House restaurants to stay open in harsh conditions, though sometimes with a less extensive menu than usual. As FEMA administrater Craig Fugate once said, "If you get there and the Waffle House is closed? That's really bad. That's where you go to work." Image: Getty
This is the Norwood Scale for Male Pattern Baldness, a visual representation of the stages of this type of men's hair loss (women typically show a different pattern, <a href="http://www.americanhairloss.org/women_hair_loss/degree_of_hair_loss.asp" target="_hplink">shown here</a>). Although it would be obvious to a "Stage 6" man, the rest of us might be surprised to learn that the "pattern" is quite well understood, and typical cases progress through the predictable series of stages in the diagram. Not all men who experience hair loss fall along this spectrum, but <a href="http://www.niams.nih.gov/Health_Info/Alopecia_Areata/default.asp" target="_hplink">other forms of baldness</a> show less well-defined progressions. Norwood Scale for Male Pattern Baldness Courtesy of The American Hair Loss Association
This is the Heterosexual-Homosexual Rating Scale, also known as the Kinsey Scale after Alfred Kinsey, the groundbreaking sex researcher who helped developed it. Values range from 0 (exclusively heterosexual) to 6 (exclusively homosexual), with various shades of gray in between. These values aren't based on perceived orientation; they refer to a proportion of the genders of an individual's past sexual partners. As a result, contemporary sex researchers use tools like the Kinsey Scale in conjunction with more complicated metrics for gender identity.
The Enhanced Fujita Scale (EF Scale) measures the intensity of tornados, and wouldn't be unusual except for the extremely specific calculations involved. Destruction is measured in Degrees of Damage (DoD), and each type of building that gets destroyed by a tornado carries its own DoD. <a href="http://www.spc.noaa.gov/efscale/ef-ttu.pdf" target="_hplink">The paper that introduced the EF Scale</a> proposed different DoDs for the "K-Mart, Wal-Mart" category than it did for "Doctor's Office, Branch Banks" and "Hospital, Government or University Building." This scale can give better estimates of real damage than other scales, because it can account for the fact that a larger tornado isn't necessarily more destructive; a smaller tornado that knocks down enough telephone poles, for example, can rank higher than a huge tornado that destroys a couple of junior high schools and nothing else. Image: Creative Commons.
The Kardashev Scale measures how advanced a civilization is, based on the amount of energy it controls. According to the scale, a Type I civilization would command about 10 to the 16 power Watts, achievable on Earth if we could capture all the solar energy that reflects back off our planet. Other types get more extreme, requiring an amount of energy equivalent to harnessing all of the sun's output just to reach Type II. The entire scale is, of course hypothetical; humanity hasn't even made it to Type I. Our energy production <a href="http://www.bp.com/liveassets/bp_internet/globalbp/globalbp_uk_english/reports_and_publications/statistical_energy_review_2008/STAGING/local_assets/2009_downloads/statistical_review_of_world_energy_full_report_2009.xls#'Primary" target="_hplink">was estimated</a> at 15 terawatts per year in 2008, which would rank a 0.72 on the scale. Image: a hypothetical <a href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dyson_sphere" target="_hplink">Dyson Sphere</a>, one tool that a civilization might use to reach Type II. Creative Commons.
<a href="http://www.scottrobertsweb.com/scoville-scale.php" target="_hplink">The Scoville Scale</a> measures the hotness of chili peppers and <a href="http://knowyourmeme.com/memes/casually-pepper-spray-everything-cop" target="_hplink">other substances</a> that contain capsaicin, a chemical that produces a burning sensation in living tissue it touches. Bell peppers hardly produce any heat, so they score nearly 0 on the scale, and pure capsaicin scores around 16 million. The hottest known chili peppers hover around 1 million points, and law-enforcement grade pepper spray rates between 500,000 to 2 million. Image: Bhut Jolokia peppers, among the hottest in the world. Getty
The <a href="http://psycnet.apa.org/psycinfo/1968-03998-001" target="_hplink">Social Readjustment Rating Scale</a>, also known as the Holmes and Rahe Stress Scale, is a list of various stressful life events, each assigned a score out of 100 to describe how profound an effect it has on someone who experiences it. The original list ranges from "Death of a spouse" at 100 to "Minor violation of the law" at 11. A higher score tends to indicate a greater health risk, and a person who has recently experienced 300 or more points on the Stress Scale is considered to be "at risk of illness." Only the abstract of the paper is available for free online, but the list is <a href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Holmes_and_Rahe_stress_scale" target="_hplink">reproduced on Wikipedia</a>. What do you score? Image: Getty