tedster - 1:44 am on Oct 4, 2011 (gmt 0)
From Google's viewpoint (as best as I can get a handle on it) the idea behind Panda is to give an improved experience to the user's of their SERPs. So there sure could be a kind of scaling according to how competitive the niche is - we know pretty well that Panda only gradually got around to the long tail in later iterations.
Now does that translate into something like "comparative quality" within a niche? I've got no data to judge from, but it sure might be the case. And I've got to agree with your other observation, link profiles alone sure don't give any immunity from the wrath of the Panda.