It’s official – the UK’s hybrid collection of measures is here to stay

Recently, one of our readers wrote to his MP about the UK’s measurement muddle. He received a reply from the office of the Minister for Universities and Science, David Willetts MP, who has responsibility for measurement standards in the UK. This reply confirms that the Government has no plan to reduce the current mixture of units in common use in the UK or to promote a single system of measurement for all purposes.

Since the start of the UK’s metric changeover in the 1960s, the Government has always maintained that one day we will become a metric country. We now learn that this target has been put off to an indefinite time in the future, or perhaps never.

This is the reply to our reader’s MP from David Willetts MP:

“22 May 2014

UK Measurement System

Thank you for letter of 7 May 2014, concerning an enquiry from your constituent, about the UK measurement system.

The UK is already substantially metric. The only authorised usages of imperial units as  primary indications are those referred to in your letter – the mile, yard, foot, and inch for road traffic speed, signage and distance measurement and the pint for draught beer or cider and doorstep milk – together with the troy ounce for the sale of precious metals. Imperial units also may be used alongside metric units in dual labelling.

The Government supports a single system of units of measurement in principle, but recognises that many people in the UK prefer or are more familiar with imperial units. Therefore, the Government is committed to retaining the existing usages of imperial units for as long as consumers and businesses find it useful.

Road traffic speed and signage are matters for the Department for Transport. However, I understand that they have previously estimated that a change to metric would cost in the region of £700 million.

The Government has no plans for further metrication to end the few remaining primary uses of imperial units or to end their use in dual labelling. There is no significant demand from business or consumers for such change and the costs are likely to far outweigh any benefits.

I hope your constituent finds this information useful.”

Mr Willetts repeats the DfT estimate for changing speed limit and distance signs of about £1200 per sign, when recent research has shown this figure to be closer to £120 per sign. One can only suggest that if the case for retaining imperial road signs were stronger, the Government would not have to rely on this dubious estimate.

Even Mr Willetts is unable to resolve the conflict between the Government’s support for a single system of units of measurement and the DfT’s resolute opposition to metric speed and distance signs, resulting in the continued existence of about half a million imperial-only signs on UK roads. Consumers will, of course, find inches, feet, yards and miles on road signs useful when there is no alternative. But they may then prefer these pervasive, and consequently familiar, units in usages where there is a choice. And so the muddle continues.

Leaving this nonsense aside, what does this hybrid collection of measures advocated by Mr Willetts and adopted by default by the Government look like?

Here are some of the measures readers may have encountered recently on the street, in the media or at home:

Length               millimetre, inch, foot, yard, metre, kilometre, mile

Area                   square foot, square metre, acre

Volume              millilitre, pint, litre, imperial gallon (for mpg), cubic yard, cubic metre

Mass                  gram, pound, kilogram, stone, tonne

Pressure            millibar, pounds per square inch, bar

Temperature    °C, °F

Power                watt, kilowatt, BTU per hour

Energy               joule and kJ, calorie and kcal, kilowatt hour, therm

“Fine” says Mr Willetts. “Apart from road signs, let business or consumers decide. Let them demand changes if they want them.” An easy option for him and his colleagues – put off the difficult decisions, and hope the problems will go way.

But how does, for example, a child learning numbers and measurement at school select which unit to use when there is such a bewildering choice?

A recent publication¹ deals with the impact on maths education of the “few remaining primary uses of imperial units” and the measurement muddle that results from them. Metric Views will be returning in the future to the subject of education.

¹ “How big is an acre? No one knows.” Written and published by Alan Young in May 2014, and available from www.drmetric.com.

Likes(0)Dislikes(0)
This entry was posted in Education, General and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

67 Responses to It’s official – the UK’s hybrid collection of measures is here to stay

  1. BrianAC says:

    I wonder just how many of these letters Rt. Hon Willetts has sent out over the years. At least the wording has been re-arranged since I received my copy in April 2011, although it said exactly the same thing.
    What may be of additional interest is my original e-mail prompting the query (ID's removed). It rambles a bit as I was livid at the time.
    From: Brian//////////
    Sent: 09 April 2011 14:07
    To: R////////r
    Subject: Metrication (or lack of it)

    All my working life I have been plagued by a duplication of measuring systems, namely Imperial vs. Metric. Now retired the pain continues and we are going backwards as this country buys most of its products from the far east countries which pander to a large extent to the American market, and we take the left-overs. Needless to say this mail is prompted by my latest expensive and infuriating experience of trying to fit together metric and imperial devices.

    Even the EU has given up and I was shocked to see that even in France TV sets are measured in inches (pouces). What a disgrace to that great country.

    No UK government yet has taken this hugely expensive and disruptive practice seriously, the passing of the Metrication Board (should have been called the non-metrication board) was I guess the final statement that no one really cares so long as the public pays the price.

    I guess I need to ask the question are we metric or are we Imperial? Where do you stand on this issue?

    The answer remains let's wait and see. Let's sit on the fence. Let's not rock the already capsized boat.

    My response, let's ditch the mile and the pint (and the pound?). Let a law be passed that TV and video displays be sold by the cm and not the inch.

    Not much hope of any luck here, but at least I have calmed down just a little by putting this in writing.

    Regards, Brian/////.

    Likes(0)Dislikes(0)
  2. BrianAC says:

    Your article omits the Hectare and the Joule, yes, they have been heard on the TV.
    (Editor. I have updated the article to include the joule and kJ as they appear on food labels, but I am doubtful about the visibility of the hectare.)

    Likes(0)Dislikes(0)
  3. derekp says:

    @BrianAC
    Thanks for confirming, as I suspected, that the hybrid collection has been the UK's official measurement 'system' for several years.
    As it is likely to remain so for some time according to Mr Willetts, perhaps it needs a name. 'UK Customary' might lend itself to a memorable and appropriate acronym, but I think it is unlikely to catch on. The British Weights and Measures Association's aim is to "protect and promote British weights and measures". If that means defending the status quo, then it looks as if they have already given the hybrid collection a name - if they wish to put the clock back to 1824, then they would surely be the Imperial W & MA.
    So there are the battle lines: a unique national measurement 'system' versus a truly international one.

    Likes(0)Dislikes(0)
  4. Alex says:

    It's not just the lack of forward momentum on the things that are yet to be metricated... education and enforcement on existing rules is sadly lacking.

    I've lost track of the number of pubs selling soft drinks in pints (can't blame them since the glasses are that size) and food outlets selling drinks in FL OZ (often the US variant) rather than in metric sizes.

    I've also given up passing details of butchers and green grocers (whether in proper shops or market stalls) who continue to either openly use lb and oz as their primary units or obfuscate with bowls and bags. They just don't care because they know that any attempt to enforce the law is unpopular and that they will get no support whatsoever from central government.

    For my part I feel all I can do at this point is continue to refuse to use Imperial units as much as I can and encourage my own children to use metric where possible.

    Likes(0)Dislikes(0)
  5. Martin Vlietstra says:

    There is a saying in the IT industry "Bugs congregate on the boundaries and multiply in the corners". As a result IT systems try to make interfaces as simple as possible. The same should apply to units of measure.
    An environment where 12 in = 1ft, 3 ft = 1 yd, 1760 yd = 1 mile is just about workable provided that one does not have to convert from one unit to another.
    An environment where we have 1000 mm = 1 metre, 100 cm = 1m, 1000 m = 1 km makes the boundaries near-transparent.
    An environment where we have 25.4 mm = 1 inch, 12 in = 1 ft, 30.48 cm = 1 ft, 0.9144 yd = 1 m, 3 ft = 1 yd etc produces a boundary nightmare – the bugs don't even have to go into the corners to multiply!

    Likes(0)Dislikes(0)
  6. John Steele says:

    @Martin,

    I agree with your point. In fact the point is further made by the fact that even you have been attacked (successfully) by a bug. 1 yd = 0.9144 m, not the reverse.

    Question for you. I understand that TVs are marketed by the inch. At least in the US, the dimension in centimeters is also given on the box (the font is not quite as large, but not "fine print" either) and in the owners manual. This is true of a large percentage of all hard goods, not subject to FPLA. Are your TVs marked in dual or solely in inches?

    Likes(0)Dislikes(0)
  7. BrianAC says:

    @John Steele
    TV sets (and all video display devices) are for the most part in inches only, that's the big pain.
    I have seen one, and one only, internet advertiser give supplementary units in cm also.
    In our Tesco supermarket, a few TV packing boxes are marked in cm as primary, but never in the displays. A really outstanding anomaly.
    That has been my observation, and I have been looking quite hard as I would like to buy a digital LED TV, and I would like one not in inches! I know it will never happen though.
    That is really disgusting given the fact that they are about the most tech of all products and made probably to within few µm.
    BTW, I am always pleased when I get the Imperial conversions wrong, it proves I am learning to forget those awful units. Bring it all on I say.

    Likes(0)Dislikes(0)
  8. Ezra Steinberg says:

    I guess I'm most surprised by a lack of any significant push from medium and large businesses along with road safety groups to clean up the muddle. One would think that both of these groups would see the advantage to them of a well-trained work force (or set of drivers on the roads) who clearly understand and know how to use a single system of measurement.

    One would also think that those groups would not be swayed by nationalistic political considerations since businesses focus mostly on the bottom line and road safety groups on the reduction of accidents.

    Can anyone think of good explanations of why those groups have pretty much stayed on the sidelines in this debate?

    Likes(0)Dislikes(0)
  9. CharlieP says:

    @Ezra Steinberg

    The UK already has a workforce which is well-trained in the metric system of measurement, as evidenced by the the UK punching above its weight in terms of its economic ranking in the world. All of the UK's engineering and commerce base has been fully metricated for decades - this is probably why businesses aren't interested in stirring any hornets' nests.

    Also, given that UK roads are amongst the safest in the world, it is unlikely that road safety groups would want to risk compromising that by introducing the potential for destabilising the current delicately balanced equilibrium.

    The fact that this highly metric-trained and metric-proficient workforce currently choose to use traditional units of measure when off-duty and when given a free choice, should be respected and supported (as the government appears to acknowledge) and not treated with disdain.

    Likes(0)Dislikes(0)
  10. M says:

    "... the costs are likely to far outweigh any benefits."

    What evidence does the Government have for this? - I would have thought it obvious that the opposite was true.

    Completing metrication will result in a one-off cost, but the benefits will be felt year on year. Even if the benefits were only small, they will eventually outweigh the costs.

    Likes(0)Dislikes(0)
  11. wilfred says:

    @CharlieP

    "Carnage on the roads". Always the cry before road signs are changed to metric. But it never happened - in New Zealand, Australia, South Africa, Canada and in January 2005 in Ireland. Indeed, I vaguely recall that accident rates dropped for a while after the Irish changeover as drivers took extra care. No wonder our governments always fall back on the "£1200 per sign" excuse for inaction.

    And who is to say that our highly metric-trained and metric proficient workforce (that includes me) would not prefer metric speed and distance signs once they were using them? But perhaps choice only matters where primary units are metric.

    Likes(0)Dislikes(0)
  12. Michael Glass says:

    I agree that the claim of carnage on the roads because of metrication is a complete canard. Australia changed our road signs without any such problems.

    Likes(0)Dislikes(0)
  13. The Glob says:

    My comments on the response to the Science Minister (who is not a scientist) are as follows:

    "The Government supports a single system of units of measurement in principle..."
    Good, so why doesn't the government support it in practice too. Why not complete the changeover to end the mess, waste, incomprehension and give a chance of improving numeracy and takeup of STEM subjects?

    "Road traffic speed and signage are matters for the Department for Transport. However, I understand that they have previously estimated that a change to metric would cost in the region of £700 million."
    - Still quoting this discredited figure I see (he is not alone, the AA has also done this and so have anyone opposed to metrication in general). But even this overestimate is still a lot less than the roads budget.
    - A reasonable estimate was £80 million (possibly £100 million today due to inflation, but this needs verification).

    "... the Government is committed to retaining the existing usages of imperial units for as long as consumers and businesses find it useful."
    - Except that businesses pretty much find it useless - furthermore dual units cost time and money. The construction industry ditched imperial units long ago. Those businesses who have not gone under, work internally or wholly in metric.
    - Consumers who continue to "find imperial useful" are those who have either grown up with imperial, or have adapted to the measurement mess despite learning primarily metric at school (possibly swayed too by media propaganda).
    - It's supposed to be the Government taking the lead in this (primarily technical change), to sort this wasteful, confusing and potentially dangerous mess. Metrication is considered low priority by voters so can be done without risking losing the election.

    As long as this government is in power, unfortunately I expect continued inertia and resistance to change. The Labour shadow cabinet has not shown any evidence that they are serious about tackling the measurement mess (assuming they win the next election). It could be that by 2020-2025, the measurement mess may finally start to be addressed by such a government and a future DfT, but I am not holding my breath.

    Likes(0)Dislikes(0)
  14. Jake says:

    @ CharlieP

    The workforce you speak of does not 'choose' to use traditional units only 'when off duty'. I am forced to read those units and I am supposed to understand them every time I drive in the UK. I have not 'chosen' to be left in measurement limbo on the roads. The government has put me there. I would have no problem with what you write if only it were true. As for the UK punching above its weight economically, well that's a completely different subject but I wonder if we are talking about the same country.

    Likes(0)Dislikes(0)
  15. Martin Vlietstra says:

    As in any other country, various groups ask "How much will it cost and how will it benefit me?"

    By and large, commerce and industry have little incentive to push for the completion of the metric system – Britain competes with the rest of the world on more or less equal terms. The advertising industry hates restrictions of any type – it cramps their creativity. The various Eurosceptic groups like to keep metric issues sufficiently alive so that they can say "Brussels is trying to force the metric system onto Britain – do we want the metric system – all together now "NO"". Of the various groups mention above, the Eurosceptics have the greatest leverage when it comes to influencing voters.

    As for the government itself – one Harold Wilson's more profound statements was "A week is a long time in politics" – the payback for metrication will be a hidden payback in two elections time.

    Likes(0)Dislikes(0)
  16. derekp says:

    David Willetts has been replaced by Greg Clark, MP for Tunbridge Wells, as Minister for Universities and Science in the Department for Business, Innovation & Skills (BIS). Dr Clarke is 46 so he just missed out on a grounding in metric measures at primary school. He is not a scientist, but went to Cambridge to study Economics then onto LSE. Despite this change of face in the ministerial team at BIS, I suspect the policies will remain the same, but I live in hope.

    Likes(0)Dislikes(0)
  17. John Frewen-Lord says:

    @derekp, the Glob and others:

    You have hit the nail on the head when noting that politicians (especially Ministers and other decision-makers) are rarely scientists or otherwise have grounding in technical and scientific matters. They are politicians first, and it seems that if you're good at politics, then you cannot be good at the sciences (and probably vice versa).

    Angela Merkel is one of that rare breed who are both scientists and politicians, and that may just go some way to explaining Germany's continued success compared to most other nations - whether it be economically, or (and I confess that I cannot see any link here!) winning the World Cup.

    When we get a PM who recognises the importance of mensuration and the part it plays in virtually every aspect of our lives, then perhaps we will get a government that will realise the damage the current status quo is causing to the long term viability of the UK.

    Likes(0)Dislikes(0)
  18. Jake says:

    Weather reporting in Britain today, 16 July2014. A few paragraphs from an article in the online version of a British newspaper, The Daily Telegraph. The full article is signed in the name of the newspaper's 'Science correspondent' and can be found online:

    "Britain can thank the US for sweltering weather this weekend as forecasters say cold conditions across the Atlantic will trigger temperatures of up to 86F (30C).
    Areas of the Midwest which would usually see temperatures between 70F and 90F (20Cs or early 30Cs) are struggling with midday highs around 53C. [...]
    The hottest day so far in 2014 was July 4, when 83.7F (28.7C) was detected in Norfolk and Essex. Met Office forecaster Helen Roberts said most places in England and Wales will feel "hot and humid", this weekend with temperatures generally around or higher than the 25C (77F) mark.'

    Note how the primary temperature scale fluctuates between Fahrenheit and Celsius. Let me repeat part of one sentence in particular: 'Areas of the Midwest which would usually see temperatures between 70F and 90F (20Cs or early 30Cs) are struggling with midday highs around 53C. '

    Let's disregard the fact that neither with Fahrenheit nor Celsius has the 'Science correspondent' used a 'degree' symbol before the symbol F or C. Let's disregard the fact that temperatures in Fahrenheit are shown in direct contrast to temperatures in Celsius. But what is '20Cs' supposed to mean? 'The twenty Celsiuses'? And the 'early 30Cs'? Are there 'late' ones too?

    I suppose the 'Science correspondent' can be forgiven for thinking a temperature is 'detected' rather than 'measured' or 'recorded', but if this is how the 'Science correspondent' of a leading British daily newspaper believes you write and report on temperatures, I feel very sorry indeed for teachers up and down the country trying to instill in youngsters any feel for what temperature is and how it is measured if the UK cannot even agree on a single scale in which to record temperature.

    For the record, I am not a scientist. My formal science education stopped at O-level, many years ago, but it is perfectly clear to me that the UK has sunk to a depth in its use of units of measurements which actively undermines science and maths teaching in school.

    Likes(0)Dislikes(0)
  19. BrianAC says:

    @Jake
    That article was dated as: - 5:10PM BST 15 Jul 2014
    I found this link http://www.telegraph.co.uk/topics/weather/10971287/Heatwave-health-warning-as-Britons-told-to-stay-indoors.html which is a variation of the article, dated 3:18PM BST 16 Jul 2014, that has been re-worked!!! It includes "The Met Office issued a Level Two alert, triggered when temperatures are predicted to reach between 84F (28C) and 89F (32C) over two days and not dip below 59F (15C) and 64F (18C) at night." Did the met office really say that I wonder.
    What an awful piece of writing! That just about sums up the situation in UK, a case of 'don't know' 'don't care' and 'can't be bothered'. Then again it can be put down to 'heat fatigue' and 'artistic licence'.
    Who knows.

    Likes(0)Dislikes(0)
  20. John Steele says:

    No, your Met Office didn't say it. The paper made up all the degree F data.
    http://www.metoffice.gov.uk/weather/uk/heathealth/index.html
    Quoting:
    The Heat-Health Watch system comprises four levels of response based upon threshold maximum daytime and minimum night-time temperatures. These thresholds vary by region, but an average threshold temperature is 30 °C by day and 15 °C overnight.

    Note a table of regional thresholds at the bottom of the page. Everything is degrees C.
    (I must admit, at threshold, we would consider that a pleasant summer day, warm in the daytime, cooling off nicely at night. Our heat advisories are considerably worse. However, they are based on heat index, which includes humidity, so hard to compare directly.)

    Likes(0)Dislikes(0)
  21. Rob says:

    Furlongs per Fortnight!
    Imperial measurements to remain in use on the roads, this is just what I expected from our backward looking government.
    This situation presents dedicated metric drivers such as myself with the problem of buying a replacement car in RHD form with an all metric speedo. I looked at the new Peugeot 108, a good small car and I observed that the kph scale was very small and almost unreadable, salesman gave me a complete blank look and told me he was unable to order a new car with a metric speedo or even a speedo with a metric primary scale and mph as secondary! my search continues.

    Likes(0)Dislikes(0)
  22. Jake says:

    What I particularly objected to in that article was the sentence which required the reader to compare 70F and 90F with 53C. As much as I am 'versed' in the 'two systems' of measurement, that one is beyond me without some calculation on the side. In other words it is a pointless piece of writing.

    Likes(0)Dislikes(0)
  23. Arty says:

    @Rob

    Whilst sympathising with your predicament I’m curious about your preferred use of an abbreviation as opposed to the correct symbol; km/h. How did the manufacturer present units of speed?
    Further explanation is at http://ukma.org.uk/publications/style-guide

    Likes(0)Dislikes(0)
  24. Rob says:

    Arty.
    My mistake, I should have inserted a forward slash as you pointed out. I am almost sure Peugeot had correctly marked it as km/h on the very small metric scale. Thanks.

    Likes(0)Dislikes(0)
  25. Rob says:

    Our governments backward outlook on metrication has been backed up by Natwest bank with their cashback plus promotion poster.
    "More rewards per GALLON with cashback plus, You can top up your rewards as you top up your tank"
    I suggested to a member of Natwest staff that they should cover over the word gallon with the word litre as petrol had not been sold in gallons for many decades. She replied that she still used gallons.
    I would like to know where she filled her petrol tank.

    Likes(0)Dislikes(0)
  26. Ezra Steinberg says:

    Rob@

    That is truly bizarre. Gallons????

    I realize this is not a game-changer by any means, but do you think it's worth trying to find out what this Natwest staff means when she says she still uses "gallons" when purchasing petrol?

    I must admit to being intensely curious. 😉

    Likes(0)Dislikes(0)
  27. Mary says:

    Rob's comment above; perhaps this person at that Natwest branch needs reporting to their Head Office for lying!
    Shame them into action; improve staff training, and get the poster changed!
    If not at that particular branch, others could at least try to do it at other branches.

    Likes(0)Dislikes(0)
  28. CharlieP says:

    I'm not surprised by the NatWest poster. NatWest will probably have used a professional ad agency for this. These people spend vast amounts of money researching and developing their science. You can bet they used the word "gallons" because they know it means more to their target audience than the word "litre".

    Similarly I am not surprised that an individual member of staff stated that they used gallons - most British people still do, regardless of the fact that fuel is officially sold by the litre. The truth may be bizarre, even inconvenient to the metrication campaign, but it cannot be denied or ignored - it needs to be taken into account if there is to be a chance of changing it one day.

    Likes(0)Dislikes(0)
  29. Ezra Steinberg says:

    @CharlieP

    Can you elaborate on how the British use gallons (aside from fuel economy since that is always given using "gallons") in everyday life despite buying petrol by the litre?

    I'm trying to imagine how that actually works in everday life over there.

    Likes(0)Dislikes(0)
  30. CharlieP says:

    @Ezra

    Fuel is not bought by the litre (by most people) in the UK, even despite it having been sold by the litre for decades. Most people tend to buy it by value (£5, £10, £20, £50 worth) or by the tank-full (they keep pumping until their tank is full and the pump automatically cuts out). And they will know roughly the price per gallon and their tank capacity in gallons.

    People tend to know their vehicle mpg and their average fuel usage and the approximate number of gallons their tank will hold, and how much fuel they use per week or per month or whatever. Amongst the unit-savvy, 4.5 (or even 5) litres per gallon is a good enough conversion factor if they need to be more precise. Headlines in some newspapers highlight the consequence to motorists of oil price or fuel tax changes in the familiar, and historically consistent, terms of £/gallon. £6.36 per gallon sounds more scandalous than £1.40 per litre anyway! Conversations about fuel price and fuel usage frequently involve gallons, but rarely litres.

    Likes(0)Dislikes(0)
  31. Erithacus says:

    @ Ezra

    I would treat CharlieP's explanation with great scepticism. I am not aware of any evidence to support his assertions, which are often repeated by imperialists. On the contrary, the UKMA/YouGov public opinion survey showed that a majority of people are happy to use metric units where there is a practical reason for doing so. Hence, most people would use metres to measure up a room for carpets or curtains - because they are sold by the metre. (This was also correlated with age group, social class, educational standard and political outlook).

    The problem with fuel consumption is that the official figures give consumption in miles per gallon (mpg), with the equivalent in litres per 100 kilometres (L/100 km). As fuel is sold by the litre and car odometers register miles, it is not possible to calculate fuel consumption without converting litres to gallons or miles to kilometres. Since road signs are in miles people are more familiar with miles than with kilometres, so that may be the reason why some people default to an obsolete unit that is no longer legal for trade.

    My observation is that gallons are little used for anything other than motor fuel. Heating fuel, fizzy drinks, weedkiller are all in litres, whereas metered water is in cubic metres.

    Likes(0)Dislikes(0)
  32. Cliff says:

    @ CharlieP
    I'm a Brit who works and lives in Australia and I although I agree with your first paragraph, I also fill my tank or fill it to an even number of dollars, I disagree with the rest of what you say. My car has a fuel tank with a 50L capacity. How would anyone in their right mind want to convert that figure to some obscure number of gallons? The gallon isn't used for anything any more in Australia or the UK. It's as redundant as the firkin and the hogshead.
    My average fuel consumption is 6.5 L/100km. Because distances are given in kilometres here I can work out how much a journey in the car is going to cost without resorting to the use of a calculator as I had to do in the UK. If most people in the UK know fuel consumption in mpg it's because that's usually the only information they're given by the media, the main source of information for most people, and it's a self-perpetuating thing.
    You seem to be complacent about the tail wagging the dog. You even seem to condone it. I think it's very sad that if I mention to my friends in the UK that my car is 97kW they think it must be electric.
    If it was the original intention of the British government and their friends in the press to keep the public as insular and ignorant of weights and measures as possible, they seem to have done a good job.

    Likes(1)Dislikes(0)
  33. Ezra Steinberg says:

    @Erathicus

    Thanks for the explanation!

    You make in effect the very good point that it is high time to convert road signs to metric. The natural consequence will be the demise of the gallon once and for all (since odometers would switch to km and fuel efficiency would thus be given only L/100 km).

    Likes(0)Dislikes(0)
  34. Wilfred says:

    There was another example yesterday of the way newspapers love to use the F word in their headlines, even when there is little or no justification.
    The headline on a story in the London Evening Standard was:
    "Station store where it's 96F in the shade".
    There was a photo showing a person holding up a thermometer reading 33.7, with no Fahrenheit reading.
    The story referred to temperature as follows:
    "Staff and customers of ... have complained of temperatures hitting 36C (96.8F)."
    "One worker told the the Standard that the store's thermometer hit 36C last Friday."
    "When Standard reporters visited ... we recorded a temperature of 33.7C."
    "The Health and Safety Executive says 30C is the top of its 'acceptable' range, whereas the TUC says employers should prevent staff from working in temperatures higher than 24C."
    Doubtless we can expect the same for other moribund measures such as the gallon.
    Pity too that many journalists are unable to type the symbol for 'degree'.

    Likes(0)Dislikes(0)
  35. Ezra Steinberg says:

    This is really demoralizing.

    The BBC News web site has just published a science article that not only includes Imperial, it put it first (followed by metric in parentheses):

    http://www.bbc.com/news/science-environment-28582903

    Honestly, I just don't get it. Even though metric isn't just for science, at least the science articles used to be all (or mostly) metric with any mention of Imperial in second place inside parentheses.

    What on earth is happening over there? Most disheartening, I must say. 🙁

    Likes(0)Dislikes(0)
  36. Ezra Steinberg says:

    Yikes! I didn't think things could get worse, but they actually did:

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/nature/28563682

    A science article on dinosaurs that gives their weight in STONES!!!!

    Arrrrggghhhh!!!!!!!

    Somebody needs to speak to the Queen about this, right?

    Likes(0)Dislikes(0)
  37. Michael Glass says:

    Actually, there may be a simple explanation as to why the NASA article is imperial (metric) while the article on dinosaur article is metric (imperial). One was sourced from the USA while the other was sourced from Australia. I would guess that in each case the press release that they depended on used the measurement that came first.

    In the case of NASA, the numbers suggest that the original working was in metric but was changed into the older measures. So you get 88lb (40kg) of instruments followed by a one tonne vehicle (one metric ton?) followed by $1.9bn (£1.12bn) where the first price is in American dollars. On the other hand, some American reports of this were all metric http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/08/02/nasa-2020-mars-rover-instruments_n_5644075.html?ir=Science http://news.sciencemag.org/space/2014/07/nasas-mars-2020-rover-feature-lean-nimble-science-payload

    Likes(0)Dislikes(0)
  38. BrianAC says:

    @Esra
    This article http://www.bbc.com/news/science-environment-28582903 is about NASA.

    Unfortunately BBC guidelines states that if it is an American story it has to be Imperial first. This despite the fact that the American NASA version would be all metric. Hence a nice round NASA 40 kg translates to a highly improbable 88 lbs in BBC speak.
    So even when USA goes fully metric the BBC still has to translate it to Imperial, we lose either way!

    Likes(1)Dislikes(0)
  39. CharlieP says:

    @Erithacus

    You appear to be in denial mode. The evidence that off-duty, the British public prefer imperial is all around us in the UK. Do not be misled (or try to mislead) by reference to what the legal situation might be. The UKMA/YouGov survey did not show that people would use metric if stuff is sold in metric, quite the contrary in fact. [Wrong. The survey showed that 48% of the total sample used metres for measuring up for floor covering, compared with 46% who used imperial. See http://www.ukma.org.uk/docs/sam.pdf, scroll to page 21 and appendix B1- Editor]

    @Cliff

    Are you sure your tank isn't 11 gallons (or even 13 US gallons) presented as 50 litres for your metric-centric market?

    Official fuel consumption has been given in metric, often accompanied by imperial, for decades and all cars sold in the last 10, or more, years offer driver-selectable optional units of miles or km on the odometer - so there's no reason, other than pure personal choice - for the continued preference for gallons and mpg when considering fuel consumption. If drivers prefer gallons, then why not accept that?

    Where customer preference, rather than legal diktats, are the main consideration, then you will see imperial used, more often than not. Take a visit to any independent fruit and vegetable retailer to see that, as hardly anyone asks in grams or kilos, the prices will inevitably be displayed in either pounds and ounces or by the piece. If the UK public saw an advantage in using metric when off-duty, a system which most of them are more than competent in using as they probably use it exclusively when on-duty, then it would be the system of choice. However, there is clearly something more than cold logic which is taking priority in the algorithm they use in their decision-making process. Clearly, neither insults nor bullying has had an impact on this, so a more enlightened approach will be required.

    @Wilfred, @Ezra

    The BBC, owned by the British public, and operating in a largely free-speech society, are bound to reflect the legitimate preference of their audience. When the public demands that reports should exclusively use metric units, then you can be sure that the BBC will comply. If you, in the clear minority, demand metric-only, then perhaps you should read the reports from a different supplier.

    Likes(0)Dislikes(0)
  40. Ezra Steinberg says:

    Boy, it sounds like the BBC has gone "Though the Looking Glass" with Alice!

    As for the dinosaur story, I still cannot figure out why they would give the mass of an extinct animal in stones!!!

    Likes(0)Dislikes(0)
  41. CharlieP says:

    @"Editor"

    I believe it is you who is "wrong" here for the following reasons...

    The report gives more than one example of preferred units. In the "Weighing and measuring cooking ingredients" example it clearly summarises that "A majority of respondents (52%-42%) said they would use pounds and ounces and pints rather than kilograms and litres for weighing and measuring cooking ingredients. This is in spite of the fact that many modern recipes give quantities in metric units only and most food sales and packaging is in metric units." [Agreed, but look at the balance between the sexes. Men were pro-metric but women pro-imperial. A possible explanation is that many women learn about cooking from their mothers/grandmothers whereas men are more likely to follow the recipe book. Sheer speculation of course. In any case you can still buy food without using metric (or indeed any) measurement units. - Editor]

    The cooking example shows a majority use imperial, despite the ingredients being sold in metric. In the floor-covering example it is true that more people would use metric than imperial, but less than half of those asked (48%), so NOT the majority.

    Likes(0)Dislikes(0)
  42. John Steele says:

    CharlieP.

    So the British public has a strong preference for forcing Americans to learn about stones? The dino story is not only available from the BBC's UK page but also the World page. Trust me, we don't know what stones are. I know it's 14 lb, but most Americans would have a better shot at understanding the figure in kilograms.

    Likes(0)Dislikes(0)
  43. Cliff says:

    @CharlieP
    My cars fuel tank is 50 litres. The car was manufactured on the European mainland where they had the sense to convert to the metric system long before you and I were born so why would the tank be designed or made in imperial or US gallons?
    Knowing that my fuel tank has a 50 litre capacity it's easy to work out how much it costs to fill it. If petrol is say, $1.70 a litre it costs me $1.70 x 50 = $85 for a full tank.
    In your world to find out the same information a conversion is necessary from the litres the petrol is sold in to the capacity in gallons of your tank. A similar conversion is necessary to find out how much you have to pay for the fuel you will use on a journey. Why do you want to make work for yourself for some misguided ideology?
    Official fuel consumption in the UK may be in metric but I rarely see it in metric in car reviews in British magazines or papers or hear it on motoring programs on TV or the radio. People who still use imperial measurements do so because imperial measurements are what they're still given in the majority of cases and they're not encouraged to learn anything else.
    Why is it that imperialists always resort to emotive words like "diktat" when referring to the metric system? I don't think the changeover to decimal currency was referred to as a diktat. I don't think the smoking ban on public transport is ever referred to as a diktat. Laws are necessary for the well being of society and a common system of measurement is as imperative to society as a common language. What exists in the UK now is a Babel of methods of measurement and that needs to be changed.

    Likes(0)Dislikes(0)
  44. John Frewen-Lord says:

    @CharlieP:

    The late Pat Naughtin once identified a problem with the apparent (and I stress the word 'apparent') degree in usage of the metric system, and that is there is likely to be some discrepancy between what measurement system people say they use, and what they might actually use in their own personal lives. This discrepancy emanates from the fact that, because both government and the media are real laggards in metric usage, many people feel obliged to at least pretend they still use imperial, in order to not 'stand out' or otherwise be seen to be going against things in general.

    I blatantly use the metric system no matter who I'm talking to. What amazes me is the number of people who revert to metric units once they know I use them, even if they initially assumed I would use imperial. This leads me to believe that there are many 'closet' users of metric units who outwardly appear to be imperial supporters because that is what they think everyone else expects. I suspect (though cannot of course prove) that this trait of human nature had some influence of the survey results - i.e. many respondents possibly assumed that there was some sort of hidden agenda behind the questions, and answered that they use imperial, in accordance with what they thought was (erroneously) expected of them, because that is what the government (and 'everybody else') uses.

    I have said this on a number of occasions before - metric usage by the population in general in the UK is significantly higher than it appears, but because most people know both imperial and metric, they publicly support imperial usage even if they privately prefer the metric system. When both government and media come to their senses and wholeheartedly support metric usage, as they should, then I think you will see far more open metric usage among the general population that at present. How do I know this? I have just had a bunch of family members from Australia as guests, and we talked about this aspect of metrication. They see here what was happening initially in Oz when it converted - people pretended to resist (even when privately they knew it was a good thing). But as soon as the public were convinced that it was 'OK' to use metric, they jumped on side, with the result that the country is almost entirely metric, regardless of age or gender. We need to send out the same message in the UK, but that requires both government and media to be on side. And currently they are not.

    Likes(0)Dislikes(0)
  45. CharlieP says:

    @Cliff

    As you didn't say your car was European - how was I to know? Incidentally, cars aren't designed around a standard sized fuel tank, the fuel tank is packaged in to maximize its capacity in the available space. The capacity of your tank will be approximately 50 litres, which is also approximately 11 uk gallons. My tank, also in a European car, is approximately 55 litres (approximately 12 gallons). If I were an "imperialist" (which I will get to later), or even if I just preferred imperial for fuel economy data, I could easily work out how much it costs to fill my tank thus: if petrol is say, £1.30 a litre it costs me about £1.30 x 5 x 12 ~= £70 for a full tank. If I preferred metric it would be £1.30 x 55 ~= £70. No big deal.

    If I choose to use imperial (which I will get to later), why make it more difficult for me, by not giving dual prices at the pump (because of some misguided idealogy perhaps?).

    You see, it cuts equally both ways. The answer is to allow people to use the units they prefer when off-duty. Politicians know this, and know what the consequences of unhappy voters might be, which is why they are in no hurry to force any further unnecessary change. British magazine proprietors and TV bosses understand too that they need to keep their customers paying for their services - and that the best way is to supply them with the content they want to see.

    Saying, as you did, "People who still use imperial measurements do so because imperial measurements are what they’re still given in the majority of cases and they’re not encouraged to learn anything else" is patronising. As we have seen over and over again, the UK population, in general, is quite adept at using the metric system at work, so it isn't a case of not knowing metric, it's a case of not wanting metric. When they demand metric, the papers, magazines, radio and TV will give it to them, you can be sure of that. It is the dog that should wag the tail, not vice-versa.

    Now the question of whether I am an "imperialist", or not, and the use of the word "diktat". Let me make it very clear - I am not an imperialist. I do not want to force the use of either metric or imperial. Whilst the majority of people prefer to use imperial, I am happy to allow them (indeed think it is their right) to use them, and want people to be able to choose the units they prefer for the circumstances, when off-duty. On-duty is a different matter, and most people, I think, would not argue against using whatever units their industry demands. "Dikat" is certainly an appropriate word to describe the action of forcing people to use a unit other than the one of their choosing for idealogical or dogmatic reasons.

    I hope that helps, and I hope no-one else characterise me as an "imperialist" simply because I am not a hard-line "metricationalist".

    Likes(0)Dislikes(0)
  46. CharlieP says:

    @John

    If that is what Pat Naughtin thought, it was probably wishful thinking. And in Australia the opposite may well have been true - that people used to, and wishing to keep, imperial measures succumbed to peer-pressure, being persuaded that the Australia should shake off another one of the vestiges of colonialism and embrace the bright new metric system, as a further snub to the UK - as they did when they selected the dollar rather than the pound as the unit for their decimalised currency. Peer pressure though, tends not to permeate into anonymous surveys and polls, so even if people feign imperial usage in speech, they will vent their true feelings in such surveys and polls. However, on the other side of the coin are the self-righteous and pretentious, the types who buy The Times or The Guardian for reasons other than that those are the papers they actually prefer to read. They will say, even in an anonymous poll or survey, that they use metric even if they secretly prefer imperial. The chances are that the survey under represents the true weight imperial preference and usage.

    In your second paragraph you confirm what I have often said, that the UK public are, in terms of unit systems, generally bi-lingual. They probably use metric at work, so can easily adapt to a situation where they encounter someone who may seem to be a metric bigot.

    Contrary to what you appear to believe in your third paragraph, the size of the imperial preference, regardless of units actually used, is hugely underestimated. A day selling fresh fruit & veg in a shires market town would confirm that. The media follow common usage and are led by their customers. The government should comply with the will of the electorate. Oz is not comparable, there it was different psychological process occurring, they saw metrication as part of the process of the throwing off of shackles. If anything, the UK equivalant is the retention of imperial at all costs, clinging on to one of the last remnants of an illustrious past.

    It is not the job of government or media to be "on side", their job as pipers, is to play the tune their paymasters call. Convince the public to use metric when off duty, and the government and the press will jump into line.

    Likes(0)Dislikes(0)
  47. Michael Glass says:

    Charlie, you've got it wrong about Australia. We changed to decimal currency in 1966 because it was better. See https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5ZTeWLA1LAs

    We picked the dollar as the name as the currency (as did New Zealand), but it wasn't done to snub the UK. First of all the new currency was worth only ten shillings, so we had to pick a different name. The first one suggested by Sir Robert Menzies, was the Royal (he was an enthusiastic royalist), but when it was pointed out that this was like the Russian Rouble, enthusiasm faded. The next bright idea was to call it Austral, but this was laughed to scorn when the wags suggested that a nostril was not the most dignified name for the currency. The third choice was the Dollar, and that was that. As you can see, that had nothing to do with the UK.

    As for switching over to the metric system, this came about following the unanimous recommendation of a Select Committee of the Australian Senate (our upper house) in 1968 and the passing of the Metric Conversion Act in 1970. Most metrication happened in the following decade and there was little opposition. Metrication was seen as a national necessity.

    Now, 40 years after switching to the metric system, Australians happily measure distances in kilometres, buy their groceries and measure their weight by the kg and measure temperature in degrees Celsius, whether hot or cold. It's not a big deal now, and it wasn't a big issue when we changed over.

    Likes(0)Dislikes(0)
  48. John Frewen-Lord says:

    @CharlieP:

    "It is not the job of government or media to be “on side”, their job as pipers, is to play the tune their paymasters call.". Wrong. If the government followed this philosophy, decimal currency would never have happened. Hindsight shows that the government, even against popular opposition, did the right thing. There are probably hundreds of other things that the government has done that went against what the public wanted at the time, but benefitted the country ultimately.

    "Convince the public to use metric when off duty, and the government and the press will jump into line." But who is going to do the convincing? That IS the government's job, backed by the media. Governments are here to lead - else why have them? Why not just have anarchy instead? While any government must listen to what the electorate want, at the end of the day decisions must be made and laws passed that may not coincide with popular opinion but instead are for the long term good of the country - call it taking medicine if you like. Distasteful at the time, but with a benefit at the end.

    As for your comments regarding Australia, that is not what I found when having long conversations with Oz family members. They were visiting here, not because we were related (we only discovered each other a few years ago), but because of their wish to see the 'old country'. They had no anti-British sentiments, and nor do the majority of Australians. Australia went metric for the same reasons Canada, South Africa and other countries went metric - not to shake off the last vestiges of colonialism, but because going metric was the only way to survive in the world as it was evolving in the mid to late 20th century.

    You may prefer using imperial measurements, and that is your prerogative. But don't think for one moment it is right for the country as a whole - it is not. Britain has always had an international outlook, and today that is more important than ever. And the international system of measurement, one of the most fundamental aspects of trade and standards, is SI. All you are doing is trying to sabotage the UK's necessity of completing the conversion process, which I would respectfully suggest is not something to be proud of.

    Likes(0)Dislikes(0)
  49. Thank you very much derekp for drawing people’s attention to my document ‘How Big is an Acre? No–one Knows!’

    May I take a moment to give a little background to my interest in this subject? I was a teacher from 1969 to 2000 and then a publisher of mathematical software for schools. I have taught maths to all ages from 8 years to 18, so I have had plenty of opportunity to see the effect of the continued use of imperial units (or ‘medieval’ units as I call them) on our children’s education.

    I wholeheartedly agree with the main arguments for complete metrication put forward by the UKMA, the late Pat Naughtin and others regarding safety, wastage, errors in industry and so on, but as my speciality is in the field of education, I have decided to focus most of my attention on that area.

    If we look at the world from the point of view of a child attempting to learn what he/she can about maths, science, technology and to some extent, subjects such as geography (land area, map scales etc), we see they are completely muddled by the measurement mess we are in. My website, www.drmetric.com and my document ‘How Big is an acre?...’ are both aimed at highlighting these problems; problems that children in no other country in the world have to face. (When I say ‘No other country in the world’ I am not including the USA, of course!).

    In summary these problems are:

    * Children do not realise we live in a metric world (and cannot often distinguish between metric units and medieval units).

    * As most of our measuring scales have both metric and medieval units, children often find them very confusing and give up trying to measure distances, their own body mass/height etc.

    *Scales are really number lines which can be used to teach anything from simple counting to the magnitude of decimals with several decimal places. Because our children find it difficult to read even the simplest scales, they are not having opportunities to use number lines for these more complex ideas.

    * Because children are taught to give their body mass in kilograms and their height in centimetres or metres at school and their parents give these in stones/pounds and feet/inches respectively, opportunities are lost to perform all sorts of calculations involving these measurements.

    *The metric system is really just the decimal number system with bells and whistles, the bells and whistles being the units used, so every time a metric measurement is taken or used in a calculation, the number system is being practised and vice versa. The continued use of medieval units prohibits this practice.

    * Science teachers must be tearing their hair out (those that have any left!). They recommend their students to watch certain excellent science programmes on the television, but these often mix and match metric and imperial units constantly. Therefore, instead of having their school education reinforced as in every other country in the world, our children have theirs undermined. If they are confused about simple units such as metres and kilometres per hour, how are they going to understand more complex ones such as newtons, pascals etc?

    * SAT papers and GCSE examinations often have questions relating to metric units. Our children only have limited competency with these because of this undermining. Children in other countries find this type of question much easier because converting from litres to millilitres, for example, is second nature to them as they do this at home as well as at school. Most of our children don’t do this.

    *What our children learn in the way of medieval units has to be unlearnt before they can progress and this happens much earlier than people may imagine. For instance, I use the example of Tom, a real bright six year old son of some friends of mine. We are often in and out of each other’s houses, so I can observe this at first hand.

    Some time ago I said to Tom that he was a big boy now and must weight about 20 kilograms. He replied that he weighed 3. After some discussion it emerged that whenever he went to his friends’ houses he would go into the bathroom and weigh himself on their scales. ‘It goes up to 3’, he told me. (Stones, obviously) So now, before he can progress he needs to unlearn this and learn that there is another system that uses kilograms and these are much better for all the reasons that we understand.

    If that wasn’t difficult enough, I was round there a few weeks ago and he had a virus that gave him red ears. ‘Yes,’ he said, ‘ This one is 100 and this one is 101’! His father had measured his temperature in Fahrenheit! Now he needs to unlearn that too. When he goes to science lessons in school, he will learn that water boils at 100 oC, so were his ears about to boil?

    This kind of thing is going on in most families all over this country and if we want our youngsters to have a good understanding of maths, science and technology, we need to change this as a matter of urgency.

    Likes(0)Dislikes(0)
  50. Amnon says:

    CharlieP:
    Re giving dual prices at the petrol pump.
    Which unit of pricing would you like to see as primary and which would be supplementary?
    Pounds per litre or groats per gallon?

    Likes(0)Dislikes(0)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *