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Metric vs. Standard System

Date: 08/19/2001 at 21:41:27
From: Brenn Collins
Subject: Weights and measures

Compare and contrast the advantages and disadvantages of the metric 
system and the standard system using weights and measures.

I have used the Internet and encyclopedias, but so far nothing has 
addressed the specific topic. Your help would be greatly appreciated.

Thank you very much.

Date: 08/20/2001 at 12:13:26
From: Doctor Peterson
Subject: Re: Weights and measures

Hi, Brenn.

There are many sites advocating metrication on the Web, and others 
arguing against it. Here is an answer I gave that touches on some of 
this, including some sites to start you off:

   Metric and Standard Rulers   

Look especially at the last link, for some interesting ideas against 

I'll just give a brief summary of some of the issues, and you can fill 
in the details with your own research.

In favor of the metric system:

    It's truly standard, around the world, unlike what you called the
    "standard system," which is better called the "American customary

    It has a simple set of names; within each category, there is a
    single unit to which the same set of prefixes is applied. That
    gives you fewer units to memorize, not to mention their
    conversion factors.

    It has a simple set of conversion factors that are consistent
    across all categories; you don't have to go by 2's for volume
    (2 cups in a pint), by 3's and 12's for length (12 inches in a
    foot), and remember other weird numbers like 5280. Everything
    is tens.

    The use of tens fits with our decimal number system; multiplying
    and dividing requires merely moving the decimal point.

Against the metric system:

    Initially, it costs money, time, and effort to make the change.
    (But this problem disappears once the changeover is complete.)

    The metric system, being decimal, is not well-suited to working
    with fractions. Officially, you  aren't even supposed to say
    "1/3 meter," but rather "333 milliliters." For everyday uses, such
    as cooking, it is much more natural to use fractions.

    Metric units are not always appropriate amounts for convenient 
    use. The 2-liter bottle seems to have become "natural," but if you 
    want to buy a single drink, it's easier to say "a pint" or even "a 
    12-ounce cup" rather than "400 milliliters." The metric system's
    rigidity prevents designing units for convenience.

    These practical issues lead to the use of "folk units" alongside 
    the official metric units, which can lead to conflict when laws 
    are too rigid.

I myself think the best system would be that of the Babylonians, who 
based everything on 60, which works well with fractions. The only 
trouble is, you'd have to change not only your units but your number 
system to make it work right; we'd have to use base 60 numbers, as 
they did, to make base 60 units easy to work with. Given that we use 
decimal, a decimal unit system, perhaps with allowances for the use of 
fractions, seems best.

Here are a few more starting points for your research:

   METRICATION: Just say, NO! - Thought You Should Know (TYSK)   

   Metric System: a WebQuest for 7-10 grade Science - Deborah L. Folis   

   The United States and the Metric System 
   - Toward a Metric America, NIST   

Don't let the political and emotional issues that are often raised 
distract you from the main issue: what are the real advantages of each 

- Doctor Peterson, The Math Forum   
Associated Topics:
Elementary Measurement
Elementary Terms & Units of Measurement
Middle School Measurement
Middle School Terms/Units of Measurement

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