Sunday, February 26, 2006

Kinnock continues his descent into the world of the crank

Lord Kinnock, returned from Europe, is supporting a report from the UK Metric Association. This report calls, in a little too strident language, for the replacement of our measuring of distance in miles with a metric measurement in kilometres.

Some of the language is absurd. Kinnock alleges that miles "contradict the image - and the reality - of our country as a modern, multicultural, dynamic place where the past is valued and respected and the future is approached with creativity and confidence". The idea that continuing to use an old measurement implies placing less value on the past is clearly absurd. However, why do miles necessarily imply a lack of confidence or creativity when facing the future? It would seem, rather, to suggest a confidence in a future different to that imagined by Kinnock and sufficient confidence not to mind the overexaggerated costs of multiple measurement systems.

One cost suggested is that our education system needs to teach both metric and imperial units. This cost isn't entirely a result of UK Government choices, though, as there is a benefit to learning imperial measurements in an economy which does business with the US.

Equally the "contradiction" of using different systems is overrated. Using one system for temperature and another for distance is of little concern when few conversions are being made the two. Equally few people will regularly need to make feet/miles calculations and therefore the complication of the calculation is a limited concern.

None of this removes fact that the metric system is clearly "better" but the overexaggeration is a fine example of the broader crisis of specialists crying wolf. People are always inclined to accord great importance to an area they spend much of their time working on and the availability heuristic, assuming that events you hear about a lot are common, will lead you to overestimate the frequency of rare problems. The metric association actively goes looking for cases of metric-imperial confusion and evidently assumes that those it finds represent part of a broader reality, they probably don't.


Dave Cole said...

While I personally would favour metricisation, you fail to understand the socialist mindset. Metric is rational; rationality must be pursued in and of itself. See 'Rationalism in Politics' by Oakeshott for a strong critique. I have a copy to lend.


Anonymous said...

Dave this Oakeshott critique is interesting. I've always assumed rationality being associated with the economic right ala Matt. Alas I don't have time to read it right now.

Dave Cole said...

Perhaps that for rationalism I should say 'technical knowledge', 'arete' or somesuch. Rationalism, though, I tthink covers it.