Will the United States REALLY Be the Last Country to Adopt the Metric System (SI)?

It came to my attention recently that of the three countries in the world that don’t currently use the metric system on a routine basis: the United States, Burma and Liberia, it appears Burma has now announced its intention to switch over.

(Don’t let the Myanmar reference throw you, I’ve been using “Burma” in my writing and discussion because our government via the CIA Factbook classifies it as Burma.)

From the CIA Factbook

From the CIA Factbook

Anyway, this was sent out as a news story, ironically during our county’s National Metric Week and dated 10/10 no less:

Myanmar is preparing to adopt the metric system or the International System of Units (SI System) as the country’s official system of measurement, according to the Ministry of Commerce.

The reason given:

 …to streamline the weight measuring process in exporting agricultural products such as rice, beans and maize for which various measurement systems have been widely applied, according to Dr. Pwint San, Deputy Minister for Commerce.

Interestingly, I tried to confirm this from another news source but was unable to do so. I was only able to find the exact same story posted on a couple of other sites. Granted, one of them was on page 90 of a pdf titled: Myanmar Investment & Industry Information for Oct-5-11, 2013 and that cited Myanmar Time[s], October 6, 2013. Couldn’t locate the original story even after I switched to the English version of the Times. I also tried to confirm the information on the Myanmar government’s site, and while there I did discover it had a trade conference that week (which would make sense in terms of timing) but only the headlines were viewable in English so I couldn’t find anything more official.

Additional research led me to the following story from last year (July 26, 2012) that cited something from previous year that with the headline and subhead:

Myanmar is converting to the metric system
It’s certainly going to cause a lot of controversy and resistance within the country, but let’s see. 

The article’s lead went on to say:

THE basket, viss, tin and tical would largely disappear from Myanmar if the Ministry of Commerce gets its way.

At a meeting on the development of wholesale centres held in Magwe last month, participants agreed in principle to the government’s proposal to adopt the kilogram as the basic unit for commodities trade in all townships.

If implemented, the kilogram would replace traditional, non-metric measurements that are used widely in domestic trade. The government is pushing the change to make foreign trade, which is conducted exclusively in metric measurements, simpler and bring the country into line with its trade partners.

That would seem to confirm that the intention of the government so maybe it was able to make progress

My contact with the National Institute for Standards and Technology wasn’t able to shed any additional light on this subject but sent me some new references.

So, will Myanmar leave us in the dust regarding metric system adoption? It remains to be seen since I haven’t been able to locate information outside of what’s cited above (such as a proposed adoption date) so I’m willing to sit back for a while and see what else transpires on this front.

Still, if it does comes to pass, it will be the latest country the U.S. Metric Association will recognize as moving toward metric adoption since Jamaica in 1998. That’s not a typo, the fourth to the last country to switch to the metric system did so during the LAST century in 1998.

We are a member in the international organization that supports metric system measures around the globe

We are a member in the international organization that supports metric system measures around the globe

And just to be clear, every country in the world has “officially” adopted the metric system, including the United States. In fact, the United States signed the Convention of the Meter in Paris back in May 1875 and to this day is a member of the International Bureau of Weights and Measures.  (World Metrology Day is on May 20 each year to commemorate the signing.)

Do we really want to come in second to last in this important race? Or even last, as is looking more likely?

It’s time to gain some momentum on this front and I plan to write about that more next weekend, stay tuned.

Thanks for your interest,

Linda

America Needs Movement Toward the Metric System and You Can Help

October 6, 2013 begins Nation Metric Week as recognized by the Nation Council of Teachers of Mathematics. (Yes, an organization of math teachers thinks we should be metric. And they have good reason to do so.)

Just note the convoluted relationships between our current system versus metric units (abbreviated SI from French: Le Système international d’unités to the rest of the world) per factfeed.me.

We use convoluted measures that were not designed to interrelate to each other, unlike the metric system..

We use convoluted measures that were not designed to interrelate to each other, unlike the metric system.

How can people continue to think our U.S. customary units are a good idea? Of course, we don’t actually use imperial units in this country as the graphic might imply. Sure, we brought them over with us but  then futzed with them so in total  they no longer perfectly align with any other country in the world.

reddit’s helps spur interest in our lack of metric adoption

Peter, a friend of the project, recently became moderator of the metric board on reddit.

For those of you not familiar with reddit, it defines itself (in its FAQs) as:

reddit is a source for what’s new and popular on the web.

Users like you provide all of the content and decide, through voting, what’s good and what’s junk.

Links that receive community approval bubble up towards #1, so the front page is constantly in motion and (hopefully) filled with fresh, interesting links.

The readers of reddit are a wonderful source of interest in my blog and project (though people actively searching in Google for answers about the U.S.’s lack of metric adoption outstrip everything else).

Not too long ago, he posted a piece about our need to talk metrication outside of the site and made some very concrete suggestions. The intro goes as follows:

If America is to complete its transition to the metric system we need to convince people that it is to their advantage (or to their children’s).

To do this we will need to do more than give upvotes to posts we like on Reddit. We need to reach out to the general public and show them that the metric system makes sense, and that America should adopt it for domestic use in the same way that it has been adopted by science, the medical industry, a lot of manufacturing industry, the armed forces, international athletics and almost every other country around the world.

I was pleasantly surprised two weeks ago when Redditors read a post I had made about a writer criticising the metric system, followed the link and posted comments on his blog. This is the sort of thing we need to do to improve the mostly negative image it as among the general community.

What follows is a proposed list of actions people can follow to help move metrication in the U.S. forward (I’ll admit upfront that my project is mentioned in his list).

Additional comments (110 as of this writing) yield even more ideas and perspectives. Take a look.

Let’s expand reddit’s reach when it comes to metrication

Currently, about six percent of online adults are reddit users according to a recent Pew Research Center study, and most of them are young males.

Current reddit users

Current reddit users per the Pew Research Center

Of course, it doesn’t have to stay that way and you can join in the conversation regardless of your age, sex or other demographic background. Let’s get the discussion of our lack of metric adoption back on the table after a pitiful 30-year absence.

As the saying goes, “many hands make light work” and it will take a grassroots effort for politicians and media to get interested in this topic. It also needs to be a national effort but that doesn’t mean we can’t start with our own local representatives.

Awareness of the issue is the first step

Let’s not continue to handicap our children and future generations by a system that really isn’t a “system” at all but a collection of antiquated measures that trip up our children and anyone from another country who happen to set foot on our soil.

Enjoy National Metric Week with someone you can measure!

Linda

National Metric Week is Coming: Can You Help?

The logo for this year's National Metric Week

The logo for this year’s National Metric Week

Believe it or not, we actually have a National Metric Week in this country. It’s always the week in which October 10th falls (As in 10/10). This year it’s the week of October 6-12. The annual recognition of the importance of the metric system in the United States is promoted by the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics.

From the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics

Part of its formal position on the subject of metric system adoption reads in part:

The National Council of Teachers of Mathematics supports efforts by the U.S. government to make a transition to the metric system (SI) as the nation’s primary measurement system and to reestablish the U.S. Metric Board to support and encourage the use of the metric system. However, the Council recognizes the leadership responsibility of schools to ensure that all students have experiences that enable them to measure in both the metric and the customary systems as well as to solve problems related to measurement in either system.

The second part of that statement wouldn’t be necessary if we had converted to the metric system during one of our several attempts in the past 200+ years. (And yes, there was more than the one in 1975.)

If the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics think it’s important for our children to covert to the metric system (how I read the above statement) then it must be pretty important because these are the folks who teach our children math!

As if that wasn’t enough, I located the following in of the 2013 version of the National Education Association Handbook under its “Resolutions” section:

B-57. Metric System
The National Education Association believes in the adoption of the International System of Units (SI metric system). The Association advocates that the SI system be taught at all educational levels. Page 238.

And here’s what the National Science Teachers Association has to say to say on the subject (in part):

The efficiency and effectiveness of the metric system has long been evident to scientists, engineers, and educators. Because the metric system is used in all industrial nations except the United States, it is the position of the National Science Teachers Association that the International System of Units (SI) and its language be incorporated as an integral part of the education of children at all levels of their schooling.

Metric system conversion is a Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) issue

As I’ve pondered our metric system history issues for more than a year, I’ve come to the conclusion that conversion to the metric system is fundamentally an education/STEM issue. For those of you not familiar with the STEM acronym STEM, it stands for Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics.

It’s a concept I’m very familiar with since I’ve been writing about regional STEM issues for the national laboratory where I work for many years.

Students well-grounded in STEM fields are critical to our country’s future

As if the above wasn’t enough, here’s what the U.S. Department of Education has to say about STEM education in our country:

The United States has become a global leader, in large part, through the genius and hard work of its scientists, engineers and innovators. Yet today, that position is threatened as comparatively few American students pursue expertise in the fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM)—and by an inadequate pipeline of teachers skilled in those subjects. President Obama has set a priority of increasing the number of students and teachers who are proficient in these vital fields.

Further down on the same page it states:

Only 16 percent of American high school seniors are proficient in mathematics and interested in a STEM career.

Even among those who do go on to pursue a college major in the STEM fields, only about half choose to work in a related career. The United States is falling behind internationally, ranking 25th in mathematics and 17th in science among industrialized nations. In our competitive global economy, this situation is unacceptable.

STEM job projections from the Department of Education

STEM job projections from the Department of Education

This is a pitiful situation as far as I’m concerned.

Plus, STEM Careers Pay Well

The U.S. Census reports the “Per capita money income in the past 12 months (2011 dollars” is $27,915 in our nation.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Occupational Outlook Handbook, here are the pay ranges for some STEM careers and many of them only include those for people with bachelors or masters degrees.

Life, Physical, and Social Science Occupations                      $32,760 to $107,420
Architecture and Engineering Occupations                              $37,900 to $114,080
Computer and Information Technology Occupations               $46,260 to $100,660
Math Occupations                                                                     $70,960 to $99,380
Physicians and Surgeons                                                         $189,402 to $407,292

The bottom line: Resources spent learning U.S. customary units in our schools is a waste of time and our children need to be well versed in the metric system to get high-paying careers in science and medicine.

I urge you to take advantage of national metric week this year to acquaint yourself with the metric system (if you’re not already familiar with it) and set a good example for those around you. Measure using those “other” marks on your rulers for a change and take a look at the milliliter side of your clear class measuring vessels the next time to pour in your ounces and cups.

It’s really not that difficult and, in fact, no country that has converted to the metric system has wanted to go back to its old way of doing things…something to think about.

For additional Metric Week resources, visit the U.S. Metric Association’s pages and the National Institute of Standards and Technology.

Thanks,
Linda