The curse of conversion factors

In this article, Ronnie Cohen looks at lists of plausible conversions in both directions between imperial units still in use in the UK and metric units.

Since 2010, although the use of supplementary indications has been permitted indefinitely, only six imperial units have had legal standing and then only for specific purposes:
* the mileyardfoot and inch for road traffic signs, distance and speed,
* the pint for draught beer and cider, and doorstep milk, and
* the troy ounce for trading in precious metals.

One would have thought this would have severely limited the need for conversions between metric and imperial measures. Not so. Thanks to the ubiquitous presence of imperial measures on traffic signs, their use continues in many areas, and conversions continue to be a fact of daily life. This article just shows a selection of plausible combinations of units where conversion might be required in both directions.

(And if you think that traffic signs are not partly to blame for this sorry state of affairs, then look at countries that have made a successful transition to metric in the last 60 years such as Australia, Cyprus, India, New Zealand and South Africa.)

In the UK, alone with Canada among major industrialised countries, citizens need to be familiar with two measurement systems and some conversion factors between them in order to make sense of the information presented to them. Most British citizens have no idea how many plausible conversion factors they need to be familiar with in order to compare like with like. As long as imperial units remain in use, conversions in both directions are inevitable. This even applies to less commonly-used imperial units in some aspects of British life.

The following table lists length conversions, which are the basis for area and volume conversions that use the squares and cubes of units of length.

Length: Imperial to Metric Length: Metric to Imperial
inches to millimetres
inches to centimetres
inches to metres
feet to millimetres
feet to centimetres
feet to metres
yards to millimetres
yards to centimetres
yards to metres
yards to kilometres
rods/poles/perches to metres
chains to metres
chains to kilometres
furlongs to metres
furlongs to kilometres
miles to metres
miles to kilometres
int’l nautical miles to metres
int’l nautical miles to kilometres
millimetres to inches
centimetres to inches
metres to inches
millimetres to feet
centimetres to feet
metres to feet
millimetres to yards
centimetres to yards
metres to yards
kilometres to yards
metres to rods/poles/perches
metres to chains
kilometres to chains
metres to furlongs
kilometres to furlongs
metres to miles
kilometres to miles
metres to int’l nautical miles
kilometres to int’l nautical miles

The conversion between feet and millimetres is likely to be used when converting building designs expressed in millimetres to estate agents’ building dimensions, normally expressed in feet only or feet and inches. Fortunately, those in the construction industry are able to work entirely in metric units, even when placing road traffic signs. Only the motorist may find the need to convert.

The table above contains some less common units still used in the UK. Rods, also known as poles or perches, are occasionally used for measuring the sizes of allotment gardens, though this practice is dying out. Chains are still used in the railway industry to identify structures, although, construction and maintenance is metric of course. Furlongs are still used in horse racing. The international nautical mile is used for marine transport and in aviation and should not be confused with the miles shown on official traffic signs on British roads. Their lengths are different.

The long list of length conversion factors does not include the squares and cubes of such factors. The squares and cubes of such factors are still needed for conversions that involve the most common imperial units (e.g. conversions from and to square inches, square feet, square yards, square miles cubic inches, cubic feet and cubic yards).

As well as the squares and cubes of the most common imperial units of length, there are also some area and volume measures with unique names that are still in use in the UK. Conversions from and to these units are occasionally required.

Area: Imperial to Metric Area: Metric to Imperial
roods to square metres
roods to hectares
roods to square kilometres
acres to square metres
acres to hectares
acres to square kilometres
square metres to roods
hectares to roods
square kilometres to roods
square metres to acres
hectares to acres
square kilometres to acres

Roods are occasionally used for the sizes of allotment gardens while square feet and acres feature in the argot of estate and property agents.

Volume and Capacity: Imperial to Metric Volume and Capacity: Metric to Imperial
UK fluid ounces to millilitres
UK fluid ounces to centilitres
UK fluid ounces to litres
UK pints to millilitres
UK pints to centilitres
UK pints to litres
UK gallons to litres
oil barrels to litres
oil barrels to cubic metres
millilitres to UK fluid ounces
centilitres to UK fluid ounces
litres to UK fluid ounces
millilitres to UK pints
centilitres to UK pints
litres to UK pints
litres to UK gallons
litres to oil barrels
cubic metres to oil barrels

I have deliberately put UK in front of fluid ounces, pints and gallons to emphasize that I am referring to the UK versions of these units. The US also uses these unit names but their versions of these units are different from the ones used in the UK. Fluid ounces are found on older cooking equipment used in the UK, pints are still used for milk packaging and in pubs, and gallons are still used in fuel economy figures for cars (i.e. miles per gallon or mpg for short). Oil barrels are still used for oil prices, oil production, oil reserves and oil field discoveries.

Energy: Imperial to Metric Energy: Metric to Imperial
therms to megajoules
therms to gigajoules
therms to kilowatt-hours
BTU to joules
megajoules to therms
gigajoules to therms
kilowatt-hours to therms
joules to BTU

Even though energy consumers are billed in metric units, therms are still used in the wholesale UK gas market. BTU stands for British Thermal Unit(s) and is sometimes used in product descriptions for heating appliances.

Power: Imperial to Metric Power: Metric to Imperial
horsepower to watts
horsepower to kilowatts
watts to horsepower
kilowatts to horsepower

Horsepower is often used in car specifications. The use of horsepower for one vehicle and kilowatts for another undermines transparency and obscures comparisons between them.

Pressure: Imperial to Metric Pressure: Metric to Imperial
pounds per square inch to bars
pounds per square inch to kilopascals
bars to pounds per square inch
kilopascals to pounds per square inch

Type pressure is often measured in pounds per square inch.

Mass: Imperial to Metric Mass: Metric to Imperial
ounces to grams
ounces to kilograms
pounds to grams
pounds to kilograms
stones to kilograms
troy ounces to grams
troy ounces to kilograms
grams to ounces
kilograms to ounces
grams to pounds
kilograms to pounds
kilograms to stones
grams to troy ounces
kilograms to troy ounces

Pounds and ounces are still occasionally used in street markets, and for giving the weight of new-born babies. Stones are commonly used to express body weight. Troy ounces, which differ from the ounces found on kitchen scales, are used for precious metals and gold prices.

Temperature: Imperial to Metric Temperature: Metric to Imperial
Fahrenheit to Celsius Celsius to Fahrenheit

Fahrenheit is still used by some newspapers in weather articles, particularly during a heat wave, and in some weather reports in the British media. The conversion between Fahrenheit and Celsius is frequently not just a matter of multiplying by a factor: alas, too often people mistake a temperature difference with a temperature.

As long as imperial units remain in use, we will continue to need to convert between imperial and metric in both directions. Some of these conversion factors are really obscure and known by very few people. If I had included square inches, square feet, square yards, square miles, cubic inches, cubic feet and cubic yards in the lists of common conversions, the number of conversions shown in this article would have been even longer.

As noted above, the use of miles, yards, feet and inches goes far beyond transport and permeates so many areas of British life. This refutes the DfT’s insistence that usage of imperial units on British road signs is just a transport issue or that imperial units on road signs can be an independent stand-alone system that is separate from the rest of society. DfT ministers and officials should wake up and see the strong influence of imperial road signs on the usage of measurement units in so many areas of British life. They are the among the main culprits for our continued need to learn so many conversion factors.

Government ministers and officials should also look at the damaging effects of legacy units on the education of British students. Minsters insist that they want to re-balance the economy with a revival of the manufacturing sector and more and better infrastructure. They also want more British students to study science, technology, maths and engineering, the STEM subjects. They need to understand that everything that is built and manufactured is measured and that understanding the metric system is essential to the success of British construction and manufacturing, which have been entirely metric for the last three decades, helping Britain to compete in the modern world. Dr Metric, a.k.a. Alan Young, a retired maths teacher with decades of experience, has explained at length the damaging effects of the continued use of medieval (i.e. imperial) units on British education on his website, which you can find at http://drmetric.com/.

The only way that we are going to remove the need for these conversion tables is by joining the modern world, going completely metric, and banishing imperial units from most areas of our lives. Then we can forget those conversion factors. By contrast, learning metric is simple; you just need to know a number of base units and the meaning of a few common prefixes.

Other countries have managed to banish imperial and other legacy measurement systems and made life easier. So why don’t we?

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29 Responses to The curse of conversion factors

  1. Ezra Steinberg says:

    The most striking example of how a consistent metric presence in public domains can facilitate and virtually assure successful metrication (at least in the affected domains) is, of all places, Canada.

    Being right next door to the much larger and dominant USA, Canada should be even more of a metric muddle than the UK. In fact, in some ways it is. However, when it comes to temperature, speed, and distance, Canadians are surprisingly metric.

    This is so because the Canadian media outlets (print, online, and radio/TV) consistently use only degrees Celsius for temperature and because all of the road signs were converted to metric (speed limits and distance) back in the 70's. Consequently, you will find that nearly all Canadians have no real idea what a temperature in degrees Fahrenheit feels like. They also quite spontaneously and unselfconsciously use kilometers for distances along a road as well as kilometers per hour for the speed of a moving vehicle or train.

    They also use metric for shorter distances much more than I would have thought. I have been watching a Canadian police drama on NetFlix that was produced just a few years ago and was quite surprised to hear the actors talk about fairly short distances in meters rather than feet or yards. Clearly, the writers, directors, and producers all assumed that using metric measure would be the most natural for the show given the primacy of the Canadian audience. (Only the Americans watching the show will prick their ears up when they hear the metric units.)

    Given how much metric usage there is in Canada despite the lack of a conversion program along the lines of Australia or New Zealand and despite the huge "Imperial" presence of the USA, it is clear that even modest government persuasion from Westminster on the British media coupled with conversion of road signs to metric only would have a swift and decisive impact on finishing (for all practical purposes) the metrication of the UK.

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  2. Alex Bailey says:

    Part of the problem is that some usage of imperial continues despite the law rather than because of it.

    Restaurants continue to sell steak and burgers in oz and fractions of lb and many a time you will also see soft drinks listed on menus (and in pubs too) in half pint and pint quantities or sometimes even fl oz. And this is despite this apparently being illegal; complain to Trading Standards about this and you’re likely to be ignored at best but if somebody catches a pub serving draft lager in metric measures you can be sure that action will be taken.

    Then the take-a-way industry continue to sell the “quarter pounder”, the “12 inch pizza” and the “foot long sub”. Some of the American chains have even been known to use paper cups shipped from their home base and these are usually marked in OZ and sometimes even sold as such. However these are US FL OZ! Starbucks are guilty of this, I was once informed by a friend and ex employee that the largest size which they call “Venti” actually refers to the Italian word for 20… as in 20 US FL OZ.

    All of these seem to be allowed because they comply with the letter of the law if not the spirit of it which seems to allow the use of imperial measures as a product description but often required no conversion so long as that product isn’t being priced based on unit quantity. That and the agencies tasked with enforcing the law don’t have the manpower to be able to tackle something that is considered either trivial, unpopular or both.

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  3. Charlie P says:

    I see that Ronniec is still struggling to distinguish between "correlation" and "causation". The fact that the population of the UK generally choose imperial over metric when given the free choice does not necessarily imply that everything else that happens in the UK is as an incontrovertible consequence of that choice.

    A couple of weeks ago we saw an attempt to excuse bad driving by foreign lorry drivers as being the result of the UK's reluctance to abolish imperial road signs. Now we see the same imperial road signs being blamed for the UK population's reluctance to take metric units to heart. Ironic really that in the same paragraph it was acknowledged that the Canadians also prefer imperial measures, even decades after they abolished imperial in favour of metric on their road signs. You can't have it both ways.

    As for conversion factors; we only really need four: 1 inch = 25.4mm, 1 pound = 0.4536kg, 1 gallon = 4.546 litres and °F = °C * 9/5 + 32. Everything else falls into place, especially since the invention of the electronic calculator.

    And you do not need to worry about British engineering and manufacturing. The UK hosts world class engineering and manufacturing companies - many of which are world leaders in their fields - and the vast majority of them will have been using metric measures exclusively for decades. But please don't continue to confuse professional/work requirements with personal/private life preferences. We know that the majority of the British population, even those who use the metric system exclusively at work, prefer to use imperial measures away from work.

    So don't fool yourself for a second that all we need to eradicate the private preference for imperial is to engage in a bit of cultural vandalism by mandating that all road signs be converted to metric. It didn't have that effect in Canada and it certainly won't have that effect in the UK.

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  4. Michael Glass says:

    There are problems with using different systems of measurement. The consumer is disadvantaged when shoes come in three different sizing measurements: UK, US and Continental sizes; when some trousers are described in inches and others in centimetres; when men's belts are described as S, M, and L as well as centimetres and inches; and when land is sometimes described in acres and sometimes in hectares.

    This certainly applies to the consumer when groceries are sold by the pound and the kilogram.

    Such confusion cries out for some kind of Government intervention, so that the interest of the consumer is protected.

    As for the argument that an obvious improvement is some kind of cultural vandalism: humbug!

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  5. Jake says:

    Charlie P writes: "But please don’t continue to confuse professional/work requirements with personal/private life preferences. We know that the majority of the British population, even those who use the metric system exclusively at work, prefer to use imperial measures away from work."

    When I am driving in the UK I am driving in a personal/private capacity. My preference is for metric road signs; indeed we are slowly but surely starting to see more of them, but sadly not on official distance or speed signs yet. You are constantly asking others for 'evidence'. There is no 'evidence' that British drivers, given the choice, would choose to stick to imperial road signs. So it is impossible to claim that this is their 'preference'. It is rather 'what they are used to'. For the life of me I fail to see how a measurement system of half one thing, half another can be called 'culture' (ref: your 'cultural vandalism'). Was it 'cultural vandalism' to decimalise the currency in the 1970s? I do remember some opposition at the time, but no government has ever suggested bring back shillings and pence. I am a very liberal person and I would be the last to suggest that any person in their private capacity should be prevented in any way from using any measurements they like or prefer, but it is not 'cultural vandalism' but 'cultural madness' to teach our children the metric system at school as the UK's (official) system of measurement but not to let them enjoy the fruit of their learning when using the roads or the road environment, as a pedestrian, cyclist, or private motorist when they grow up. It beggars belief that the country has got itself into this mess, but to try and defend it as some kind of national 'culture' is for me, frankly, off the scale in any units of measurement.

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  6. Cliff says:

    @Charlie P:
    You're wrong about road signs in Canada not having any affect on people's metrological preferences. I'm presently living and working in Australia and I can assure you that the mandatory use of metric measurement here has made a big difference to people's preferences on what measurement method they choose. Australia is massively influenced by the US and has been from the middle of the twentieth century. American TV, cinema and popular music are far more popular here than in the UK. The towns and cities here look like American towns and cities, the way of life is similar to the US way of life and many Australians even choose to use the American version of words like 'freeway' and 'elevator' rather than their English equivalents . Despite all this American influence, there is no way in the world that Australians would want to use anything other than the SI system for measurement. They know it's better and easier, of course, but it's ubiquitous. It's what's used on the roads, at the doctors, in the schools, on the TV, in the newspapers. Everywhere. Why wouldn't it be their personal preference? Many older people may still give their height in feet and inches (it's dying out with the young) but nobody would give their weight in anything but kilograms. The words 'mile' and 'yard' are only heard on American or British TV shows and 'foot' as a measure is usually only used as an approximation in the same way as 'waist high' or 'shoulder length'.
    As for your opinion that changing to a modern method of measurement equates to cultural vandalism; it hasn't had any detrimental effect on the culture of Australia or any other Commonwealth country that I know of and I'm sure it would not be any more harmful to British culture than the end of ration books.

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  7. Ronnie Cohen says:

    @Charlie P

    Imperial usage in the USA, Canada and the UK is strongly influenced by the environment where people are exposed to measurement units. For example, the statute mile is now mainly confined to the UK and the USA among developed countries and is hardly used elsewhere within the developed world any more. Why? Because that is what the British and Americans use on their roads. In another example, the use of the imperial gallon in the general media and among the public has declined over the years as a result of the switch from imperial gallons to litres for petrol sales. Imperial gallons are now only used for fuel economy figures for cars. The evidence from other parts of the Commonwealth shows that where metrication is completed, there is a big fall in the usage of imperial measurements. Britons use a mixture of metric and imperial units for personal use. For more information about their measurement preferences, see http://www.ukma.org.uk/docs/sam.pdf.

    A lot more conversion factors are needed than the ones you suggest. Unit conversion websites and typical conversion tables contain a lot more conversion factors than the ones you mentioned for a good reason. People need them to cope with two incompatible systems. For all imperial units still in use, conversions are inevitable when you want to compare phenomena measured in incompatible units.

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  8. David Brown says:

    Take care with your conversions between US and metric with oil volumes.
    Being a volume, the result will be dependent on the temperature - the oil will expand or contract. Therefore the industry standardises the measurement conditions - but it does so differently on each side of the Atlantic. If oil is measured in US Barrels, it will be at 60ºF. If it's measured in m³, the standard temperature is 15°C. Those temperatures are not the same, therefore volume of the oil will not be the same, and a temperature correction has to be applied. This is further complicated by the fact that the correction required is dependent on the density of the oil - less dense oil is more sensitive to changes in temperature.
    The whole thing is a nightmare that is just unnecessary - we have an international system. We should take advantage of it!

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  9. Mary says:

    A further confusion arises when decimal fractions of imperial units are used.
    And if I can remember old units, one example to help illustrate this:
    1.5 pound means one pound and eight ounces.
    1 lb 8 oz does NOT mean 1.8 pounds.

    Children in schools [except perhaps those doing advanced maths], probably don't do multibase arithmetic like during imperial times.
    Examples include:
    the number of ounces in a pound.
    the number of pounds in a stone.
    the number of yards in a mile.

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  10. Charlie P says:

    @Mary

    You could have added:
    the number of seconds in a minute
    the number of minutes in an hour
    the number of hours in a day

    Do you get confused by the difference between 1hr 5mins and 1.5 hours? And don't children still learn how to add times and calculate time differences?

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  11. BrianAC says:

    @ Mary says:2016-03-13 at 10:23

    I had a very good (bad) example of this a few years ago, I guess this one comes up often.
    A grand niece of mine describing on line, a new born niece of hers as weighing '7.15 lbs'. I guess she had no idea what 7lbs 15 oz really meant, and neither did she have any reason to know.
    The strange thing is though, I know that her mother in turn, had a 'proper' metric education and I had to discuss things with her in metric, with no thought of her using Imperial (c late 60's). That in turn was my introduction to 'metric educated Britain'.

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  12. BrianAC says:

    @Charlie P 2016-03-14 at 08:48 @Mary and myself.

    You are once again picking an argument for the sake of an argument.

    True the same could apply to the fractions of hours, minutes and seconds. However children from a very young age learn how to tell the time in hour and minute format, and should full well know how to use them. Apart from clocking on at the factory gate in the '60's, where time was calculated in decimal hours and we had to work in 6 minute intervals I have not seen nor used anything different. OK, there is internet time, but that is a specialty subject.

    As far as babies weights are concerned, children are forced by their parents and the media, to use units of weight they know little or nothing about. In the kitchen they may be talked at by mum and dad in units they know nothing about (Editor - but they will hear celebrity chefs using grams and mL). Children hear adults and media using stones and pounds, feet and inches, pounds and ounces, which they know little of nothing about.

    With few exceptions almost all of us know metric and decimal division, at least to the first decimal place, and that is the natural way for children to do things. In fact it shows that they would convert the trashy and sloppy media 'one kilogram and 200 grams' to 1.2 kg as a matter of habit. It shows a metric orientation, just as it should be.

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  13. Charlie P says:

    @BrianAC

    No, I am not "picking an argument", I am pointing out an inconsistency in an argument. The principle of multi-base arithmetic is no different for adding and subtracting time or adding and subtracting pounds (lbs) and ounces.

    As for children knowing nothing about imperial units; that is not true, as you then go on to point out. They are "forced" (your choice of word in place of the more usual "brought up", "educated" or "coached") to use them by their teachers, elders and peers in the same way that they are "forced" to use metric units or "forced" to learn maths or English. Would you attempt to legislate against the use of non BIPM-approved language in the classroom, playground and family home? Good luck with that then.

    Base-10, base-24 and base-60 arithmetic is no more natural than base-8, base-10, base-12 and base-16 arithmetic - why on earth would you expect anyone to accept that assertion? And why would you censor what education children receive - the more the better, surely? Why are you frightened of children being encouraged to be broad-minded? And why do you think "one kilogram and 200 grams" is less acceptable than 1.2 kg in newspaper prose?

    The idea that you expect our society to accept, or even be forced to suffer, the use of thought-police like this, in this day and age, truly appals me.

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  14. John Steele says:

    @Charlie P,

    The units which require base 24 and base 60 arithmic are not technically SI units. They are non-SI units ACCEPTED for use with the SI. The SI unit of of time is the second, and unit of angle the radian; both use base ten.

    As to your one kilogram and 200 grams, section 5.3.3 of the SI Brochure states, "In any one expression only one unit is used (although it points out time using hours and minutes, and angle using degrees, minutes seconds are exceptions, but states a preference a decimalized unit instead. As both the US and UK are signatories to the Treaty of the Meter and are voting members of all the governing committees of the BIPM, we are presumably in accord with the SI Brochure. The US explicitly includes this statement in NIST SP 330, our national interpretation of the SI Brochure. However, I suppose we can't deny the media the right to freely demonstrate their ignorance of proper SI usage.; the US press certainly exercises this right in some other ways.

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  15. Charlie P says:

    @John Steele

    I'm not sure why you think that because the time units here are only accepted for use with SI, and not pure-bred SI, makes any difference to the point under discussion. That point being that children have to learn multi-base arithmetic to be able to calculate time addition and time differences.

    Wrt the SI brochure writing conventions, they are targeted at the specialist writing areas of scientific and technical papers and the like, and not at newspaper prose. Journalists are free to choose their own style, and that may well be tailored to meet the expectations of their target audience.

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  16. Martin Vlietstra says:

    In 2001/2 I worked in Italy as the native-English speaker on an Italian IT project. In the course of my job I had to review the design for a computer data entry screen. The designer had left out the text where the user was meant to enter the number of hours, so I marked up the design requesting that the word "ora" be placed in the relevant position ("ora" = "hours" in Italian). After my requested upgrades were done I was asked to approve them. Instead of the word "ora", the programmer had written the internationally-recognised symbol "h".

    For the record, "kilometres per hour" is " chilometri all'ora" in Italian, but Italian speedometers and road signs show the internationally recognised "km/h".

    As described above, the "hour" is ACCEPTED alongside SI units and is accorded a single internationally-recognised symbol - "h".

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  17. BrianAC says:

    @Charlie P 2016-03-16 at 13:53 @BrianAC

    I stand by my belief that children do not understand the Imperial units that they use.
    Using and understanding are not the same thing. IF a child understood the weight of a baby in lbs and oz, said child would NOT write 7lbs 15oz as 7.15lbs. They do not understand therefore get it totally wrong. The facts are out there in the real world: it is meaningless to them. The same for a large part goes for the use of ft and ins for height and those ridiculous stones for body weight. Usage, even on a large scale, does not mean an understanding of the units. The media make so many conversion errors, howlers even, that it is quite clear, in the real world, they have little idea of one system or the other, perhaps even both. Hours and minutes are understood by all, therefore few problems exist as regards to usage.
    Now as for this though police thing, I know you are an educated person so you would know full well how the Imperial non-system came into being, and was spread around the world, at least are far as history itself can be relied upon. It was most certainly not by any voluntary processes.
    Are not laws forced upon every good citizen of the planet Earth? Are these laws for good, or the evil doing of the thought police? Heaven forbid we should be forced to have good thoughts. Heaven forbid we should be forced to use a standard system of measures that allow the world to co-operate in landing a probe on a tiny comet out by the sun. Do you really think we should go back to the time when even trains could not be timed, or few knew what measures were used in the market, when navigating from one village to another was out of reach to most.

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  18. John Steele says:

    Charlie P said "Wrt the SI brochure writing conventions, they are targeted at the specialist writing areas of scientific and technical papers and the like, and not at newspaper prose. Journalists are free to choose their own style."

    I see nothing in the SI Brochure that says it is only for scientists. Its purpose is international uniformity of measurement. At least in the United States, it (as defined by the SI Brochure and/or interpreted by the Secretary of Commerce) is the metric system for everybody. Quoting from the law (15 USC 204 et seq):
    Sec. 204. Metric system authorized

    It shall be lawful throughout the United States of America to employ the weights and measures of the metric system; and no contract or dealing, or pleading in any court, shall be deemed invalid or liable to objection because the weights or measures expressed or referred to therein are weights or measures of the metric system.
    Sec. 205. Metric system defined

    The metric system of measurement shall be defined as the International System of Units as established in 1960, and subsequently maintained, by the General Conference of Weights and Measures, and as interpreted or modified for the United States by the Secretary of Commerce. [endquote]

    In some areas, proper use is not enforced by law, in areas like net contents, it is. But proper usage of the SI is intended for everybody. Of course, under freedom of speech, our media is welcome to lie to us, present biased editorial opinion as news, or misuse the metric system. The AP Styleguide does so by using incorrect definitions of the liter and degree Celsius, requiring the use of kph as a symbol for kilometers per hour while forbidding the correct symbol, km/h, etc. and obstinately persisting when their errors are pointed out. If everybody makes up their own rules, you get Imperial/Customary.

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  19. Daniel says:

    @ John Steele:

    John said: "Of course, under freedom of speech, our media is welcome to lie to us, present biased editorial opinion as news, or misuse the metric system."

    Well, maybe not for long. If Donald Trump makes it in, he has promised to make the media pay a big price for lying. Not to long ago, the EU was also looking into curtailing the media by passing laws making their statements subject to libel laws. Tell a lie and its over for you. It would be very easy then to get the anti-metric ranters out of the media for good.

    At a rally in February, Trump vowed revenge on the U.S. press, promising to enact strict libel laws if elected. “I’ll tell you what, I think the media is among the most dishonest groups of people I’ve ever met,” he said. “They’re terrible. … I’m going to open up our libel laws so when they write purposely negative and horrible and false articles, we can sue them and win lots of money. We’re going to open up those libel laws. So that when the New York Times writes a hit piece, which is a total disgrace, or when the Washington Post, which is there for other reasons, writes a hit piece, we can sue them and win money instead of having no chance of winning because they’re totally protected.”

    Editor: We seem to be getting off topic here.

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  20. Daniel says:

    Editor: We seem to be getting off topic here.

    Yes and no. There appears to be more anti-metric articles in the media or articles that poke fun at the metric system than not. Many of these articles, meant to frighten those who haven't taken sides on the issue, are downright lies.

    A popular trick among anti-metric reporters in the 1970s was to lie concerning how metric numbers would appear to the public. Mile distances would be exact representations of increments of 1.609344 km to the last decimal. Americans would be forced to ask for increments of 453.59237 g or 3.78541 L, etc.

    Who would ever want to go metric if this were the case? No wonder full metrication failed. If only we had such laws then, metric supporters would be able to demand proof of such claims and force the media to either retract or be put out of business. The media in the US & UK has never been friendly to metrication and to force fairness, some form of laws demanding truth in reporting is absolutely necessary.

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  21. BrianAC says:

    @Editor
    Personally I think this is right on topic.
    It is high time the media was held to account for their blatant lies.

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  22. Charlie P says:

    @Daniel/BrianAC

    What are your views wrt lies and deceit being used by the pro-metrication lobby?

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  23. Jackthesmilingblack says:

    U.S. Citizens can't bring themselves to use the expression "imperial" so they employ the term "English" or even "international" units instead. International, gimme a break. Only three countries inthe world still officially use "imperial" and Myanmar is in the process of changing.

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  24. BrianAC says:

    @ Charlie P says: 2016-03-21 at 16:50 @Daniel/BrianAC
    What are your views wrt lies and deceit being used by the pro-metrication lobby?

    Much the same as the deceit and lies used by the anti- metric brigade.
    What goes around comes around.

    This is quite different though from the influence of the national press and TV coverage.

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  25. John Steele says:

    @Jack

    We can say Imperial, that's what the UK uses. We never made the changes of the 1824 Imperial Act and use a different gallon and bushel (and all related units). Because we don't use the stone, we have a different hundredweight and ton (both "short"). We call that system Customary. We use the term "english" or "English" to describe the two systems generically without being specific. Note that the foot (and all related units) and pound (plus all smaller units) are common. International is metric, more specifically, the SI.

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  26. BrianAC says:

    Realistically, what can we do when we see a mis-leading advertisement?
    I know this should be a consumer affairs issue, but who in consumer affairs cares? I don't think I need to apologise for bringing it up here, it is on topic.

    Looking for air conditioning oil it seems it is either from Europe or from USA.
    That from Europe generally is sold in 250 ml bottles as expected.
    That from USA is sold in 8 oz bottles, advertised as 250 ml (should be 237 ml, UK would be 227), and 1 quart as 1 litre (should be 946 ml as it would be US quart, 1.136 ml if it were a UK quart). Each of these undercutting the price of the European items by just a few pence. This seems to be the general internet conversion factor for this item.
    Contact with a seller brings no response and a question about the item is not posted.
    I see this as deliberate fraud.

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  27. BrianAC says:

    @ BrianAC says:2016-03-27 at 17:14
    Following that post I contacted the Advertising Standards Authority, today I received the following reply (in part).

    Thank you for contacting the ASA.

    We’ve assessed the ad you highlighted and from the information we have, we think the ad is likely to have breached the Advertising Codes that we administer and have therefore taken steps to address the issue. We have explained your concerns to the advertiser (without revealing your identity) and provided guidance to them on the areas that require attention, together with advice on how to ensure that their advertising complies with the Codes.

    This was however a blatant fraud as I see it, I do not think reporting an estate agent for using feet instead of metres would work.

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  28. Charlie P says:

    @BrianAC 2016-04-25 at 21:29

    Have I missed something somewhere here - what advert? What was deliberately fraudulent about it? What wouldn't work for estate agents?

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  29. Ezra Steinberg says:

    Just came across a spectacular failure when it comes to conversions (and an online computerized one, at that!)

    When you look at the online version of the weather information from the Irish Times:
    http://www.irishtimes.com/weather

    You will see 2 buttons towards the top and right labeled C and F (with a degree symbol in front of each). If you have pressed the button for C, everything looks right. However, if you press the F button, temperatures are converted to Fahrenheit but the "C" after each temperature is left unchanged instead of being switched to "F".

    So, I am now looking at this page after pressing the F button and see that Dublin will have a high temperature today of 75 C. Yikes!!!!!

    Now, if they had left well enough alone and dispensed with the "option" of displaying temps in Fahrenheit, all would have been well.

    Of course, what this tells me indirectly is that nearly everyone is leaving the page alone and reading all of the temps in degrees Celsius, which explains why no one has apparently complained (and thus why the page has never been fixed).

    The lesson? Muddles muck up everything. Stick to one system, the SI. 🙂

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