No surprises in YouGov survey

In 2013, the UK Metric Association (UKMA) commissioned YouGov to conduct a survey into the UK’s measurement muddle. The results were reported on Metric Views at that time. We now look at a follow-up survey carried out two years later.

In June 2015, the major influential polling firm YouGov carried out a survey on the British measurement muddle and metric usage. The headline on their survey page was, “Britain’s metric muddle not changing anytime soon”. It is worth quoting the first two paragraphs of the YouGov survey page in full:

“For some things we use metric measurements and other things we use imperial – and in most areas the younger generations are just as confused.

In policy terms metrication (converting to the metric system of measurement) makes perfect sense. The existence of two systems is an unecessary [sic] complication, and unhelpful to standardising medicine and technology. In Britain, metrication was formally endorsed by the government in 1965, but the imperial system is still commonly used. The mix confuses shoppers, children and holiday makers.”

The YouGov survey confirms what UKMA has been saying for years. It shows the extent of the British metric muddle and reports that usage of metric units is increasing in some areas but not in others. The metric system has been taught generally in British schools since the early seventies, and for science for over a century. All examination boards require pupils to know the metric system. Yet YouGov reported that 60% of 18-24 years do not know their weight in kilograms and 54% of them did not know their height in centimetres. Results were similar for the 25-39 age groups and worse in both categories for older age groups.

There is widespread adoption of metric units for cooking, for example, and for expressing short distances. However, non-metric miles dominate for long distances. Among total survey respondents, 89% said that they would use miles to describe long distances.

Respondents were asked which measurement system is better. This gave some interesting results where more said that the metric system is better compared to imperial. In response to the question about the better system, 36% said that the metric system is better, 30% said that the imperial system is better, 27% said both are about the same (i.e. equally good) and 7% said “Don’t know”.

We could still say the same words today about the metric muddle and would likely find very similar survey results. In terms of the UK’s measurement muddle, little has changed in the last five years. Not so much “plus ca change”, more “toujours la meme chose”.


You can find the YouGov page and survey results on Britain’s measurement muddle at:

https://yougov.co.uk/topics/lifestyle/articles-reports/2015/06/20/britains-metric-muddle

https://d25d2506sfb94s.cloudfront.net/cumulus_uploads/document/vsi5u7fi74/InternalResults_150609_systems_of_measurement_Website.pdf

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5 Responses to No surprises in YouGov survey

  1. BrianAC says:

    It probably says a lot that they spell metres as meters, not a good start.

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  2. Daniel Jackson says:

    I find is somewhat amusing that in the past some governments squabbled at the prospect of the cost of metrication even though it proved to reduce costs and pay for itself if a few short years, but the capitalist countries now seem to have no problem casting milliards to billions after the Covid-19 virus, of which there will never be a return on the money.

    The money being cast is not meant to fight the virus and provide necessary means to destroy it, but to bail out super-rich corporations on the verge of collapse. It seems the same thinking opposing metrication is the same thinking involved in "fighting" this virus. Since they muddled metrication we can be assured they will muddle the war against Covid-19 and Covid-19 will flourish as a result.

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  3. Ezra Steinberg says:

    Interestingly, I have noticed more and more videos about science, history, etc. on YouTube using metric, often with US Customary shown via text off to the side. The presenters are often American but some Canadians have no doubt snuck in as well.
    The good news is that there is more and more soft acceptance of metric here in the USA, at least I suspect with Millennials and later folks.
    Now all we need here is a Democratic government with the courage and foresight to mandate conversion.

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  4. Alex Bailey says:

    @Ezra

    If you were watching NASA TV coverage of the Dragon Demo-2 crew capsule this weekend you couldn’t fail to notice that on-screen graphics (provided by Spacex) was exclusively (sic) KM/H and KM. During docking the distances were being quoted in metres. The voiceovers did regularly quote mph and statute miles but the it was clear from start to finish that the actual work being done was in metric.

    There was one slip where an announcer read the km/h speed off the screen and said it was ‘metres per second’ but that merely demonstrates how easy it is to slip up when you’re switching between metric and (I guess I should call it) ‘customary’ measures.

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  5. Daniel Jackson says:

    Alex,

    SpaceX is very pro-metric. NASA isn't. There were complaints from a number of contractors against NASA refusing to metricate internally that reached the ears of Barack Obama and he cancelled all of NASA's non-metric projects 10 years ago now. NASA's function these days is to contract out projects to these private companies and they do the designs and construction in metric only now. The engineers who hated metric and refused to use it were forced into early retirement as a result.

    But where NASA continues to be in the picture, they still go out of their way to either block out metric or overlay it with EEU (Evil Empire Units). They don't acknowledge the existence of metric at all.

    https://www.newscientist.com/article/dn17350-nasa-criticised-for-sticking-to-imperial-units/

    “We in the private sector are doing everything possible to create a global market with as much commonality and interoperability as possible,” says Mike Gold of the US firm Bigelow Aerospace, which hopes to fly commercial space stations in orbit. “But NASA still can’t make the jump to metric.”

    Read the whole article.

    As long as NASA is run by the same people that have opposed metrication for decades, NASA will never give up and continue to fight metrication. It is a good thing though that despite NASA's efforts, successful metric companies like SpaceX are resisting NASA's efforts.

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