Metrication Day 2011

Today (October 10th) is Metrication Day! Metrication Day is a day on which I make a slightly more concerted effort to spread the knowledge and adoption of the International System of Units (a.k.a SI or the Metric System). Last year's Metrication Day was what I called the "Ultimate Metrication Day" and I dedicated 10 days of articles to the cause of metric education. Education is the subject which I'd like to focus on this year.

First, a narrative:

Having long put Imperial units out of my head, I recently asked someone how many ounces were in a cup. He and I had discussed my affinity for SI previously, so he tried to poke fun at my question. However, he couldn't actually answer my question. Was it 4? 8? No, that's not right, maybe 6? I stood there laughing as he ran to his computer and pulled it up. He tried to make sense of it, but then noticed that cups were different all over the world.

I pointed out that his confusion was a perfect example of why Imperial measurements are both impractical and confusing. He went on to say that he "was not a good example of a typical American" and criticized his own intelligence. I pointed out to him that his lack of understanding was actually very typical of American scientific knowledge.

Science education in the United States is critically failing. Note these survey results from an article published in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette:

An understanding of the most basic principles of science appear to be lacking. There are many reasons and possible causes for educational failure in the United States, but I don't want to "blame the system(s)" in this article; I'd like to instead put the ownership in the hands of each individual. You have the power to ask "WHY?"

Science is about exploration; to gain an understanding about the things we do not know. No one source will ever answer all questions. Think for yourself and seek a deeper understanding. Perhaps it's that too many, as children, were given the answer "Because I said so" whenever they asked "Why?" Personally, I have and will always answer any child's question of "Why?" with my best answer, or, at the very least, "That's a great question, let's find that answer together".

Holding to an established system, instead of asking "why" is a primary cause for why the United States has not adopted the Metric system. There is literal stupidity in the notion that tradition will be held to for tradition's sake. Never accept "because I said so"; find a better source, one which will help nurture your curiosity not belittle it. Explore the world around you, excite your mind with interest, accept the dynamic nature of "fact", and wonder at the beauty of information. When you do ask why, you will see that the benefits of adopting SI far out-weigh the costs.


Warwick Cairns said...

What has the foot-pound system ever done for us, eh? Apart from Roman architecture, that is. Oh, and the Industrial Revolution. Er.. and the moon landings. The aviation industry, of course. Oh, and being the system of choice of the world's biggest, most successful economy, the USA. But apart from that, what has the system ever done for us?

Indy said...

An interesting argument, but current value is not always defined by past usefulness.

Fellow readers, Warwick Cairns is the author of a number of books on variety of subjects, each encouraging its readers to get back to the roots and simplicity of our human condition.

An admirable notion (and notably humorous books), but I repeat that "because I said so" is never a good reason. Logic and consistency is paramount in a changing world. That said, Warwick, feel free to try not to change as the world changes around you.