The first rule of publishing a graph in a journal article is to make sure you’ve labeled your axes, and the first rule of publishing a photographic figure is to include a scale bar. Size matters, at least if you’re trying to accurately represent your data.

Which probably explains my fascination with visual depictions of size and scale. I’ve posted a few here over the years, beginning with the all-time great Powers of Ten by Ray and Charles Eames, along with star size comparisons, why context matters, and how flat maps depict size of spherical objects. Consider this another addition to the collection, the size of everything as defined through a sheet of A4 paper. How many folds does it take to get the paper down to the quantum realm? How many doublings to be bigger than our solar system? The answers await below.

David Crotty

David Crotty

David Crotty is a Senior Consultant at Clarke & Esposito, a boutique management consulting firm focused on strategic issues related to professional and academic publishing and information services. Previously, David was the Editorial Director, Journals Policy for Oxford University Press. He oversaw journal policy across OUP’s journals program, drove technological innovation, and served as an information officer. David acquired and managed a suite of research society-owned journals with OUP, and before that was the Executive Editor for Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory Press, where he created and edited new science books and journals, along with serving as a journal Editor-in-Chief. He has served on the Board of Directors for the STM Association, the Society for Scholarly Publishing and CHOR, Inc., as well as The AAP-PSP Executive Council. David received his PhD in Genetics from Columbia University and did developmental neuroscience research at Caltech before moving from the bench to publishing.


5 Thoughts on "The Size of Things: As Told Through a Sheet of A4 Paper"

Gotta love ISO 216!
When will the USA join the rest of the world (what we like to call MOST of the world) in this?

Nice video. I once successfully engulfed my scream while working inside a North-American standards institution, after hearing 2 people by my side mention “A4.” “What is it?,” one asked. “It is an EUROPEAN format,” replied the other. [INTERNATIONAL STANDARD,] repressed scream.

The international unit of surface is the SQUARE METER instead of the A4 sheet of paper!
Can somebody explain the reason of using A4 ?

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