This was the slogan of the National Institute of Standards
effort to promulgate the use of the metric system
in the United States
in the mid-1970s
Although the United States Government had participated in the development of metric weights and measures from the very beginning of international use of the system (the 1875 Treaty of the Meter
), the use of Traditional English weights and measures persisted in the general public
passed the 1975 Metric Conversion Act
to eventually convert all business uses for weights and measures to the metric system.
This effort ostenibly
failed due to the weakness of the Act and the poorly-run publicity effort: The Act did not specify a time for the conversion to be complete. And to make matters worse, the unfortunate choice of "Think Metric" as a slogan implied to some that the Government was engaging in mind control1
possible that if the United States had followed the example of other countries, and blackmail
ed its populace into the idea of social ostracism
for sticking to an old system of weights and measures, the campaign would have been a smashing success. More likely, however, the above reasons were only superficial. Underlying everything
were immense cultural obstacles.
Contrary to the notion put out by some that the metric system is a more natural or rigorous system, the metric system is as arbitrary as the English system. Its only utility comes from the fact that it is more widely used.
But the reason put forth that "all the other countries use the metric system" was regarded as irrelevant, and even counterproductive, because it carried the implication that the rest of the world was trying to force a change in the everyday culture of the US.
In 1982, Congress cut off all funding to the Metric Conversion Board, effectively dissolving it.
In the meantime, Americans are viewed as deliberately obtuse
for their refusal to adopt the measurement system everyone else is using. However, the issue rarely crosses the mind of the average American; you will find that most people regard it as a triviality not worth the breast-beating associated with it.
However, "Think metric" wasn't a total failure.
Many businesses whose products could be exported invested the time and money to redesign their products to use metric units, or both at the same time.
So we have things like:
- Packaged foods which display the amount of their contents in both sets of units (the 12-oz can that is really 375 ml), or metric only (the ubiquitous 2-liter soda bottle);,
- Automobile speedometers which display both miles per hour and kilometers per hour, and
- Rulers with inches on one edge and centimeters on the other (and other more esoteric instruments that display both types of units, such as torque wrenches).
Even though response write-ups are the work of Satan
, I'm going to write one to Spuunbenda
I suppose I did downplay the uniform base of ten a bit, but its importance is exaggerated. The utility of that
mostly comes when you're learning the system. For every multiplication error avoided, I bet there's a "shifting the decimal point" error that goes unrecognized.
If my pharmacist is 75 years old and has been measuring out nitroglycerin
in grains per peck his entire life, I think I'd rather let him measure mine in grains per peck than force the poor old guy to learn a whole new system. (For this specific case, the point is moot: the US pharmaceutical
industry is entirely metric).