BBC told to stop undermining the National Measurement System

In its response to a recent BBC consultation the UK Metric Association (UKMA) has called on the BBC to live up to its declared mission and hence to support – and not to undermine – the exclusively metric National Measurement System.

In September 2013 the BBC Trust (i.e. not the BBC management) opened a consultation on “the Corporation’s news and current affairs output that is broadcast or available to the whole of the UK”.  The consultation closed on 13 December.  The invitation to organisations can be read at this link.

UKMA’s 1800 word submission, which can be read at this link, begins with a short summary statement:

“In accordance with its mission to “inform, educate and entertain” the BBC should acknowledge its responsibility to support and not undermine the National Measurement System, which is exclusively metric. It should adopt a policy of making metric (SI) units the primary, default system in all television, radio and online output, and this policy should be monitored and enforced.  The relevant sections of the BBC’s style guide should be rewritten accordingly.”

The submission continues with a quotation from the National Measurement Office, illustrating why a single, verifiable system of measurement is an important national objective. This contrasts with the indiscriminate use of both metric and imperial units in the media, which is believed to be a major factor in prolonging the muddle of measurement systems. UKMA has described this muddle elsewhere as “a very British mess”, which results in ” mutual incomprehension, conversion errors, wasted educational time in attempting to learn two systems, additional costs, mistakes and accidents”.

The BBC, despite its key position as the national broadcaster, is no exception to this “mess”, as its news and current affairs output is “inconsistent and undisciplined and does not appear to reflect any considered policy on the matter”. The UKMA paper goes on to argue that, as the national broadcaster, and in accordance with its mission, the BBC has a duty to uphold the National Measurement System.

The submission quotes the response of a former Deputy Director-General that the BBC must reflect society, and since society uses a mixture of two systems, the BBC must follow suit.  The circular and self-perpetuating nature of this argument is exposed.

The Deputy Director-General had also denied that the Corporation has no policy on measurement units.  In response, he claimed that the BBC’s policy is to expect its contributors to use the measurement units most appropriate to their target audience.

A recent incident illustrates the hollowness of this claim.

The BBC’s flagship Radio 4 news and current affairs programme is the morning daily “Today” programme, broadcast from 06:00 to 09:00 Monday to Friday and 07:00 to 09:00 on Saturdays. It has over 7 million listeners and is compulsory listening for all who are interested in politics and current affairs, including most politicians and senior civil servants.  It can be assumed that its audience is relatively well informed and educated and can be expected to understand metric units of measurement (even if they do not necessarily always use them for everyday purposes).

As would be expected, the “Today” programme features weather reports and forecasts, including of course temperatures. Although at one time weather presenters sometimes gave temperatures in both Celsius and Fahrenheit, they are now almost exclusively in Celsius – even at the height of summer.  Clearly, presenters have decided that it is no longer necessary to make special concessions to people who claim to be unable to understand Celsius.

However, a recent item on the programme concerned energy conservation and the optimum temperature for central heating systems. The presenter of this item was none other than the doyen of presenters, John Humphrys, and – guess what – his target temperature for central heating was 70 degrees!  Obviously, he was using the obsolete Fahrenheit scale (although he didn’t say so), regardless of the fact that all other temperatures on the programme had been given in the Celsius scale.

While this incident is unimportant in itself, what it illustrates is that, in choosing their measurement units, presenters do not consider the needs of their audience.  If, for the “Today” target audience, it was appropriate to use Celsius for the weather forecast, how can it be right to use Fahrenheit for room temperature? Clearly, many BBC broadcasters use the units with which they themselves are most comfortable or familiar, regardless of the needs of the audience.  If the BBC management really does have such a policy, then it certainly is not followed or enforced.

UKMA’s submission concludes with several recommendations:

  •  The BBC should adopt the International System of Units (SI), also known as the metric system, as the primary and default system of measurement units to be used in the BBC’s news and current affairs output that is broadcast to the whole of the UK in television, radio or online.
  •   In written material (whether online or on television screen) the correct metric symbols should be used in the correct manner as prescribed by the International Bureau of Weights and Measures (BIPM).
  •   The relevant section of the BBC’s current Style Guide should be withdrawn and completely rewritten paying regard to the above recommendations.
  •   This policy should be published and enforced.

52 thoughts on “BBC told to stop undermining the National Measurement System”

  1. The only central heating device that I have seen in recent years that uses Fahrenheit was a veritable museum piece.


  2. If the BBC needs any further convincing that its current ‘policy’ is wrong, it can look to its counterparts in, say, Canada and Australia, the CBC and the ABC respectively, as examples of how to do it.

    In Australia, it is of course to be expected that the ABC’s programmes would be as near totally metric as it is possible to be, reflecting that country’s successful conversion. But it is also interesting to look at the CBC in Canada, especially given Canada’s current muddle, brought about in part by its proximity to the USA, and exacerbated by the provisions of NAFTA, where the US succeeded in rolling back many of Canada’s metric-only policies, laws and regulations.

    Notwithstanding this muddle in Canada, the CBC (along with virtually all other media) operates a metric-unless-otherwise-required policy. Thus not only are, say, weather reports exclusively metric (including rain in mm and snow in cm), but presenters will always follow this metric-only policy, while CBC programmes (these days a bit thin on the ground due to intense competition from the US media) will in general default to metric units. Quite refreshing.


  3. I had cause to complain recently about an item in BBC Breakfast that was a good example of the mistakes that can occur with dual measures.
    It concerned their report on the announcement of a record temperature in the Antarctic. The presenter quoted Fahrenheit first as a positive figure (i.e. didn’t say minus) followed by Celsius as “minus 95”. This was followed by other inane and inaccurate remarks on the subject which I won’t go into here.
    It has been acknowledged but it will be interesting to see if it is featured on Newswatch.

    I was also irritated by another report at a later date giving the amount of icing used in some giant cake in “stone”. Nobody uses stone to measure cake ingredients so how can that reflect the needs of the audience? Another example of the indiscipline referred to in the article.


  4. I would like to pick up on this one: –
    … the BBC’s policy is to expect its contributors to use the measurement units most appropriate to their target audience. …
    This would be my view IF I accepted the de-facto measurement muddle. In this case it is probably expected that car related programmes (ie Top Gear) use car and road related units, those miles, bhp and mpg. Now, move on to F1 motor racing, the pinnacle (it claims) of car technology. I accept that this year km and km/h have been used a lot, but inches and feet come in frequently. But where is the use of kW for at the very least the electric KERS system? Not in line with what I would consider the target audience (international). Quite simply against BBC policy, if that really exists at all. Next, off the road and into the countryside (ie Country File, nature programmes). Road maps left in the car and out with OS maps. OS has had a metric grid, I believe, from day one, and fully metric since the early 1960’s, so, in line with this why is everything in miles and feet? Not in line with the ‘target audience’ would say. Against claimed BBC policy. Basically, all programmes I want to watch are unwatchable because they do not meet the expectations of this particular target. The off button has literally worn out; I have to get up to turn off!

    I must give credit though to the autumn and winter watch programmes, about as all metric as one could expect in UK. I think Chris Packham has stepped back from using BBC daft measurements, with which he was visibly uncomfortable. It was a couple of these embarrassing ‘context’ attempts by CP that convinced me there is definite pressure on presenters to supplement metric with BBC ‘daft’ measurements invented on the spot. I would love to know how many of those double decker buses I could drown in an Olympic sized swimming pool. Now that would be a double service to the nation.


  5. Yes BrianAC that reminds me. Those darned double decker buses.

    Sad to reflect that if the BBC think their audiences need such things they must think that British audiences suffer from measurement illiteracy. Now I wonder why that is?


  6. BrianAC and philh:

    You forget “Nelson’s columns” and “the size of Wales”. I can never remember the conversion factor between the two!

    Why can’t these two dimensions “up” and “around” simply be described in metres and square (kilo)metres?

    Since most of the BBC’s viewers presumably don’t live in London or Wales, I wonder how they would be familiar with these BBC ‘daft’ units anyway.


  7. Just as a light hearted sideline, and to demonstrate the stupidity of ‘daft’ comparisons (as if any of us needed that), I googled my question of double decker buses in an Olympic pool. I came up with a Guardian web page of all things , this article informs me that a DDB is about one third the length of an OSP. Now given that even I know the pool is 50 m long and a RML (a standard DDB) is 30 ft (less than 10 m) then I would guess that 5 would fit in the length of an OSP, not just 3. Buses are just under 2.5 m wide and the pool 25 m wide then 10 would go side by side, that did surprise me. So the answer is 50. A whole London bus lane full.
    Now we are talking BBC TV, I very seldom even attempt to watch any other channel as I have always found them to be much worse, with very little metric being used. I don’t know if that is still true these days.
    With the reference to stones (weight), BBC south east seems to use this a lot, I do not understand why as this has NEVER been a unit in general use in UK, those using it now are far too young to even know, maybe they think it is some new unit they have to use. The stone as I remember is used historically for human body weight and wet fish landed in Hull or some such. What the connection is between those two I do not know. It has never been used by vets to weigh lesser dumb animals. Why the media think a lump of rock, of which there are a number of varying weights, should be preserved as part of UK heritage defeats me.


  8. I’d like to know why the BBC weather reports never display wind speeds in km/h, as well as mph.


  9. “Stones” are a particular bête noire with me. I am just old enough to have been taught some ancient measures in my English primary school, but “stones” were not included. My current weighing scales offer kg only, and of course BMI can be calculated directly from kg without the need for multiplying by an obscure number.

    HP, BHP, and PS I just find absolutely baffling, so when the BBC use them they are simply failing to inform. How does one compare BHP with PS? I have no idea and don’t care to know. If they used watts I could compare all vehicles (including bicycles and locomotives) very easily, and indeed relate that to the power of other things that aren’t vehicles, such as heating systems.

    Which brings me on to Fahrenheit. I haven’t seen a thermostat calibrated in Fahrenheit for thirty years. The heating system in my current house was installed in 1970, but the thermostat that was in the house when I moved here is calibrated in Celsius (and Honeywell didn’t feel the need to make that clear on dial 🙂 ).


  10. @BrianAC

    Wikipedia has an article on the background to the stone as a unit of measure – please visit It appear to date from antiquity – in the eighteenth century, most North European countries had their own stones that varied from under 4 kg to over 15 kg – or from 8 local pounds to 40 local pounds. In many instances there were two or more different stones, depending on commodity and on locality. Until 1937, Smithfield for example, used stones of 14 lbs for live animals, but stones of 8 lbs for dressed carcasses.

    In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, reference books giving conversions between the weights and measures across various European cities and states abounded. These books have now been replaced by a single pamphlet showing the conversion between imperial units and metric units.


  11. I suspect that John Howard’s lament about wind speeds always being given in mph only on BBC weather reports stems from the Imperial-only road signs still present in the UK.

    Yet another detrimental effect of those outdated road signs that continue to create a significant drag on full metrication in the UK.


  12. @Robert
    It is a pity more metric only educated adults do not make more fuss over this issue. I complain to my MP, the BBC, on-line goods advertisers and the local paper. Unfortunately I am of an age where I cannot really pretend that I do not understand Imperial measurements, although factually I have never understood the stupid things, and neither to my perception have many other people. They may be ‘familiar’ with, but certainly do not ‘understand’. As people tend to read what they want to see some think I am just a grumpy old git and actually complaining about the metric!
    Some of the units with which ‘everyone’ is supposed to be familiar but ‘no-one’ understands are The acre, Btu, psi, stone, bhp, mile, 1/3 mile, mph, fl oz and probably everything else. It is just a comparison exercise of meaningless numbers. Try asking a car driver how many cwt bags of cement in the boot of the car equals one 15 stone passenger on the back seat, or a van driver the weight of a 45 gallon drum of fuel. The chances are, if they even understand the question, they will at some point revert to metric.


  13. Just watched a video on YouTube for American teachers on how to teach fractions. At one point the maths professor consultant lamented the fact that everywhere else they use metric so the children understand decimals just fine whereas we are still “stuck” (my word) with the US customary “system”.

    I presume some of that also persists in the UK because of the muddle?


  14. @BrianAC

    And to the point of the BBC World Service, it should be noted Americans and British will understand these questions in different ways. For an American:
    *What’s a stone? (yes, I know it’s 14 lb)
    *Is that a British (112 lb) or American (100 lb) hundredweight?
    *Do you mean a 55 gallon drum of fuel?

    You have uniquely chosen questions where the units differ between US and UK, but the BBC World Service would have to rewrite or baffle us completely. We (Americans) would be more likely to get the metric version correct.
    BBC: Please the world in World Service and use metric.


  15. This topic is proving popular; I would like to hear an informative comment from someone in the offending occupation.

    @ John Steele mentioned on 2013-12-16 at 20:24 the 55 gallon drum of fuel. That was a fortuitous accident, 35 Imperial or 55 US gallons it is 208 litres (liters). One day it may be 200.
    One of the ‘arguments’ for continued use of Imperial was often (second to EU bashing) that it was for the ‘international audience’. Even the media have come to realise that this is no longer valid point in the world service (BBC, VOA). So what is? America uses different units, the rest of the world uses metric, any Brit overseas ought to be able to understand metric, the measurement units most appropriate to their target audience.
    I still stand by a previous comment of mine that America will convert properly before UK, if, sadly UK ever completes at all. Decimals come naturally in everyday life; it just needs someone to light the touch paper.
    Following science programmes, as I do, many of these involve live on air interaction between nations. I note that the Americans use metric readily (as do all the others). It is the Brits that still persist with feet, yard and miles, even stone, with the American translating that into metric. I assume these people still consider us UK plebs as too stupid as to be exposed to metric even in an international science programme.


  16. Tweet of the Day (BBC Radio 4)
    17 December 2013 presented by David Attenborough.

    Perhaps it was just an unfortunate slip when David Attenborough made the mistake of saying ‘Centigrade’ instead of ‘Celsius’. However this isn’t a live programme it is recorded and surely his error should have been noticed and corrected before it was broadcast. Here is the link to hear it:
    Complaints should be sent to the BBC.


  17. The good news from our side of The Pond (USA) is that I have noticed some “creeping metric” in the science programs produced here.

    We need the same thing over here that the UK needs, i.e. a government commitment to convert (a la Australia).


  18. When commenting on F1 motor racing on BBC television, BrianAC did not mention those shots where the telemetry of the racing vehicles is shown on the screen. These clearly show (one would assume to a high degree of accuracy) the vehicle speed in kilometres per hour. While this is on display, some of the commentators (but not all of them) chose to convert the figure to a rough approximation in miles per hour.

    If each commentator is free to make up their own minds, I would be interested to know what they say to each other on this subject.


  19. @John Harvey

    Truthfully, in this particular case I don’t really fault the BBC commentators since everywhere one drives in the UK speed is denoted in miles per hour. Thus we see the evil legacy of those outdated road signs that really need replacing with km/h signs as soon as possible.

    Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to all! 🙂


  20. It is a circular logic: as long as miles per hour are shown on road signs, the thinking in many quarters is that the speed of everything that ‘moves’ has to be shown in mph: the speed of racing cars on otherwise completely metric racing circuits, the speed of the wind in weather forecasts, the speed of cricket balls in test matches, etc. etc. In actual, legal fact, the only provision in law for mph is for speed indication and speed measurement on public roads. Obviously that does not mean that it is ‘illegal’ or that the police will come after you if you refer to other speeds in the same way, but this outlandish exemption in the law, to continue using miles per hour on the roads, to the UK’s otherwise metric measurement system means that other areas of measurement do not naturally progress to being expressed in metres per unit of time (be that the second or the hour) or kilometres per unit of time, as in km/h, for the roads, as in virutally the rest of the world.

    This is the underlying cause of the ‘two systems muddle’ in the UK. As I have written before, it it as though we had introduced decimal currency back in the 1970s while continuing to leave ‘pounds, shillings and pence’ running alongside the new decimal currency, with the option of paying in either. Thankfully the fathers of our transition to decimal currency were far-sighted enough not only to phase out the obvious non-starters from the old currency but also to remove ‘the hangers-on’ (such as sixpenny pieces) which continued in circulation after decimalisation as a ‘sop’ to the so-called ‘traditionalists’, those who would have stopped us moving forward at all.

    The cost of updating Britain’s road signs to metric would be a drop in the ocean compared to the long-term benefits it would bring in terms of linking up different parts of the education system, the economy and society in general and creating the conditions for Britons to work in so many areas from which they currently seem to be excluded because of poor skills in maths due to the need to learn two systems.

    I consider myself to be a patriotic Briton and I want the best for my country. The best in measurement systems is metric.


  21. @Jake:

    Your last two paragraphs say it all. If only we could get the politicians and other decision makers (e.g. the DfT) to see the folly of their present persistence in using outdated imperial units in an otherwise metric country, and the economic damage that must be causing.


  22. “Highway to Hell” is a TV show I would not normally watch. However, my wife turned it on last night and I was quite surprised at how interesting it was. It shows the life of tow truckers working in the Cascade mountains in British Columbia during winter, who have to right overturned tractor-trailer trucks on narrow bridges over deep chasms and retrieve big rigs that have crashed through guard rails and down the side of a steep embankment while perched precariously over an active Canadian National railway line.

    What struck me is how naturally and easily these blue collar workers with likely no university education used “kilometers” for road distances and Celsius for temperatures. This is of course due to the universal and long-standing presence of metric-only road signs and the exclusive use of Celsius for temperature on thermostats, instruction manuals, and especially in the media (both print and on the CBC) for weather reports.

    Of course, they also used “feet” for short distances (like the depth of a hole) because the heavy presence of the USA and the omnipresence of “near Imperial” (US Customary) in all American TV shows, films, newspapers, web sites, etc. etc. that Canadians are exposed to every day.

    Still, it serves as a sharp reminder of how different the UK will certainly look and sound once a government comes to power that converts road signs to metric and uses some combination of regulations and persuasion to get the British media to use metric exclusively. There is little doubt that within a few years living in Britain would be little different from living in such places as Australia and South Africa when it comes to metric in everyday life.


  23. The last two nights I have watched “Stargazing live” on BBC 2. I am not sure if it was a great disappointment or a great expectation, given the presenters, two science presenters I usually avoid watching. The material content was excellent with loads of technical information and facts.
    This of course tempered by the stupid mix of measurements. Kilometres mixed with miles, feet and metres. The aircraft filming the aurora just had to have height in feet, like the Norwegian (or whatever) pilot would not know that in metres, but the rocket doing the same thing was in km. Just how am I supposed to understand that in a running live commentary? I would have thought by now that astrophysics, space technology and inter-galactic travel would use a standard form of international measurement. I am totally wrong of course. They even worked in a “stone” last night for body weight, great stuff if you understand it Dara. Is this UK education at its highest level? Part three is on tonight; I will not be watching this one live, but in the background where it can take second place to “playing on the computer”.
    Thanks BBC high tech department, what a pathetic job.


  24. Another inconsistency in the report on the soldier who smuggled cocaine into the country.

    On Radio 4 news at 5pm it was given as 5kg or 11lb. On Radio 2’s new it was given as “about 11lb” with no mention of kg.

    Yet another example of the confusion at the BBC. New year same old muddle!


  25. @ Colin – I have complained to the BBC formally about their constant dumbing down to imperial on Radio 2 and the BBC News before. A few years ago, a teacher in Nottingham had a bit of a meltdown and assaulted a pupil with a 3 kg dumbell from a scale. It was clearly marked as 3 kg in photographs and was referred to as such on the BBC local news. But on R2 and also on the National news, they referred to it as 6 lbs! It’s not even accurate. And don’t even get me started on their constant imperial conversion of the length of the mine shaft in Chile that those miners were trapped down a few years ago.

    This morning, on BBC Breakfast, the BBC did it again. A charity fund raiser has walked 10 million metres. It was clearly marked on his T shirt, and indeed throughout the piece, the distance of 10 million metres was constantly referred to. But the BBC could not resist at least once to converting 10 million metres into ‘approximately 6,000 miles’! AAAGGGGGGhhhhhhhh.

    So far this year, a lot of the weather reporting has involved rain, and on TV they do seem to be using mm as the primary measure. Unfortunately, the Department of the Environment spokesmen they have had on have only ever used feet to camera, although I cannot believe that is what their own data is compiled in. And I very rarely hear Fahrenheit, although my local BBC Station, BBC Oxford does always quote this as a secondary temperature. But where is the consistency?

    I for one have submitted concerns as part of the same same consultation that the UKMA did, and frequently complain to the BBC (not just a comment because then they never reply) when I hear or see an Imperial only reference.


  26. A much better conversion exists for 10 million metres – not 6000 miles, not one million London busses but “about the distance from the North Pole to the Equator”, which, after all is what 10 million metres was originally meant to be! (It is actually 10,001,965 metres).


  27. An interesting point on the previous posting which underlines that metric distances ultimately derive from geometry of our planet. As a yacht navigator I use nautical miles (NM) of course. This unit is not metric but is also derived from the geometry of Earth. One nautical mile equals one minute of one degree of arc measured at the equator. This therefore means that degrees of arc and NM are different ways of expressing the same measurement and the whole of celestial navigation rests on this fact. Its how by using a sextant, measuring the angle made between a celestial body, you, and your visible horizon, can be used with some simple maths to work out your position on earth and the distance you have travelled. The NM is also used to express speed because one Knot equals one NM per hour.
    These are the units of measurement used by airline pilots and marine navigators in every country in the world. I think its interesting that professional navigators throughout the world don’t use metric measurements for traditional navigation, and every GPS device I’ve ever seen gives the option to use NM and Knots.


  28. Buckingham Palace also undermines the National Measurement System, so it seems:

    “Announcement of the birth of Mr and Mrs Mike Tindall’s first child, 17 January 2014
    Mrs Mike Tindall today safely delivered a baby girl at Gloucestershire Royal Hospital. Mr Mike Tindall was present at the birth. The weight of the baby was 7lbs 12oz.”

    Zara Tindall is Her Majesty’s granddaughter. The Royal Gloucestershire Hospital where the child was born does not weigh newborns in ‘pounds and ounces’, so why are we being told the weight in these outdated units of measurement?


  29. I think people on here care too much.

    I do not believe for a minute that when distances are quoted in feet that the commenters here do not have an idea of how far/high/wide the distance is. After all, who measures their height in cm? Yes, I was taught metric units at school, but living in the UK I quickly picked up and became familiar with other units in very common usage – yards, miles, pounds etc.
    I am guilty of the same problem as many people here in that it probably annoys me more than it should when someone quotes something in a unit I am less familiar with (such as a plane’s altitude in metres, rather than feet), but it is not a difficult task to simply convert, or ignore the information (after all, is it really that important?).
    I realize that I am on a website that appears to be the place where metric-lovers come together to appeal for change. But it’s not worth losing sleep over. I was born in ’94 and have a good understanding of gallons, litres, fluid ounces, grams, pounds, tons and tonnes etc.

    To end, metric is very useful for scientific purposes – where calculations can be performed easily – but for every day usage, there’s nothing wrong with giving a distance in miles or a pressure in psi.


  30. @Calum – I understand what you are saying but you are missing the point. No country in the world apart from the UK teaches the metric system in schools to its children as the country’s national, government-sanctioned system of measurement but outlaws the use of those very same units in certain areas of national life, e.g. on road signs, where metric units are still not allowed. I believe the authorities (central government, county councils, local councils) should all use the same system of measurement and the media should use those units of measurement too. This is what happens virtually everywhere else so it is not an outlandish demand. It would give a much-need boost to numeracy skills in the UK and that would be good for the economy. Other countries in what used to be the British Empire abandoned the imperial system foisted on them by us Britons and saw the superiority and universal nature of the metric system. They converted, but they finished the job in all areas of life. Everyone speaks the same language of measurement. That is something to aim for, as you imply yourself when you say that you do actually get annoyed when people use imperial measures. In some ways people can’t help doing it because they have not been encouraged to upgrade their skills in that area and because we haven’t fully metricated in the UK yet.


  31. Dear Calum

    Thank you for your contribution. What you said actually proves a point that the UK Metric Association is trying to make, namely that metric education alone does nothing to help progress in the UK to a single rational system of measurement. You have adapted to the measurement muddle and see nothing wrong with it. You are also left with the misconception that the metric system is only important for scientific purposes.

    You may think conversions are easy but I can assure you that is not the case for many (probably most) people in the UK. Every society needs a single system of measurement that everyone can understand and use. The fact that this is not in popular demand is probably because, like your good self, people have grown up with the muddle without realizing that it is unnecessary and potentially harmful because they haven’t experienced living in a society without it.

    I hope you will consider this and re-appraise your view of the situation in the UK. It may be something that people don’t consider very often but that doesn’t mean it is unimportant.


  32. @Calum Black
    “I think people on here care too much. ”

    You are probably right. Why should I care about living in the only country in the world in which I can no longer converse with friends and family, even my wife, because we don’t understand each other? The only country in the world that uses two measuring systems side by side, such that neither is understood properly by anyone.

    This typical apathy I hear so often “they are just numbers, they don’t really mean anything”. That sounds as stupid to me as someone saying “they are only words, it don’t matter much” (ref to chav speak in particular). If half the country does not understand it then it should not be used. If they don’t mean anything then why use them at all?
    Whatever trade you are in, try doing all your calculations (most trades use calculations every day, even if people do not realise it) purely in imperial, see how difficult it really gets. In fact all trade is in metric, curtains and carpets are measured and calculated every day, so is just about everything else.

    Again, you say “… metric is very useful for scientific purposes – where calculations can be performed easily – but for every day usage, there’s nothing wrong with giving a distance in miles or a pressure in psi. ..”.

    Well, I say what is the point of using two different systems? Are calculations not carried out daily by many ‘ordinary plebs?’
    I just do not buy this idea the figures are for science and the rest of us do not need them.
    95% of the world use metric only. Your statements make no sense to me.
    Dual measurements have been estimated as costing this country up to 2.3 million pounds a DAY in duplication, work, errors, paper, printing ink and everything else that goes with not knowing what the other half is saying.
    You say you quickly picked up Imperial; I have spent most of my life trying to programme it out of mine, it is not easy.


  33. Dear Calum,
    You are among the minority who claim to be conversant in both metric and imperial units. As you rightly say, the real problem lies when converting from one unit to another.
    Our school children are not taught how to convert between yards and miles, only between metres and kilometres. When they are fantasising about winning the Grand Prix, they think in miles per hour (which is what they see on a day-to-day basis on British roads). Kilometres are though to be French/science, therefore, by definition, boring. The result – they are not competent at either.
    On the other hand, their counterparts in France and Germany see kilometres both on the roads and in the schoolbook. Each reinforces the other.
    Finally, I spent many years in the IT industry. One of the things that I learnt was that “bugs congregate on the borders and multiply in the corners”. This applies to measurements as well as to IT.


  34. There is a nice irony here.

    If you are so concerned about SI unit use for everyday chat – then get rid of Celsius and use Kelvin.

    Not so keen on that are you?


  35. There are certainly disciplines (and calculations) in which the absolute kelvin scale is preferred.

    However, the SI Brochure specifically recognizes, defines, and accepts the Celsius scale in section Relevant to your point in another thread, can you define the section in which the SI Brochure “accepts” (or does anything but reject) stones, pounds, ounces, feet, inches, or any other Customary or Imperial unit?

    Hint: Section 4.2 rejects them all.
    (I believe the numbering will match but I’m using NIST SP330, the American version)


  36. @Grant Newsham

    I tend to agree with you, I have no problem with Kelvin, it is used in most calculations which go through freezing. I used it frequently throughout my working life.
    However, Celsius is the accepted norm for every country in the world bar one as far as I know. It is a supplementary SI unit, thus universally accepted.
    I would be more than happy, delighted in fact, if the media (BBC) used Kelvin at least for industrial processes and other high and low temperatures outside the ‘human household range’ of cooking and deep freezing.
    My personal opinion.


  37. @Robert
    This may actually be progress, using feet for height, and metres (twice) for distance in the same sentence is a reversal of the “norm” of using feet (a sub-division of the dreaded mile) for all horizontal distances.
    One can be fairly certain though, that buoys do not measure in feet, especially in Portugal.
    I do wish these people would grow up sometime.

    The floods of late have been almost exclusivively in feet and inches. Even our local TV weather lady slipped up with saying “inches of rain” this week, just the once though. I forgive the former “miss Fahrenheit” for a slip back into the 19th century now she seems to have permenantly dropped her “F” words.


  38. In a BBC report on the Smith report I note the following phrase: –

    “The Scottish government and Scottish Parliament should have a “formal consultative role” in the process of reviewing the BBC Charter”.

    I wonder if that would lead to any improvement of their ‘measurement muddle’.


  39. @BrianAC:
    as much as I hate ever being a “glass half-empty” person, considering the Scottish Government’s white paper on independence advocated – somewhat ironically – the very British mess, I have reservations over whether they’d push the BBC to be more metric.

    As far as the BBC goes, for now I would be reasonably content if they made metric primary and had imperial conversions in certain circumstances (height, long distance, human weight – i.e. 5km (3 miles), 1.85m (6ft 1in), 75kg (11st 11lb)) in imperial, before eventually ridding them all together. They could do this across the board, including with weather reports with mph to km/h where they can just mimic the ºF to ºC conversion of the 60’s.


  40. The BBC are only using metric references to aid their ability to sell their programs to a world audience rather than to deliver programs to their paying customer. km, kph, kpl have no point in the UK when we still use miles, mph and mpg. We’re more than capable of using metric/imperial measurements when required but we shouldn’t lose sight of our heritage and the fact that we use a different system daily – perhaps we should treat imperial measurement like we do foods and register imperial measurements as specific to the UK?


  41. @Neil
    Oh really, ‘our heritage’ thing again. The mile, imposed on England by a vicious and bloody invader that we are supposed to love and celebrate? The pound was nothing more than a double handful of grain used in the market, why is that something to cherish? The inch is three barleycorns end to end, is that what to like to base your life on? The rod, loved by the haters of metric, the problem is ‘no-one’ has any idea of what it is. Imposed on ‘us’ probably by the great land owners. Yes, don’t we love it.

    You quite clearly do not consider UK to be part of this world audience, what are we then, an alien species? The BBC use metric (grudgingly) because that is what the majority of the country uses. Metric is the unit taught fully in our schools for at least 40 years, I was being taught in metric in 1960, 55 years ago. I use metric, I am trying to no longer be confused by Imperial. Very few understand Imperial, not many ever have, it is not understandable as it has no integrity, it is not a system, it is itself a mix of in-compatible units. For this reason it fits in well with mixing with metric also. I do not see the Roman mile (a mille, a thousand, a thousand of what? A thousand of 1.760 yards? Not very logical) as a heritage worth preserving by usage. Preserve it in the museums and history books by all means.

    The odd one out is the DfT, they alone hold this country back. Once again this idea that ‘we’ use miles and mph and mpg. Miles are on public display on the roads of UK. The same roads that are built and measured in metres then converted to yards and miles for the DfT, not for the country. The same roads that have km markers along them, out of public view, so the emergency services can understand where an incident has occurred. The metre is what we all use daily. I use a sat nav set to metric, I do not need miles on the roads. MPG, based on a unit that has no meaning, no usage (except for the media that perpetuate the problem) and is now undefined. The only defined gallon is the US gallon. How people can still use mpg is a total mystery to me.


  42. I for one at a mere 50 much prefer imperial for day to day use. It is how I was taught and how I think. Yes I can just about understand metric but only as I understand French (ie delayed by conversion)
    I am 12 stone in weight, 5’10” high and buy my beer in pints. I never spend money at a place that displays the distance on the road in metric.


  43. @Graham
    Sorry Graham, but as a septuagenarian that 12 stone means absolutely stuff all to me, it never did and never will. Those other things I can handle. Wilful ignorance if you wish, that is what you lot call it. I fail to see how a 50 year old was not taught in metric in UK, it worked for me over 50 years ago.
    Maybe you never go to the supermarket, where just about everything outside of video displays and pizza’s is metric, fair enough. Maybe you never buy wood, as that is all metric, reasonable. Maybe you have never bought a nut and bolt, or a screw, as you never do DIY. Maybe you live in a submarine somewhere, or in USA.
    Metric is everywhere in UK (except on the roads!) but it seems you never buy fuel either, as you would have noticed the litres.
    Sorry, I just don’t buy that one. If true, life must be a real blind spot for you.


  44. Graham wrote “I for one at a mere 50 much prefer imperial for day to day use. It is how I was taught and how I think”. My understanding is that since about 1970 all British schools used metric units as their prime system of measurement. That was 45 years ago – about the time that you started school.

    Finally, although you might be able to work out the average of 12st 6lb, 13st 2lb, 15st 8lb and 11st 3lb, very few people in the UK who are under 60 have ever been taught how to do so.


  45. @BrianAC

    I can kind of understand the shopping, many people (like myself) would shop by price rather than unit – regardless whether the unit is expressed in metric or imperial, I tend to just look for whichever is cheapest. The only time I personally look at sizes is if I’m cooking for a recipe (my mother’s annoyingly are all in those awkward oldy units).

    But yes, metric is everywhere in the UK – km on roads (at the side / design); m / L / kg in retail; cm / kg at the doctor; kWh on utility bills; ºC and mbar on weather forecasts; and so on and so forth…

    Whereas imperial is mi / yd / ft / in / mi/h on the road; pints in draught beer and milk; and…. erm…. nowhere else.


  46. @Charlie
    “many people (like myself) would shop by price rather than unit”

    We are risking moving OT here, but this is another ‘modern phenomena’ that I just do not understand. The human body needs a given amount of energy per day to stay healthy, around 8,700 J/day in Australia, 10,000 J in UK. I fail to see how this relates to the cost of an item. Leading on from that, if you are hard up you starve to death, if you are wealthy you die of obesity, personal lifestyle choices.
    I for one consume about 125 g of meat per day, irrespective of its cost, meat is bought (divided and frozen in portions) and cooked on that basis. My wife and I consume 200 g to 250 g of sandwich ham per week, it infuriates both of us that it is sold as ‘£2’ pack or ‘£4’ pack, it is totally irrelevant, we need it to live. I will avoid my rant about minuscule unit pricing labels (and Calories), that is for the consumer sites.


  47. @BrianAC
    Have you ever visited the UK? If you have, I’m surprised you reached the view that everything happens here in metric. True, the official line is to use metric units for selling per unit of measure, and so law-abiding manufacturers tend to label their packaged products in metric units. Cereals, pre-packed bread, sugar, flour and other staples generally come in round gram sizes, but we also have 1 lb jars of jam and packs of sausages labelled as 454G [sic], 12 oz jars of jam labelled as 340G [sic], 4 pints of milk labelled as 2.272Ltr [sic]/4Pints, and so on. But in the world outside of pre-packaged food the old units prevail. Visit any provincial fruit and vegetable shop or street market, and everything hand labelled will be primarily priced per lb. Sweets are bought by the quarter (which will inevitably mean sold as 114 g). Other products with sizes, but which are not strictly priced per unit of measure, will be labelled in the old units – paint brushes, rollers, fans, hacksaws, crow bars, luggage, snooker tables, bikes, curtains, beanbag filler, sledge hammers, water tanks, aerial masts, summer houses, broom heads, light fittings and even bilingual rubbish bags!. Measurement life in the UK is still largely dominated by the old units. and there is no getting away from that!


  48. @ Charlie P
    An interesting viewpoint. Now I really know what the UK is like.
    Thank you for putting me on the right track.


  49. Just wondering what the COO (country of origin) is for the various items listed by @Charlie P.

    And are these items made (say) in Asia with the main export market being the USA and some supply is simply siphoned off for the UK market?

    I’m curious to understand (if Charlie’s list is a good indicator) why so much consumer hardware is listed with Imperial units these days.


  50. Brian AC writes:

    Now as much as I like the joke, I hope it does not catch on! Maybe I will attach that JPEG to my next email to BBC SE when I complain.
    Now this bit about metric on the web and Imperial on the (BBC) TV has never gone unnoticed. This leads me to my belief that this is all deliberate. It is not following any ‘rules’ nor ‘guide lines’ nor ‘consistency’. It is down to the personal whims of the reporter or announcer. This is why ‘stones’ seem to be used on BBC SE so often for inanimate objects, yet no where else, ever in my life. It should in fact be hundredweight (cwt) if thy want to ‘correctly’ be Luddite about the issue. RIP the 35 cwt Transit.


  51. When a figure is given to me in miles I can instantly relate it to somewhere local. In kms I struggle. To try and watch the incredible BBC documentaries where all distances are given in kms, is painful and frustrating. Whereas metrication is a far easier system to use, it makes no sense to give us measurements we have to guess at. Metric weights have readily replaced the imperial, but only because the choice is available. Kms is a different thing. It isn’t a national measure and there is nowhere in this country where it has replaced the mile, therefore the majority have little idea how far 35 kms is. The majority would know how far 35 miles is, they were brought up on it. The BBC should perhaps use either system of metric or imperial, except this one. Until the road signs and distances change from miles to kms, the BBC should not, in any circumstances, give us distances in kms and expect us to understand how far that is.


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