The Instigator
micktravis
Pro (for)
Losing
0 Points
The Contender
Sam_Lowry
Con (against)
Winning
5 Points

The United States should adopt the Metric System

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Post Voting Period
The voting period for this debate has ended.
after 1 vote the winner is...
Sam_Lowry
Voting Style: Open Point System: 7 Point
Started: 4/29/2010 Category: Science
Updated: 6 years ago Status: Post Voting Period
Viewed: 6,509 times Debate No: 11917
Debate Rounds (4)
Comments (4)
Votes (1)

 

micktravis

Pro

My argument will be utilitarian: while the cost of retrofitting entire domestic industries (manufacturing, shipping, storage, etc.) is high, it is more than offset by the savings that result from operating with the same system of weights and measures used by the rest of the world. Additionally, the Metric System (hereafter "SI") is easy to use, simple to learn, and is already in use by most domestic scientists.

The only barrier to change seems to be the public's disinclination to do so. This is unwarranted, as many countries have successfully transitioned over the last 50 years.

I look forward to this debate.
Sam_Lowry

Con

Thank you for posting this argument. I like the way you think and I know I will enjoy this debate.

My argument will be based on morality and realistic pragmatism. The only way to universally convert to an given system will unarguably require the coercion of those who do not wish to conform. While the majority of Americans appose switching to the metric system, but this fact is admittedly irrelevant to my argument. If only one percent of Americans favored using the Imperial system, no one should be able to intrude upon their right to do so.

As it stands now, there is no barrier preventing any given business in the private sector from using the metric system. And as it stands now, most do not. If the metric system was truly such a cost saving measure, wouldn't the private sector jump at the chance to improve efficiency and thus profits? Of course, one can easily point to the auto industry as a good example of this kind of conversion. But why didn't the auto industry require the government to step in and force them to covert? Assuming that the metric system is fundamentally superior, why do so many American businesses refuse to use metric? There are three possibilities:

1. American businesses are two stupid and ignorant to convert to metric.
2. Many domestic American businesses do not do enough international business or have international potential to justify switching to metric
3. American companies can not afford to switch to metric.

In cases two and three, why should such a company be forced to use metric even if it would result in unjustifiable costs? Furthermore, why are so many Americans dislike the metric system? This is a question often asked by pro-metric proponents, and in reality, it is a loaded question. Americans are not the only ones who favor traditional units of measurement over the metric system. Rather, we simply choose not to coerce our people into using a system that a select few feel is "superior".

The Metric system is not fundamentally more convenient than the the traditional standard of weights and measurements. The majority of British population favor units such as inches, pounds, and pints over their metric counterparts, despite the fact that labeling products solely with non metric units has become a criminal offense. Many British industries have "switched" to metric as a purely token gesture as to not be prosecuted by the government. For example, doors are labeled as 1981x762mm. Why such an arbitrary number? Because it equals 6'6"x2'6", the traditional door size.

http://www.tysknews.com...

For many people, it is simply easier to work with fractions than to work with larger decimals. 6 1/4" is easier to remember than 0.1524m. This fact has resulted in a certain irony in the metrification of certain countries. Rather than use simple or basic factors in determining the size of a certain good, often the standard is set to mimic the Imperial standard in order to retain pure ease of use. For example, rather than producing 1 meter wooden planks, the standard has become 120 centimeters. This is because it is easy to divide 120 in fractions than a number such as 100. This is analogous of the foot-inch system.

http://www.mosa.nl...

Personally, I believe that the factual evidence showing that the metric system is not fundamentally superior is not necessary. The preference between metric and traditional units is purely subjective and determined by personal opinion. I concede that the Metric system has some advantages over many traditional systems, but the reverse is also true. As such, it is silly to try and force one system on a people, and morally questionable at best.
Debate Round No. 1
micktravis

Pro

Thanks for taking part. I'll begin by addressing the components of your response with which I take exception, but not before acknowledging that at least one of your arguments had not occurred to me. I think I have a convincing case against it and the others however; it remains to be seen if I am alone in this conviction.

I agree that the only way to change an entire county's system of weights and measures is through legislation, but at this point our views diverge. As a society we regularly give up certain rights in the knowledge that by doing so a greater good is enacted: a good example is the sobriety checkpoint we all see around holidays. Clearly we don't live a country where the police can stop you and search you for drugs, weapons, or seditious material without probable cause. But in the supreme court ruling Chief Justice Rehnquist acknowledges the 4th amendment contravention but then opines, (the) "minimal intrusion on individual liberties must be weighed against the need for -- and effectiveness of -- DUI roadblocks." [1]

So the question is one of degree: how bad must the consequences be if we don't enact laws requiring metric compliance? If there were no consequences whatsoever nobody would want such laws: Without consequences laws are completely arbitrary. I would fight against a law making blue shirts illegal, for example. And I imagine so would most people.

But the consequences are far from negligible, as I'll explain later.

You may be right in positing the three reasons for pressure not to convert. I don't think they are the only possible reasons, however. Numerology, superstition, and anti French sentiment were all corralled in 1876 when Charles Latimer organized the first blockage of the kind of legislation we're discussing.

Referring often to the "French Metric system," Latimer stated, "it is to be an overthrow of everything Anglo Saxon…" [2] To anyone who doubts this kind of blurry rhetoric would work today I suggest they reconsider their position over a nice plate of Freedom Fries.

Finally, your claim that SI is not a superior system is not supported by evidence. That an English door remains 1981x762mm says nothing about SI and everything about the good decision to keep doors a standard size. I also disagree that 120 is more easily divided using fractions than 100. What's 70 percent of 120? What's 34 percent of 100? For me at least the latter is a much simpler sum. To claim that legislation is silly or morally questionable requires that the consequences, ongoing as they are, must be minimal. Again, this is not the case.

I'll wait to explore why SI is a superior system for a future round where, in the context of how terrible a system our current one is, the contrast will make a stronger point. I hope you'll allow this deference and I assure you I won't neglect your argument here. I will state simply that it is false.

It boils down to time and money, and time costs money, as they say. It's impossible to come up with a precise figure, but the following estimates are made in the shadow of one incontrovertible fact: the rest of the world uses metric. While merely an appeal to emotion it might be useful to know that only three countries have not converted: Liberia, Burma (Myanmar), and the US. I will not bother to research the ratio of trade done with these countries to the rest of the world combined. I will guess that it is a very small number.

The following numbers come from what seems to be the state of the art as far as research in this area goes. This paper cites many primary sources but I'll refer to it rather than its sources for simplicity's sake. It is citation [3].

In a 1915 lawsuit Jos. V. Collins some economists crunched the numbers and arrived at a total annual loss of $315 000 000.00 per year. [3] While still a large number today, adjusted for inflation this figure was $6 000 000 000.00 per year in 2005 dollars. [3]

In a peer reviewed paper from 1992 Richard Phelps determined that the current practice of teaching two systems of measures results in a full year of teaching time lost to each student. I speculate that this is non-trivial. The author of a very informative summary paper concludes that based on our total educational expenditure this costs us over 8 billion dollars each year.

Clearly these are not insignificant numbers. I argue that they are the epitome of "non-negligible," and as such satisfy the demand that our laws remain non-arbitrary. Rather than morally questionable, enacting such a change is fiscally responsible. Ignoring it better suits my opponents description.

I look forward to your response.

----

[1] http://www.thenewspaper.com...

[2] http://query.nytimes.com...

[3] http://www.google.com...
(the original source is behind a paywall. Here is a free version.)
Sam_Lowry

Con

Finally, your claim that SI is not a superior system is not supported by evidence. That an English door remains 1981x762mm says nothing about SI and everything about the good decision to keep doors a standard size.

Perhaps my statement was not clearly written. I make no claim that traditional units are superior to metric. Rather, both systems have their benefits and drawbacks. This can be illustrated very well by the medical industry. Measurements of height, weight, length and other basic measurements are taken using traditional units of measurement. However, medication is administered in milligram increments. In a scientific setting, there is no doubt that metric has key advantages. For everyday use, the vast majority of people prefer the traditional unit system. Even the youngest generation of adults in Britain who were raised on the metric system prefer the traditional system. Like I said before, superiority is entirely subjective.

However, I would like to reiterate that simply converting old measurements into metric via a soft conversion is entirely obsolete compared to simple using the metric as the true standard. The point I think that you may have missed is that contrary to popular belief, many businesses and industries within the Britain use the Imperial system, and then convert to metric for legal purposes. One of the primary arguments used to promote the metric system is that time is saved in calculation. However, in many cases, just the opposite occurs due to the oppressive nature of the legal bureaucracy.

"I also disagree that 120 is more easily divided using fractions than 100. What's 70 percent of 120? What's 34 percent of 100? For me at least the latter is a much simpler sum."

Percentages are a far cry from everyday fractional use. You have, however, proved my point as far as the subject of subjectivity goes. In fact, the author of the article cited within your source (Jos. V. Collins) concedes the point that " 10 is inferior to 12 as a base for a notation for numbers".

"The following numbers come from what seems to be the state of the art as far as research in this area goes. This paper cites many primary sources but I'll refer to it rather than its sources for simplicity's sake. It is citation [3].

In a 1915 lawsuit Jos. V. Collins some economists crunched the numbers and arrived at a total annual loss of $315 000 000.00 per year. [3] While still a large number today, adjusted for inflation this figure was $6 000 000 000.00 per year in 2005 dollars. [3]"

I'm not sure what you mean by state of the art, but I will take it as implying that these sources are factually correct. On that point, I will strongly disagree. Joseph Collins was not court case, he was a professor who lived nearly a hundred years ago. Some of his assertions were fabricated for the sake of argument, and then these fabrications were used in order to "show" how much money the metric system could save. For example, this is how he "determined" how much labor could be saved by converting to metric:

"Noting how much time is saved in making simple every-day calculations by using the metric system, suppose that we assume of the 60 or more millions of adults in active life in this country, on the average only one in 60 makes such calculations daily and that only twenty minutes' time is saved each day."

He also goes on to claim that the traditional method of measurement is to blame for pencil biting, heartburn, arrested development, and highschool dropouts. He also makes several other heavy allegations without formally stating them.

For example:
"A committee of the National Educational Association has recently reported that Germany and France are each two full years ahead of us in educational achievement, that is, children in those countries of a certain age have as good an education as our children which are two years the foreign childrens' seniors. Surely one of these years is fully accounted for by the inferiority of our American arithmetic and spelling. This much, at least, of the difference is neither in the children themselves, nor in the lack of preparation of our teachers, nor in educational methods."

One can only speculate as to how he so surely knew that our education system was a total mirror of Europe's', and that the only appreciable difference was that they used the metric system. While he never outright claims that there is a direct link, he smugly states: "There must be a reason."

Some of his assumptions were demonstrably incorrect. The British public has never been in support of mandatory conversion, despite what he implies.

"In a peer reviewed paper from 1992 Richard Phelps determined that the current practice of teaching two systems of measures results in a full year of teaching time lost to each student. I speculate that this is non-trivial. The author of a very informative summary paper concludes that based on our total educational expenditure this costs us over 8 billion dollars each year."

I would have no problem with the school system teaching only one system of measurement. Such action does not at all force people to use one over the other. That being said, even if such action was to be taken, I would speculate that we would end up no better off than Britain, where despite having mandatory conversion, nearly 75 percent of the population prefers to use Imperial units for everyday measurement.

"So the question is one of degree: how bad must the consequences be if we don't enact laws requiring metric compliance? If there were no consequences whatsoever nobody would want such laws: Without consequences laws are completely arbitrary. I would fight against a law making blue shirts illegal, for example. And I imagine so would most people."

The problem I have with your analogy is that drunk driving deals a conflict of direct mortal safety while, metric conversion deals with financial benefit. If, for example, it could be empirically demonstrated that forcing all citizens to wear Western business satire would yield a 1 trillion dollar boost to our economy, I would want no part of it.
Debate Round No. 2
micktravis

Pro

micktravis forfeited this round.
Sam_Lowry

Con

My opponent has forfeited his round, so I will summarize my main points before the final round.

1. People should not be coerced into using a system which they don't wish to use.

2. The proposed economic figures are based on unreliable speculation.

3. Economic benefit is not within itself enough to justify the coercion of people's behavior.

4. If we are to accept the fact that we would have as much success as the authoritarian system Britain currently has in place, the majority of Americans will still prefer traditional units even when raised on the metric system.

My opponent has not offered any new arguments or rebuttals, so I will keep this round short.
Debate Round No. 3
micktravis

Pro

micktravis forfeited this round.
Sam_Lowry

Con

My opponent has forfeited his final round and there is little left that I have not addressed. In short, national standardization of the metric system cannot be done without legislative coercion. As such, I believe it is unethical and ineffective, as we can see from the British transition. Most people, even those raised on metric, prefer the Imperial or standard system over the metric system. Free will cannot be legislated away, and the people will continue to use the system they feel is most convenient. Projected savings of switching to the metric system have been calculated using unverifiable numbers that were proposed nearly a century ago, while the argument of metric in the classroom is a red herring. Schools can teach just metric in order to save money without the entire country being formally required to use the same system.
Debate Round No. 4
4 comments have been posted on this debate. Showing 1 through 4 records.
Posted by InsertNameHere 6 years ago
InsertNameHere
Come on, America! Be like everybody else! Switch to metric! Old traditions need to die.
Posted by Korashk 6 years ago
Korashk
This is a beautiful debate topic.
Posted by micktravis 6 years ago
micktravis
I was thinking the same thing - I almost went con.

Hope you have the time!
Posted by rougeagent21 6 years ago
rougeagent21
Mm, we'll see if I have time. Devil's advocate could be fun for this one :)
1 votes has been placed for this debate.
Vote Placed by Sam_Lowry 6 years ago
Sam_Lowry
micktravisSam_LowryTied
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Total points awarded:05