The executive chairman of Google remarked recently that Britain needs to “bring arts and science back together”. But the USA, where he is based, is the most backward country in the world for sharing of measurement units between scientists and others. So what does this say about the measurement muddle in both countries?
In an article in January 2010, Metric Views drew attention to the problems arising from the different measurement units used by scientists and the general public, and referred to the comments by CP Snow half a century earlier about “two cultures”:
Now, the executive chairman of Google, Dr Eric Schmidt, has taken up this theme and lambasted Britain in a lecture he gave in Edinburgh on 25 August 2011. He said our society favours “luvvies” over “boffins” and warned that unless we take action to support science in education and business “the UK will continue to be where inventions are born – but not bred for long-term success”. He also took Lord Sugar to task for suggesting that engineers are no good at business – Schmidt graduated as an electrical engineer. The Independent’s report on the lecture, published on 27 August, may be found here:
But there is a paradox. The USA is a hub of technological innovation. Think of Apple, Google, Microsoft, Yahoo … Yet the USA has the widest differences of any country in the world between the units used by scientists and those used by others, including engineers (forget Burma and Liberia – neither has officially ‘gone metric’ but both are being drawn, inexorably, into the metric world by their neighbours).
An explanation for this paradox? Suggestions from readers are welcome.
Certainly, as a regular visitor to the USA, I am always struck by the ferment of ideas whenever I meet young people. Innovation and enterprise appear to be ingrained there in a way absent in the UK. Perhaps nostalgia for our Imperial past, for the ‘Dunkirk spirit’, battles won on the playing fields of Eton, and so on, is standing in the way of acquiring that new mindset required to succeed in the new world of the twenty-first century.