A report in the Times that new MPs are to get some scientific training poses the question: will this help them to understand why we need to scrap non-scientific imperial units and embrace the modern metric system? (Article based on a draft by Martin Vlietstra)
There was a report in the Times (17th November) that classes explaining scientific method and basic concepts will be included in the induction programme for all Conservative MPs after the next election.Â (See http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/uk/science/article5168006.ece).Â Adam Afriyie, the partyâ??s spokesman for science and innovation, is concerned about the lack of scientific understanding and expertise in both the House of Commons and in the Civil Service.Â Only one government minister (John Denham) and one opposition front bench member (Sir Liam Fox) studied natural sciences, maths or medicine at university.Â It is obvious that graduates who studied those subjects are grossly under-represented in government.
Over a hundred years ago, Lord Kelvin (1824 â?? 1907) one of Britainâ??s most noted scientists said:
â??When you can measure what you are speaking about, and express it in numbers, you know something about it; but when you cannot measure it, when you cannot express it in numbers, your knowledge is of a meagre and unsatisfactory kind: it may be the beginning of knowledge, but you have scarcely, in your thoughts, advanced to the stage of science, whatever the matter may be.â??
A major problem facing Britain today is the general lack of numeracy amongst our young people.Â There appears to be very little incentive to measure things and even less to analyse those measurements even if such analysis is â??Which is the cheapest â?? supplier A or supplier B?â??.
One of the benefits of SI – the International System of Units – is that the actual definitions of the units demonstrate very clearly some basic scientific concepts – e.g. that force is mass multiplied by acceleration (Newton’s Second Law).Â Hence, the unit of force, called the newton after the great man, is a kilogram multiplied by a metre per second squared (N = kg x m/s^2).Â This is probably double Dutch to non-scientists who only use imperial units.Â If people generally, and MPs in particular, had a better grasp of basic science, there would be a greater realisation that continued use of obsolete imperial units is actually a barrier to understanding of the world.
One trusts that if there is an increased understanding of scientific processes , then our leaders will, amongst other things,Â realise the clumsiness of the imperial system of measure and promote SI which is not only easier, butÂ universally understood (outside the USA and UK).