2010-10-19

Compatibility and consistency

Since the "Ultimate Metrication Day", I've written a lot about HOW to adopt the International System of Units (SI). I think it's time I address the WHY....

In that initial post, I mentioned the fact that the United States of America is one of only three countries which has not adopted SI. I'll repeat what I said then, this fact does not bode well for the USA (nor Burma and Liberia). We are at significant risk of falling behind and out of touch with our global partners. To use a very crude and cruel metaphor, we are quickly becoming the creepy guy who is awkwardly without taste or the skills necessary for effective communication.

The United States of America is a leader in technological development, business incubation, and social innovation; how then can we lag so behind every other country in something as significant as measurement. We risk losing our lead and respect in every area I just listed; in fact, we already have damaged our reputation in some areas thanks to confusion with using US customary units.

In 1998, the US space agency NASA (a clear leader in space exploration) "lost" a Mars orbiter because every team, in every firm, used SI except one. One team made the mistake of using US customary units; this was the direct cause of mission failure at the cost of hundreds of millions of dollars. [JPL NASA]

There have been (and continue to be) cases where confusion over units has resulted in injury and death because medication was incorrectly administered in the wrong dose. (I'm not even going to cite a specific example because of the sheer number; simply Google "wrong dose medication" and see how many are due to the use of incorrect units.)

Some people have chosen to hold to US customary units for the sake of "tradition" or because "it's not worth the expense of changing". All things WILL change, even "tradition". Furthermore, the expense of making a change is becoming notably less relative to the expense of converting/communicating/coordinating the difference between "us" and "them".
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