New research suggests that the principles of the metric system may have been outlined originally in England. The BBC launched this discovery on an unsuspecting British public during the Six o’clock News on 13 July. Here is the transcript of the broadcast (obtained by Robin Paice).
New research suggests that the metric system may have been invented in England – and not France, as had been previously thought. A new study, to be presented tomorrow at the annual meeting of the UK Metric Association, shows that the idea may have been first developed at the Royal Society in 1668 – more than 120 years before the system was adopted in France. Our Science Correspondent, Pallab Ghosh, has the details.
GHOSH: This surprising discovery was made by an Australian researcher as he was leafing through a rare and ancient book by John Wilkins, the first ever secretary of the UK’s leading scientific institution, the Royal Society. In it, Mr Wilkins describes a measuring system defined in unit of ten, for length, volume and money. He didn’t use the term metre, preferring Rhineland inches instead. But according to the man who made the discovery, Pat Naughtin, to all intents and purposes, John Wilkins invented the metric system.
NAUGHTIN: I discovered that he had every single element of the modern metric system, not only the modern metric system but the international system of unit all spelled out in four and a half pages. It was a stunner.
GHOSH: Mr Naughtin believes the idea first went to America before they brought it to France. Of course Britain and America preferred to continue with the imperial system of feet and inches and pounds and ounces. That’s why Mr Naughtin’s discovery has left French writer and journalist, Agnes Quarrier unimpressed.
QUARRIER: I think the French will be asking why he didn’t use it before. If you ask a person in Britain their height, they will tell you five foot seven, but they wouldn’t know what it is in metre and centimetre. I mean it’s like driving on the other side of the road. It’s quintessentially English quirkiness.
GHOSH: The big question then is why after developing a system of measurement, the idea didn’t catch on first in the country in which it was invented.
Pat Naughtin’s web site is http://www.metricationmatters.com