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The United States and the Metric System

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The issue of whether the United States should change to the metric, a decimal-based system of measurement units, has been widely debated in our community for a long time. No one decided the United States should go metric, so the traditional system of weights and measures is still not used in by the goverment. However, it is an important issue because the metric system has become widespread throughout the United States’ economy. Consumers may be surprised at the number of items in everyday use that have been manufactured in metric units for some time. For example, the metric system for automobiles, computers, wine, and soft drinks has been accepted with little difficulty. In addition, American scientific and medical communities use metric units almost exclusively. I strongly believe that the metric system is imperative to maintain America’s competitive edge in the global economy for some very compelling reasons. First of all, the United States should switch to the metric system because this system is easy to use and learn.

The United States doesn’t have a perfectly good measuring system. We have a clumsy, entangled, confusing measuring system that confuses not only the rest of the world, but it perplexes Americans themselves. For example, if you go to buy carpeting, and you need 100 square feet, the carpet costs $10 per square yard, could you, even given these simple numbers, ever figure out how much you’ll pay? I also have many questions on the same subject. Which is more, 2 quarts, 5 pints or 36 fl oz? How many pints are in a gallon? How many pounds are 200 ounces? Which drill is the larger – the 13/64, the 1/4 or the 5/32? This is a big problem, which is called the English Imperial system. On the other hand, thinking metric isn’t difficult because the most common metric units are the meter to measure length, the second to measure time, the kilogram for mass or weight, the liter for volume, and the degree Celsius (°C) for temperature. For instance, thinking metric for temperature means relating zero degrees Celsius with the freezing point of water, 20 degrees Celsius with room temperature, 37 degrees Celsius with body temperature, and 100 degrees Celsius with the boiling point of water.

One millimeter is about the thickness of a dime, and a centimeter is about the width of a fingernail. Almost everyone easily recognizes one liter and two liter soda bottles. The contents of that unopened one-liter soda bottle weight approximately one kilogram. The metric system avoids confusing dual-use of terms, such as the inch-pound system’s use of ounces to measure both weight and volume. The metric system also avoids the use of multiple units for the same quantity; for instance, the inch-pound system’s multiple units for volume include teaspoons, tablespoons, fluid ounces, cups, pints, quarts, and gallons. In addition to the simplicity of the metric system, the United States should go metric because our economy requires it. The decimal-based measuring system has existed in the United States since the 1700s. However, there was no compelling reason to switch because of our geographical isolation and because our principal trading partner, England, did not use metric units.

But times have changed. Since trade and communication with other nations is critical to the health of our economy, adopting the measurement system used by 95 percent of the world’s population is not a matter of choice, but a matter of necessity for the United States. For instance, other countries can refuse import of goods that are not to metric specification. Because this is every country’s free choice, the United States must impose all kinds of specifications on its imports, too. For example, when I bought clothes or shoes in Russia, they were made with imperial system specifications but had metric labels. The United States no longer overwhelmingly dominates world trade and must recognize the need to fit our goods and services into other strong markets, including the European Union, the new markets of Eastern Europe, and the expanding market of the Pacific Rim. These markets continually stress their preference for products and services based on the metric system of measurement.

Finally, we shouldn’t switch to metric just because all other countries did; we should switch because the metric system is the better system. Science, education and business have already switched and profit more from the better system in the long run. You can ask scientists, engineers, and teachers because most of them don’t consider our system of measurement an instrument of pride, while it’s really only an instrument of measurement. For example, because Russians have always used metric, as maybe a few Americans know, they’ve beaten the United States in about every space milestone: first object in space, first animal in space, first man in space, first woman in space, first spacecraft on the moon, longest stay in space, and so one – except for the first man on the moon certainly. In addition, because I was in the military, I know that Strategic Offensive Arms of the Soviet Union and other space technical equipment outstripped the American’s for some decades. I’m convinced that it was a result of using the metric system.

Actually, NASA is required to use metric wherever possible, but this hasn’t been taken seriously enough. NASA has crashed a space probe due to metric and imperial conversion flaws. For example, in December 11, 1998, Mars Climate Orbiter station crashed because two enterprises used various measures – English and metric. Since then, metric usage has been reassessed, but it might take a few more crashes until they will finally decide to completely switch to metric. My opponents might say that the Imperial system is the more natural system for humans to use because it is based on natural proportions of the human body, such as one yard is equal to length from nose to fingertip. However, humans vary widely in body measurements. For example, my own foot is 12 inches, but my wife’s is about 7 inches. When children learn the Imperial system, they can find that one’s personal body measurements are very different from those of adults, and this makes the comparison to body parts less useful. Imperial units of length were derived from the body proportions of 12th century King Henry I, but it’s questionable that people can actually visualize his thumb or outstretched arm when they make an eyeball estimate of length.

Perhaps there is some mnemonic value in connecting units of measure with body measurements; nevertheless, if you like, you can do this with the metric system, too. For instance, my hand is 10 cm wide, my pinky fingernail is 1 cm wide, and it’s one meter from the floor to my belt. These are nice, even, metric figures, which match up with typical adult body measurements at least as well as those of the Imperial system. I can’t think of any sense in which a hand-width is less natural than the length of a human foot or the width of a thumb. In conclusion, the United States should undoubtedly transfer to metric as soon as possible. All the English Imperial units are actually defined by metric units, and the English system is just a tumor on the metric system. The goals of switching to metric are to establish a simple, easily used system of weights and measures and to simplify scientific researches and international trades. I strongly believe that individuals, groups, and industries should decide to convert and determine conversion timetables according to their own needs.

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