After the U.K. entered the EU, the move to metrics became a mandate. Until then, store labels included the inches, gallons, and ounces that composed the Imperial System. While by 1999, the country was supposed to have made the switch, still people resisted.
Now, because of Brexit, a return to the old system is possible. So too are measuring mixups.
Because of a metric mixup, Clarence, a 75-year-old Galapagos tortoise, did not quite fit into his new home at the Moorpark College Zoo. Before transporting him, the LA Zoo told the college that he weighed 250 kilograms. Misunderstanding, they assumed it was 250 pounds. Because his enclosure was far too small for a 551 pound reptile, the cage did not survive its first night. Clarence was found nearby, perhaps smiling.
Somewhat similarly, but more catastrophically, the U.S. lost a $125 million Mars orbiter because its Lockheed development team used the Imperial System (inches, feet, etc.) while NASA was metric. The result was a data mistake that propelled the spacecraft into the wrong orbit.
Our Bottom Line: Standardization
In addition to Clarence and the Orbiter, we can look at 18th century France to see why all of us need standardization. The size of a pint could have varied by 20% between villages. And that was just one metric. Imagine dealing with many when buying and selling merchandise.
It helped the market considerably when two scientists defined the size of a meter during the 1790s by calculating the distance from the North Pole to the Equator and dividing it by 10 million. Once they knew the size of a meter, they said the kilogram was “a cubic decimeter of rainwater at 4 degrees Celsius.” One result was a platinum kilogram cylinder. But the bigger impact was the standardization of a wide array of weights and measures.
Because most countries use the metric system, the U.K. could help the market’s quest for standardization if it retained it.
And finally, for a smile about metric conversion, do look at this WestJet video:
My sources and more: Thanks to the BBC for alerting more to the U.K.’s metric debate. From there, for more measuring mixups, I returned o 99% Invisible for the Clarence story and to CNN for more about the Mars mishap. (Please note that some of today’s paragraphs were in a previous econlife post.)