…in time! …in New Mexico! First off, this post might not really be up to snuff, but in the interest of putting up something and not letting this thing languish, here goes a post about the metric system. This isn’t gonna be some sort of I’m-an-expat-in-America Imperial System whinefest. The ridiculous superiority non-Americans feel to Americans about the SI vs the Imperial system is in my view unwarranted, and should be classified with the whole lot of general resentment-of-America tomfoolery.
The arguments in favour of SI are usually ease of conversion and some sort of “scientificness”. On the first, while it’s true that conversion is easy in SI, in everyday situations it is also entirely unnecessary. It might be a bitch to remember how many feet are in a mile, but you don’t need to, because nothing is measured in both feet and miles. Road distances: miles. Living space area: (square) feet. Marathon length: miles. Elevation gain: feet. Plane altitude: feet (- even though that makes little sense, I think?). Things to go before you sleep: miles. etc. etc. It is much the same way with other Imperial measurements. I’m sure figuring out ounces per square rod from PSI is a bitch to the extreme. But I’m also sure the only people who ever bother doing that are pedants who want to showcase the inconvenience of the Imperial system.
As for being “scientific”, it may be unfortunate, but in my experience scientists use whatever units are convenient for whichever calculation and these units are usually terrible. For instance, as units of energy, rather than the trusty Joule, which SI dictates, I much more frequently use microKelvin, GigaHertz, Hartrees, Rydbergs, electron Volts, even inverse centimetres (!), which last is just a ridiculous unit. I’m sure there are people who use ergs and BTUs and calories, too. There are whole arguments on whether a system of units should have 4π in it or not. If anything, our unit problems are even more arcane than those of the Imperial system. To say that SI is somehow the way of science is just not right.
Nevertheless, the US should convert to SI. Not because it’s better (or worse), but because it’s universal. Having two standards is annoying and leads to misunderstandings. It leads to bizarre situations like gasoline pumps in Peru being in gallons even though gallons aren’t used by anyone there, which makes no sense. But how to do it? To convert the entire country all at once is a logistical nightmare, expensive, and will no doubt cause riots and so forth. No one is gonna do that. But what about converting a state or two? Why don’t some enterprising legislators in, say, New Mexico go metric? Give breaks to car dealerships to change some speedometers. Install some “thinKMetric” signs at the state borders. Label their milk cartons in litres. The Tea Party is all about states rights, so they’ll support this, right? Right? Will it be confusing at first? Yes. But not really that much more confusing than the situation already is – kilometers are used near the Mexican border, and most recent immigrants from Mexico are more used to metric units anyway. Once a state converts to metric and nothing terrible happens, other states would follow suit. So what do you say, New Mexico? Let’s do this!