In this article, Ronnie Cohen writes about a UK publication involving measurement that is aimed at a global readership.
This year, The Economist has published the 25th edition of the annual Pocket World in Figures booklet. The 2016 edition is full of facts and figures about the modern world.
Much of the content in this booklet would not be possible without systems of measurement. I note it is overwhelmingly metric. This is not surprising because it is written for a global readership and the metric system is the world’s common measurement language.
I assure you that I am not trying to sell you this booklet and have no connections with the publication of Pocket World in Figures or with The Economist. The point of my article is to show an example of the benefits for international publishers, writers and readers alike the benefits of using a common global measurement system where all units are the same and represent exactly the same quantities everywhere.
Only a few non-metric measurements in common use for specific applications appear in this booklet. They are:
- Barrels for oil production and consumption
- $ per square foot for office rents
- Gross tons for shipbuilding deliveries
- Twenty-foot equivalent units (TEUs) for cargo volumes at the busiest ports
- Troy ounces for official gold holdings (Country Profiles section)
These are the only non-metric units that I have found in this booklet. The number of phenomena measured in non-metric units is insignificant compared to what is measured in metric units. Those measured in metric units in this booklet includes:
|Largest Countries||square kilometres|
|Largest Non-Polar Deserts (1)||square kilometres|
|Largest Lakes||square kilometres|
|Largest Islands||square kilometres|
|Natural Gas||cubic metres|
|Coal||million tonnes of oil equivalent|
|Largest Energy Producers||million tonnes of oil equivalent|
|Largest Energy Consumers||million tonnes of oil equivalent|
|Largest Consumption Per Person||kilograms of oil equivalent|
|Longest Road Networks||kilometres|
|Densest Road Networks||kilometres per square kilometre of land area|
|Most Crowded Road Networks||number of vehicles per kilometre of road network|
|Longest Distance Travelled||kilometres|
|Total Cargo of Busiest Airports||tonnes|
|Longest Railway Networks||kilometres|
|Most Rail Passengers||kilometres per person per year|
|Most Rail Freight||million tonne-kilometres per year|
|Beer Drinkers (2)||litres per person|
|Biggest Emitters of Carbon Dioxide||tonnes|
|Largest Amount of Carbon Dioxide Emitted Per Person||tonnes|
|Most Polluted Capital Cities||micrograms per cubic metre|
|Largest Forests||square kilometres|
|Area (Country Profiles)||square kilometres|
|Population Density (Country Profiles)||population per square kilometre|
|Total Energy Output (Country Profiles)||million tonnes of oil equivalent|
|Total Energy Consumption (Country Profiles)||million tonnes of oil equivalent|
|Energy Consumption Per Person||kilograms of oil equivalent|
Footnotes for table:
(1) Deserts are defined as having an annual precipitation of 250 millilitres or less.
(2) Beer Drinkers: Figures for 2013.
These days, we take it for granted that we can read books, articles and web pages containing statistics written anywhere in the world where all metric units used mean the same to readers and writers alike no matter where they are based in the world. This has practical benefits for sharing and using recipes, information distribution, global publishing, commerce, research collaboration and so on. This was not always the case. Before the introduction of the metric system, states had their own systems of measurement, which often used unique units. Even units with the same names such as pounds and ounces, feet and inches, represented different quantities in different countries. This is still the case with tons, gallons, pints and fluid ounces, not to mention units such as teaspoons and cups used in recipes. Also, the same unit names can represent different quantities in the same system, depending on their context (e.g. “ounce” can be mean troy or avoirdupois ounce, “mile” can mean statute or nautical mile, etc.).
The old national measurement systems were mutually incompatible and caused problems in trade, commerce and manufacturing. This problem was solved by the signing of the Metre Convention by 17 countries in 1875, which introduced a common, international measurement system. Almost all national measurement systems are now history.
Imagine what a nightmare it would be for publishers and writers if they had to produce custom facts and figures booklets in all the previous national measurement systems. These days, we take it for granted that there exists a simple, rational and universal measurement system and that booklets like Pocket World in Figures will use it. Progress indeed.