New Internationalist, a metric role model for the British media

Back after our summer break, Metric Views is happy to publicize a periodical that might have escaped our readers’ attention in recent years. Ronnie Cohen explains.

The New Internationalist is an independent, non-profit British magazine that certainly lives up to its name. In the edition that I read some time ago, it used metric units exclusively in all its articles. Yes, that’s right. With no imperial conversions.


The articles that appeared in the April 2016 edition of New Internationalist use kilometres for races and distances between places, metric tons (yes, they wrote “metric tons” rather than “tonnes” though they write “tonnes” elsewhere in the magazine) for greenhouse gas emissions, square kilometres and hectares for forests and other land areas, square kilometres for population density, hectares for tree cover and commercial agriculture, cubic metres for timber and litres for water vapour. The only place where an imperial unit appeared was in the Country Profile section. The map in this section had a scale with both miles and kilometres. Apart from that, the magazine is entirely metric.

I presume that this magazine uses metric exclusively because it is aimed at an international audience. Compare the metric usage in this British magazine with most of the non-specialist media, especially the national newspapers. When other British publications use metric units, these units are often given with an imperial conversion in the misplaced belief that their readers do not understand metric units.

The use of common measurement units that readers all over the world can understand (i.e. metric units) is essential to comprehending the statistics used in this edition. The use of unfamiliar alien measurement units would impede readers’ understanding of the serious issues raised in the articles. The April 2016 edition of New Internationalist featured major articles about deforestation (their cover story), land degradation, links between nature and spirituality in Japan, two pages of forest facts, a country profile of Brazil, consumer culture, the right-wing political victory in Poland, a profile of Hillary Rodham Clinton and PISA educational tests. There were many more articles, including some small articles.

It is not my intention to provide an exhaustive list of all the articles that have appeared in a single edition of a magazine but to highlight how much poorer our comprehension would be if the measurement units used in the magazine were unfamiliar and alien. Thanks to the global use of the metric system, now used in every single country in the world, the publishers of this magazine do not need to worry about this possibility, something now taken for granted by us all. How different this situation was before the universal adoption of a single, simple and logical measurement system.

Further reading:

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4 Responses to New Internationalist, a metric role model for the British media

  1. Ezra Steinberg says:

    It is so gratifying to see a British publication embrace an international perspective when it comes to measurement units. So different from the mish-mash and muddle I see on (for example) the BBC web site or on the otherwise extraordinary BBC nature documentaries. How telling (for example) to hear Sir David Attenborough describe an African river's depth in "meters" and its length in "miles"!

    This last bit is yet another reminder of the unfortunate drag on metrication in the UK that continues to flow from Imperial road signs. One can only hope that Theresa May's push for a "global Britain" (to be continued one hopes by her successor) will include embracing metric fully (to include metrication of road signs and cajoling the BBC to drop Imperial completely and everywhere) to truly fashion a global outlook for the UK.

    As Alexander Pope wrote so eloquently:

    Hope springs eternal in the human breast;
    Man never is, but always to be blessed:
    The soul, uneasy and confined from home,
    Rests and expatiates in a life to come.

    In this case I would change "life to come" to "government to come" (i.e. one that is ready to chuck the metric muddle into the dustbin!)

  2. Daniel Jackson says:

    It's only a role model because it caters to a metric majority readership who would obviously complained or who possibly already did complain at some point in the past to any inclusion of imperial or USC.

    The English media is in the muddle it is in because the editors either choose against the greater good or demand and choose to use imperial. They may justify their decision by using as examples, a sample of complaints from Luddites who insist on the use of imperial.

    The English media can only be changed when the leadership is changed to a pro-metric leaning leadership. The same with the DfT.

  3. Ezra Steinberg says:

    Just checked the Irish Independent and the Irish Times to see how they are reporting hurricane Irma. Nearly all of the units used in both papers are metric even though all of the US media reports everything only in Imperial units.

    What this tells me is that the Irish media converted (nearly) everything to metric from the information in Imperial that they were getting from the USA media. And they did this without including Imperial in parentheses after the metric units.

    To my mind this is yet another data point confirming the powerful and salutary effect of metric road signs in Ireland. Since everyone sees metric distances and metric speeds every single day they are out and about, it becomes totally natural to think in metric when talking about wind speeds or how wide the swath taken by the hurricane is. The Irish media I checked also reported rainfall exclusively in metric.

    For this reason I am still hoping the switch to metric road signs in the UK happens sooner rather than later. Perhaps Brexit will have the unintended consequence of speeding up that conversion (whether because of border issues between Ireland and NI or the possible independence of Scotland or a heightened awareness of the need to present to the world a truly "international" UK post-Brexit ... who knows?)

  4. Ezra Steinberg says:

    OK, this turned out to be so blatant and sad that I could not keep myself from passing this along. Witness this bit of weather news about Storm Aileen as it approaches the UK on the BBC News website:

    All the wind speeds are given exclusively in miles per hour .... not a hint of km/h anywhere during the broadcast or in the text of the article. I am quite sure this has to be because of the existing road sign calamity.

    Ironically, the presenter tucked in a quick bit at the end about the temperatures in the UK ... all exclusively in Celsius!

    A quick check of the Irish Times weather page shows all relevant meteorological data in metric only, including the wind speeds in km/h (of course). Too bad we can't get a Df that can see to reason and convert the signs!


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