I’m musing again and today I’ve lit upon temperature
and the thermometers we use to measure it.
Celsius or Fahrenheit?
The 0 to 100 scale or the 32 to 212 scale?
These days, one can find a Fahrenheit thermometer in use only in
- the Bahamas,
- the Cayman Islands,
- The Federated States of Micronesia,
- the Marshall Islands, and
- the United States and her various territories.
Once again, we are bucking the international trend. Why? (I mused.) The rest of the world converted to Celsius (once called Centigrade) decades ago.
You probably already know the history of Daniel Gabriel Fahrenheit (1686-1736), the first to figure out how to measure temperature, which was a pretty remarkable achievement in his day. There was once a world which had no standardization for things like length, or weight, or time, or temperature. Imagine!
So, Daniel served us well with his mercury filled thermometer. Until Anders Celsius (1701–1744) came along with his centigrade thermometer. His measured the same things as Fahrenheit thermometers, of course, but on a 0 to 100 scale (it was officially renamed in honor of Celsius in 1948).
My musing today is not so much on which way is “better” (Celsius’ rationality aside, some say Fahrenheit is more accurate.). No; my musing has to do with how we Americans don’t like anything “mandatory.”
We pride ourselves on our liberty, which too many lately seem to think means the freedom to do what they want, the rest of the society be damned.
You know those folks — the ones who refuse to wear a mask or a seat belt or a bike helmet (full transparency: I’m guilty on the bike helmets). They bask in their Second Amendment “right to bear arms” or proudly refuse to get their children vaccinated. You get the idea.
Horror stories abound that having two systems in the world has had fatal consequences. Hear are the stories of when NASA lost a $125 million Mars probe or that Boeing 767 ran out of fuel midair — all because of errors between metric and non-metric units.
Click here for more conversion-error stories including the “escape of the 250-kg tortoise.”
Back in the ’70s, we had a chance to go along with the rest of the world, which had systematically converted to Celsius. We refused.
It made sense to switch over, both because the metric system is more intuitive and because adopting the same system as other countries would make scientific cooperation much easier. Congress passed a law, the 1975 Metric Conversion Act, that was theoretically supposed to begin the process of metrication. It set up a Metric Board to supervise the transition.
Unfortunately, Congress made it voluntary and Americans arose in protest.
Jason Zengerle in Mother Jones says it well:
Motorists rebelled at the idea of highway signs in kilometers, weather watchers blanched at the notion of reading a forecast in Celsius, and consumers balked at the prospect of buying poultry by the kilogram.
Change is hard, isn’t it?
I know we all like the familiar. That’s the basis of having musical favorites, or so I was taught way back when — those variations on a theme bring back the familiar and we like that.
But we seem now to be at a point in our ongoing history where a few changes could bring about massive improvement in the lives of so many.
You remember this poster from a few months ago?
It’s that # 4 that I’ve been chewing on since.
Be willing to change your life to end it.
I’ve been musing about the changes I might make that could help make my society a better place. Woody and I have made several, which I hope to write about at some point. For security and privacy reasons, however, that will have to wait. I’m hoping though that you can tell us yours.
Have you been giving that 4th point some thought? What have you come up with?