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  Measuring Metric's Limits in the Grocery Aisle
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ContributorJason 
Last EditedJason  Apr 05, 2012 02:12am
Logged 1 [Older]
CategoryAnalysis
MediaNewspaper - Wall Street Journal
News DateFriday, March 9, 2012 10:00:00 AM UTC0:0
DescriptionThe fight to persuade Americans to ditch English units for the metric system in their everyday lives is largely lost. And now even some advocates of grams, meters and the like want to make a tactical retreat from the site of one of their few victories: the grocery aisle.

The nutrition labels that have been mandated by the federal government for nearly 20 years list nutrient quantities in grams. A serving of cereal might be one-quarter cup, but that amount contains, say, 2.5 grams of fat and 4 grams of sugar.

Grams remain a foreign quantity to many Americans, who are more used to measuring weight in ounces and food ingredients in teaspoons or tablespoons. The result is that many may not really understand how much fat, protein and—in particular—sugar is in their food.

Much of the nutritional information on food labels is given in metric units, which may make it difficult for Americans to understand the figures.

Americans foiled 1970s-era predictions of a national shift to metric, the collection of units such as kilograms and meters designed to be easily computed and scaled by factors of 10.

That has left advocates of good science and good nutrition with a tough choice: use units on food labels that scientists applaud or ones that consumers easily understand.
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D:6086Jason ( 7718.4429 points)
Thu, April 5, 2012 10:24:05 AM UTC0:00
sfhdf
Should the United States fully convert to the Metric System?
No 15 (53.57%)
Yes 13 (46.42%)
Other/Not sure 0 (0%)
28 Votes Cast
View User Votes
Polls Close April 12, 2012 12:25am

 
D:6086Jason ( 7718.4429 points)
x6 x3
Thu, April 5, 2012 10:34:06 AM UTC0:00
I could buy into Metric units of distance and liquid measurement, but Celsius is ****ing ridiculous for day-to-day purposes. I don't need to know how the ambient temperature outdoors compares to the boiling point of water when weather never gets anywhere near that extreme. And yes, there is some sentimentalism with how 100 degrees is a nice, round number to represent a hot day. Fahrenheit is a larger scale with more values and therefore a propensity to accurately measure subtleties that are otherwise obscured in that Black Magic system they use up north.

From a purely political perspective, no good can come from pushing Celsius, either. If anything, it would lend substance to the Republican argument that Obama is a European-style socialist out to destroy our way of life and redefine what it means to be an American.

 
J:1802Dr. Cynic ( 378.3219 points)
Thu, April 5, 2012 01:45:42 PM UTC0:00
My fiancee is Australian and also an areo-engineer, so she's had to learn our "imperial units". She complains about it quite a bit which is a source of endless entertainment for me.

 
D:1658Homegrown Democrat ( 758.3651 points)
Thu, April 5, 2012 03:50:58 PM UTC0:00
Jason: Should the United States fully convert to the Metric System?

I don't think the poll does it justice.

My answer is:

Yes. Yes yes yes. A thousand times, yes.

 
D:1658Homegrown Democrat ( 758.3651 points)
Thu, April 5, 2012 04:26:19 PM UTC0:00
The reasoning (or lack thereof) some people use to defend the English system of measurement reminds me of people who argue that the King James Bible is the only proper English Bible.

It's stupid. The issue at hand is flawed in so many ways. People only defend it out of sentimentalism/nostalgia and with no regard for what would benefit society.

 
D:478Bob ( 2253.6577 points)
x2 x2
Thu, April 5, 2012 05:01:50 PM UTC0:00
Jason: I could buy into Metric units of distance and liquid measurement, but Celsius is ****ing ridiculous for day-to-day purposes. I don't need to know how the ambient temperature outdoors compares to the boiling point of water when weather never gets anywhere near that extreme. And yes, there is some sentimentalism with how 100 degrees is a nice, round number to represent a hot day. Fahrenheit is a larger scale with more values and therefore a propensity to accurately measure subtleties that are otherwise obscured in that Black Magic system they use up north.

From a purely political perspective, no good can come from pushing Celsius, either. If anything, it would lend substance to the Republican argument that Obama is a European-style socialist out to destroy our way of life and redefine what it means to be an American.

You pretty much summed up my thoughts. A scale where zero is considered very cold and one hundred very hot, with anything outside that range generally accepted as unusual and unbearable in large doses, is far more logical for the sake of everyday use than one where your average winter day is going to be in the negative and the degrees themselves are bloated because each one is worth over double what a Fahrenheit degree is (and therefore less precise without the use of decimals). I'd be more impressed if the Europeans and Canadians started using Kelvin on their weather reports, myself.

 
IND:1196Monsieur ( 5890.8623 points)
Thu, April 5, 2012 05:14:41 PM UTC0:00
I think you guys would find that referring to the temperature in Celsius would not even remotely be the most difficult thing you do in a given day.

 
D:2064TX DEM ( 3224.4231 points)
Thu, April 5, 2012 05:32:23 PM UTC0:00
I find Celsius decent on temperature as I usually consider 30s as shorts weather, 20s as slacks weather, 10s as sweater weather, single digits as coat weather and negatives as ZOMG IT'S SNOWING weather.

 
D:478Bob ( 2253.6577 points)
Thu, April 5, 2012 05:43:23 PM UTC0:00
Monsieur: I think you guys would find that referring to the temperature in Celsius would not even remotely be the most difficult thing you do in a given day.

When I put my contact lenses in every day I do the left eye first. No particular reason, it just feels natural to me, and it's the way I've been putting my contacts in since I started wearing them. All my contact-wearing neighbors tell me it's much better if I put the right one in first, and that putting my right contact in first wouldn't really be that much of a problem and that I'd adjust after a week or two; come on, everybody else does it right first, don't you know that? And then I say f*ck you.

 
R:1490Imperator ( 2248.3596 points)
Thu, April 5, 2012 05:57:24 PM UTC0:00
Bob: ...each one is worth over double what a Fahrenheit degree is...

9/5 of a Fahrenheit degree. But my vote is with Kelvin, or at least Rankine.

 
R:549kal ( -57.2262 points)
Thu, April 5, 2012 06:27:26 PM UTC0:00
I wouldn't be shocked if the AGW crowd suddenly switched to Kelvin :-)

!!!!OMG - It's now 560 degrees outside!!!!

 
D:1RP ( 3311.3784 points)
x2
Thu, April 5, 2012 06:56:57 PM UTC0:00
kal: I wouldn't be shocked if the AGW crowd suddenly switched to Kelvin :-)

!!!!OMG - It's now 560 degrees outside!!!!

Yeah, well, that would be a bit of a problem since 560 degrees Kelvin is 548.6 degrees Farenheit.

 
D:479Brandon ( 1558.3782 points)
x2
Thu, April 5, 2012 07:04:31 PM UTC0:00
It seems to me society is getting along just fine with the system we have and thus there's no pressing reason to upend it. Where the metric system is needed for research, etc., the people doing that stuff already know how to use it, so what's the big deal?

 
R:1153J.R. ( 744.6801 points)
x3 x4
Thu, April 5, 2012 07:07:05 PM UTC0:00
Brandon: It seems to me society is getting along just fine with the system we have and thus there's no pressing reason to upend it.

Welcome to conservatism!

 
D:1RP ( 3311.3784 points)
Thu, April 5, 2012 07:13:39 PM UTC0:00
NASAs metric confusion caused Mars orbiter loss
CNN NASA lost a 125 million Mars orbiter because one engineering team used metric units while another used English units for a key spacecraft operation, according to a review finding released Thursday. - [Link]

 
D:479Brandon ( 1558.3782 points)
Thu, April 5, 2012 07:16:21 PM UTC0:00
If we're going to start altering our dailu lifestyle for every mistake NASA makes....

 
D:1RP ( 3311.3784 points)
Thu, April 5, 2012 07:19:52 PM UTC0:00
Brandon: It seems to me society is getting along just fine with the system we have and thus there's no pressing reason to upend it. Where the metric system is needed for research, etc., the people doing that stuff already know how to use it, so what's the big deal?

People are always complaining that the US is falling behind in science and engineering. Don't you think having to learn a completely new measuring system from the one in daily use might be a disadvantage compared to using one system they are already familiar with for getting people involved in these fields?

 
D:1658Homegrown Democrat ( 758.3651 points)
Thu, April 5, 2012 07:28:04 PM UTC0:00
Brandon: It seems to me society is getting along just fine with the system we have and thus there's no pressing reason to upend it.

The most pressing reason to change it is that it would be pro-business.

The second most pressing move to change it is that it would add to the education of our kids. The English system is just flat-out stupid.

What I consider the most important reason is that the English system is just f**cking creepy.

My height is based on (literally) 5 feet of a dead king, and a partial foot, which would probably be cut below the ankle to accurately measure my height.

Yay. I judge my body based on dead people's bodies, and so do you.

 
D:479Brandon ( 1558.3782 points)
Thu, April 5, 2012 07:28:18 PM UTC0:00
It's a measurement system wherein everything comes in increments of ten. If mastering that is a huge barrier to someone becoming a scientist, I think that in itself is somewhat more concerning. I don't feel strongly one way or another, but it just doesn't seem to me that there's some imperative to overhaul to way everyone buys groceries, measures the speed of their cars, etc.

 
D:6086Jason ( 7718.4429 points)
x2
Thu, April 5, 2012 07:48:47 PM UTC0:00
The line must be drawn somewhere. If were are forced to convert to Metric, what's next, Islam?

(Just trying to see if Karma will change his vote)

 
D:1658Homegrown Democrat ( 758.3651 points)
Thu, April 5, 2012 07:54:17 PM UTC0:00
Jason: The line must be drawn somewhere. If were are forced to convert to Metric, what's next, Islam?

If any religion would be the next logical step, it would be atheism.

 
SAP:262Gaear Grimsrud ( 6920.2134 points)
Thu, April 5, 2012 07:56:09 PM UTC0:00
Interesting poll breakdown. Of the nine yeas as of this posting, the six whose jobs I know of (myself included) all work in the engineering, scientific, or mathematical realms. Of the ones whose jobs I know in the "Nay" column, none work in the above fields.

 
D:1RP ( 3311.3784 points)
Thu, April 5, 2012 10:00:06 PM UTC0:00
People didn't seem to have too much trouble with 2-Liter soda bottles.

 
D:1RP ( 3311.3784 points)
x3
Thu, April 5, 2012 10:14:09 PM UTC0:00
Brandon: It's a measurement system wherein everything comes in increments of ten. If mastering that is a huge barrier to someone becoming a scientist, I think that in itself is somewhat more concerning.

There's a significant difference between understanding something intellectually and understanding something intuitively. You can know that a deciliter is a tenth of a liter, but is that enough wine to serve a guest with dinner? It's this existing intuitive understanding of the imperial system that is a lot of the opposition in the US to changing it.

 
D:7CA Pol Junkie ( 2702.2412 points)
x3
Thu, April 5, 2012 10:31:26 PM UTC0:00
Brandon: It seems to me society is getting along just fine with the system we have and thus there's no pressing reason to upend it. Where the metric system is needed for research, etc., the people doing that stuff already know how to use it, so what's the big deal?

Engineering bridges the gap between science and real-world application. Science uses metric, but the real world in America uses English. The translation not only opens the possibility of doing it wrong (the crashing Mars probe being an obvious example), but even done right it is expensive and spends alot of otherwise productive time doing something silly.