I am attempting to compare a list of different types of measurements but don't know what to call the list.

Here is a specific example: I am measuring genetic diversity in a simulated population. I am measuring this by calculating nucleotide diversity, gene diversity, and number of polymorphic sites. All of these **indices** of genetic diversity ...

Does indices work here? The other word I think might work is metrics but I am not sure either are a good fit. Indices is more of a location to find something in a list and metrics seems to be more about the measurement itself.



In my opinion it is necessary to consider the scientific context of this question in order to answer it properly and therefore it may not really be suitable for SE ELU. However, as I wish to discourage unnecessary scientific jargon when it can be replaced by familiar English, I shall offer the following.

Alternatives and Answers

There seems to me to be an initial problem of establishing the nature of relationship between the three ‘things’ you are using to obtain the ‘synthesis’ (“genetic diversity”). There seem to be two possibilities.

  1. They are independent properties of the organism that are all needed to obtain the synthesis. An analogy might be estimating the volume of a building from a combination of height, width and depth. Each gives an indication, but all are needed to obtain a synthesis.

In this case I would regard your properties as my initial suggestion:

aspects of genetic diversity


contributors to genetic diversity

However from my scientific knowledge this does not seem to me to be the case. Rather…

  1. They are alternative methods of assessing the value of a single property, each with its limitations. An analogy might be different methods in physics used to measure a constant where you don’t know which is best. Somehow one computes a best value from these different methods (by averaging or some more complex algorithm). One might regard each of them as a proxy for the value of the property.

In this case I would suggest that these are simply:

measures of genetic diversity

Note the difference in meaning (Cambridge Dictionary online) between measure

measure noun: a unit used for stating the size, weight, etc. of something, or a way of measuring The sample’s density is a measure of its purity.

and measurement:

** measurement** noun: A measurement is the length, height, width, etc., of something, which you discover by measuring it: The measurements of several of the drawings were identical.

The word, measure, is also suitable for a column heading in a table, if required.

Formulating an overall terminology

However if you use the word measure — which I do think is the answer — you need to avoid the word measurement everywhere else in your description. I don’t think that this is difficult because you are not really performing a measurement of each of the properties but compiling values based on data. So I think that the word you employ calculation works for this. Likewise, from the values of these measures of diversity you perform a further calculation, but as this involves some more complex mathematical manipulation you can distinguish it by using the word computation.

So I would rewrite your example:

I am computing genetic diversity in a simulated population. I am doing this by calculating nucleotide diversity, gene diversity and the number of polymorphic sites. All of these measures of genetic diversity…

There would seem no need to get involved in — and possibly misuse or confuse — metrics, statistics, or indices. The point of scientific writing is to communicate ones ideas as clearly as possible. I think that plain English can help.

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  • I changed my mind. Change your votes as appropriate should you wish. – David Aug 23 '19 at 22:44

In science, "index" is used as a number to retrieve information you actually care about from a collection of data.

I've used "metrics" in the past to refer to values calculated from massively parallel sequencing data, and I think that would be understood by others in your field. However, I think in formal publication I might use statistics or "descriptive statistics".

All of these descriptive statistics of genetic diversity ...

or maybe:

All of these statistics describing genetic diversity ...

It doesn't exactly roll off the tongue, but it would not be contested by a scientific editor or reviewer. In my experience, "metrics" would also not be contested, and I would use it myself, but I have no reference supporting this usage of it.

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  • @David In my (also scientific) opinion, I very much disagree with you. I'll let you use "descriptor" in your answer. – mRotten Aug 21 '19 at 22:22
  • I've deleted my original comment as it was a little strong. I think descriptors is better than descriptive statistics as it simpler and means the same. However after consideration I think measure is best, and so I will decline your offer. – David Aug 23 '19 at 22:48
  • I would agree with "measures of", although one could argue the values are computed and not measured. This is admittedly a semantic argument depending on how "measure" is defined. I disagree with "aspects of", because the values being reported aren't an intrinsic property of population diversity, they are a way that the population diversity is described. I disagree also with "contributors to" because the reported values aren't in any way causal. – mRotten Aug 23 '19 at 23:10

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