The Nonfiction Writers Association and the metric system: Part II

I’m collecting information and writing reports (and lots of other things)

In the works:

  • A communications plan to support my proof of concept (POC)* recapped below
  • A nonfiction book proposal
  • List of reasons people use to reject adoption of the metric system.
  • A situation analysis
  • I’m building out this webpage so I can include additional resources and information

    They are all interrelated.

The importance of the proof of concept

My idea of a proof of concept in this situation is bigger than the book proposal (however, I will need to a book proposal to “sell” the metric system idea to agents/publishers).

My idea of proof of concept is based, in part, on the idea that all good ideas should begin with:

“Don’t tell me, show me.”

In the case of this project, the “tell” is “The United States should switch to the metric system.” The “show me” rests with the potential and demonstrative improvements to our medical and education systems, time and productivity savings, and even things like environment impacts. And then, of course, I have to spell out why these “shows” are important and that the concepts are connected. These ideas will have a substantive place in my book America’s Biggest Miscalculation.

If there is no good “why” behind why an idea/concept is important and relevant, it’s unlikely to move very far forward in a legitimate way.

Is that why, as children, we were invited to “Show and tell” and not just to “Tell” or “Show”? Did we not learn nothing from that early experience? Context matters, history matters, good sources matter.

Science works on proof of concept

Within the science-based environment from which I came (Los Alamos National Laboratory), these concepts could be earth shatteringly important, cost millions or billions of dollars and add to our fundamental understanding of how the universe works. And for the really big stuff (think high-energy physics sorts of things where you have unbelievably expensive and complex custom equipment) it takes more resources, partnerships (national and international), and some of the smartest and most dedicated scientists in the world to pursue their work.

Large Hadron Collider

In my experience, an awful lot of science takes place within custom equipment that’s about a photogenic as an old trash can. For instance, there are only so many ways you can photograph a supercomputer…and then there’s the classic “people talking in front of computer screens.” Ugh.
In this photo we have both things: drab equipment (but well-lit!) AND someone working on a computer. And that, my friends, is the reality of coming up with images for much of science.
Photo: Anna Patelia/CERN

Luckily, my bar is FAR lower than that, but I will still need to compete for funding and attention from agents and publisher to get this work done, and if these folks pick the metric system work, they’re likely passing on other opportunities. To be successful, I have to convince people that this work is important, could contribute to the health and education within our society, but it has be be able to sell copies of the book. That’s last but not least.

Situation analysis

With some new concepts and ideas in mind (from the Nonfiction Authors Association conference, see previous post), I’ve realized just how much the situation analysis feeds into my needs for the book. The better I understand this issue, and from every possible angle I can think of, the better off I will ultimately be.

The purpose of my situation analysis is to coalesce my ideas and observations into a “bite-sized” report that presents the current lay of the land.

Recall, our last real attempt at metric system adoption was in the mid-1970s. The federal government generated thousands and thousands of pages of reports on why switching to the metric system was a good idea or rather “A decision whose time has come [PDF].” (Caution: It’s one of the 1970s documents and it’s 191 pages.) Then came failure—not complete, but in many, many ways.

Fast forward almost 40 years and here we are, but where is that exactly?

That’s what I propose to put on paper in a rudimentary way. I want to illustrate MY understanding of the current environment and how the book project fits into that environment. I need to demonstrate that people (you specifically) care about this issue enough to support it through a book purchase.

Of primary importance for this report is: “Who are the current players and what roles do they fulfill?

It’s all about barriers, opportunities, resources, and the need to make course corrections by monitoring the environment and responding quickly and appropriately.

I’ll also include a “gap analysis” in some form. The point of a gap analysis is to strongly consider where an “entity is” with relation to resources (in any form, human or financial capital, for instance) and a desired end-state. What needs to fill the “gap” between current resources and the goal? Where could those resources come from? Are there assets not being properly leveraged? What are all the interrelations between other organizations in the environment (usually business competitors) and the entity? You get the idea.

I can tell you this now. There is more federal legislation in place than you think there is and I think that’s really, really important to metric system adoption.

This project’s biggest asset is you, dear reader

Me, I’m no one. I’m just someone who happened to realize (because I’m old enough) that we are constantly making our lives more complicated in the United States since we don’t routinely use the metric system for our measurement units. Let’s make things easier for our medical community and our students AND EVERYONE. I think it’s the least we can do.

Thanks for reading down this far.


The proof of concept I laid out last week:

* “I hope to demonstrate there is enough interest in the United States’ lack of metric system adoption (or there will be once people actually “see” our current mess) to buy a copy of America’s Biggest Miscalculation and make it commercially and financially viable enough for an agent/publisher to favor of THIS project when allocating resources.”

6 thoughts on “The Nonfiction Writers Association and the metric system: Part II

  1. Pingback: The Nonfiction Writers Association and the metric system: Part II – Nonpartisan Education Group

  2. I believe the main reason the majority of people in the US have no interest in the metric system is because they don’t want to bother learning something new, and most importantly, do not want to do anything that might involve math. People make decisions based on their emotions and then come up with “logical” reasons to justify their decision. They can’t say they are not interested in the metric system because they are lazy or because they are afraid of math, so they say they are against it because it costs too much, or because of any of the other arguments you undoubtably have on your list.

    Making a logical argument about the cost, that it will save money in the long run, does no good, because that is not the real reason someone is against the metric system. The same applies to any logical reason people give. Logic does not matter. Showing all the benefits does not matter. The only way to change most people’s minds is to convince them they will not be personally inconvenienced, that they will not have to learn anything new, and, most importantly, they will not have to do math.

    That is very difficult to do, perhaps impossible. I find that very discouraging, but I wish you well in your efforts.

    Al Lawrence

    At the current time, the only way to progress to metrication is by gradual introduction of more metric products in the marketplace, which has been happening organically, and which can be encouraged by labelling legislation, such as the metric only labelling option.


    • There is no “math” to learn – we know that! This is clearly a part of the problem when presenting a case for metrication to the American pleb. Since the metric system has been presented as some kind of inscrutable and arcane language of “those people” – namely scientists, engineers and the like, ignorance has convinced Americans they need to know higher maths in order to use it or conceive it. Nonsense. These are the areas we need to attack. We NEED to bring back the discussion of the SI BACK INTO THE AMERICAN CONVERSATION!

      • “We NEED to bring back the discussion of the SI BACK INTO THE AMERICAN CONVERSATION!” Exactly. THAT is my overall goal. It always has been. Kudos to you for thinking about it and caring enough to reach out.

  3. “I can tell you this now. There is more federal legislation in place than you think there is and I think that’s really, really important to metric system adoption.”
    Linda – Can you expand on this a bit?

    • EXCELLENT question. In fact, I was speaking with my contact from the National Institute for Standards (NIST) on this exact issue the other day. I’m kicking around in my mind whether this is an issue of enforcing existing laws, regulations, and requirements (which is a mess, of course) or whether we might need new legislation. I don’t have an answer to this question yet. I don’t think anyone has. I’m working on pulling this information together. It will be in the third section of the book: (something like) “What would it take to clean up our measures?” or “Our path forward and the metric system.” I’m spitballing here. It’s not written yet. Thanks so much for reading, paying attention, and asking a wonderful question. I’m not sure yet, but a fulcrum might be the law that dates back to 1866. It’s something I’m thinking hard about. I recognize your name. Thanks for still being here.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.