Metric howlers – Times hat-trick

When converting metric units into imperial units, journalists (or more likely sub-editors) are apt to make mistakes, especially if they are dealing with subjects with which they are not very familiar. On the 9th December 2006, The Times managed a hat-trick of blunders. [article contributed by MV]

Page 8 – Airlines should pay full cost of their pollution

The penultimate paragraph contained the text “[Boeing and Airbus] Aircraft use an average of four litres of fuel per 100 km”. This sentence should have raised the alarm bells – a consumption of 4 L/100 km is what one would expect of an economical car such as the Smart Car. (The imperial equivalent is 70 mpg!). If the writer used metric units when driving they would have spotted this howler.

Page 43 – Why the Dead Sea is dying

The fifth paragraph contains the phrase “to suck 1,900 million cubic metres (2.1 million cubic yards) of water”. This phrase contains two howlers. Firstly, a factor of 1000 seems to have gone missing. Secondly, the writer appears to have used a factor of 1.1 to convert cubic metres to cubic yards when the correct factor is 1.1 x 1.1 x 1.1 (which is equal to 1.331).

Page 44 – Spend a penny, but it make you think of a tenor

The third paragraph contains the sentence “The block, in Calcutta, is spread over 3,000 square metres (3,300 square yards) and is “. Here, the writer used a factor of 1.1 to convert square metres to square yards. The correct factor is 1.1 x 1.1 (which is equal to 1.21).

4 thoughts on “Metric howlers – Times hat-trick”

  1. Thank you, whoever arranged for the bulk delivery of a cluster of seven emails from late december 2006, which arrived just before midnight last night. All good stuff, but…




    Nicholas KERR

    [UKMA Secretary’s Reply]
    I am restoring lost Metric Views articles written by Robin Paice, former Chair of UKMA, with their original categories and publication dates from backups kept by him. These lost articles were written between 2006 and 2010. I presume that you get an email every time a new article is published on MV.

    A long time ago, UKMA lost some MV articles during the migration to a new system for hosting MV.

    These articles are a matter of historical interest and contain valuable information and interesting perspectives on the UK measurement muddle. Old articles occasionally attract new comments from MV readers. It would be a shame to lose the articles.


  2. It all goes to demonstrate that mixed measurement systems involve conversions and conversions can be sources of error.


  3. Hello, Web Admin here,

    Our new Secretary is mistaken in his belief that, “UKMA lost some MV articles during the migration to a new system for hosting MV”, with the implication that the migration was poorly handled by those responsible for the migration.

    The only time that Metric Views was migrated to a new host was in 2020, when it was migrated to its current home on The previous web administrator, Phil Hall, and I successfully carried out the migration at that time, and no articles were lost during the process.

    The Web Archive proves that the articles in question went missing long before the migration.

    Taking this article, “Metric howlers – Times hat-trick”, written by Martin Vlietsra, as an example:

    The article was originally published on 30 December 2006.

    The web archive shows that it was still available on 2012-02-09 …

    but that by 2016-08-28 it was missing …

    and that it was no longer listed in Metric Views’ Monthly Archives for December 2006 …


  4. As the author of the posting quoted, I had a look at my old work. Looking at it, you will see a number of instances where gobbledygook has entered the text. I believe that there has been a migration, conversion or setting in the past that seems to have got confused by the character set used. My guess is that during the process used, UNICODE characters that had been encoded as multiple bytes using the UTF-8 encoding were interpretted as multiple characters using ISO-8859-1 encoding.


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