Wikipedia talk:Manual of Style (dates and numbers)/Archive 123

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Quick input needed for appropriate date format for an article:

On The Beatles: Rock Band:

  • The Beatles are obviously UK-based...
  • The game is being developed and released primarily by US companies...
  • The game will have an simultaneous international release.

Because of this, I would default to the int'l format (9 September 2009) for dates within the article. (And yes, I started the article with US dates, but I'd argue its fair to go the int'l route) --MASEM (t) 12:24, 7 June 2009 (UTC)

Masem, as you are the initial author you have a bit of clout here. Would anyone object if you used the international format? I recently changed the format of an article I started and largely wrote on an American scientist who was living in the UK at the time ... from international to mdy—I realised my initial choice was less appropriate. Tony (talk) 17:56, 7 June 2009 (UTC)
I don't know what "international" means, but most English-speaking laypeople don't understand ISO dating (e.g."2009-06-07") at all, and it's not reasonable to expect the average reader of this kind of article [as opposed to a page about, say, astronomy] to recognize it, whereas neither "June 7, 2009" nor "7 June 2009" is so strange that an American or a Briton would need extra help understanding it. So use whichever of the latter feels more comfortable or natural to you.
"6/7" means July 6th to a Briton and June 7th to an American, so while I fully understand the logic behind ISO dating, there's no intuitive way for an uninstructed reader to be absolutely certain that he or she got the date right. This is the reason (as elaborated in previous discussions) that we always spell out months (and where space doesn't permit the full name of a month, its abbreviation in letters rather than numbers). —— Shakescene (talk) 19:38, 7 June 2009 (UTC)
I couldn't agree more with what you say about dates in which the month is not spelled out. I think it's entirely inappropriate given the profile of our readership, and I myself have to pause every time to ensure I've got month and day the right way around. I'd ban ISO from articles unless there's a particular reason to use it. But the fact is that many editors would fight that, and I don't want to fight them unless there's a groundswell of support for a change. Tony (talk) 15:45, 9 June 2009 (UTC) PS "international format" is dmy. Tony (talk) 15:46, 9 June 2009 (UTC)
Unless you, Masem, later changed the initial query, I must have just been too sleepy or careless to notice that you did in fact specify what you meant by "international format", i.e. Day-Month-Year (e.g. 9 September 2009). That seems a very safe and appropriate choice to me, although since the game's is a U.S. product, I don't think anyone could justly fault you, once started with U.S. MDY format (September 9, 2009) from continuing with it should you so wish. (In fact I'm in a minority here in thinking that the world wouldn't cave if both formats appeared on the same page. I remember when The Times of London used one format for running heads, and another on the front page or leader page.) —— Shakescene (talk) 07:04, 12 June 2009 (UTC)

Is there auto-archiving on this page?

Maybe there is, but it's pretty long ... how is it set? Tony (talk) 15:50, 9 June 2009 (UTC)

Any section gets archived when the most recent timestamp in it is older than seven days. But there's that huge section about which units to use in UK articles (the one with eleven subsections). --A. di M. (formerly Army1987) — Deeds, not words. 20:57, 11 June 2009 (UTC)
it generally gets archived once amonth by a mod. SimonTrew (talk)

UK railway articles

Have a shuftie at these when distances are given they are given as miles from main terminus (generally london), in miles chains and feet. You can't go changing that to metric cos thats how it is written by the track. There is an enormous consistency in these articles and always in imperial with conversions. SimonTrew (talk) 23:03, 11 June 2009 (UTC)


I noticed WP:VPT#Date issues that pointed out that June 162009 is being linked but not formatted. Has something been changed in the date autoformatting function? —Ost (talk) 18:15, 16 June 2009 (UTC)

No, there's nothing at Wikipedia:Manual of Style (dates and numbers)/Date autoformatting allowing this format. I'm pretty sure nobody ever foresaw that people might write something like that. The WP:VPT OP seems to suggest that this is common; is it? Anyway, it's clear that the solution is to fix the format where this error occurs. —JAOTC 18:37, 16 June 2009 (UTC)
When this had been discussed at WT:DATEPOLL#Tcncv's table, this appeared to be a recognized format. Also, when I've been editing articles, the most common date format I've seen Advisor.js recommend fixing is the format that is now giving errors. I hadn't noticed a problem until the post at VPT. —Ost (talk) 19:07, 16 June 2009 (UTC)
It's never been a recognised format. Tony (talk) 07:30, 17 June 2009 (UTC)

Leading zeros in days in {{death date}} template

Please see Template_talk:Death_date#Leading_zeros_in_days. I've reported a minor issue with the {{death date}} template but had no answer. To fix it just needs a user with an understanding of template logic to copy over the relevant part of {{birth date}} to not show leading zeros. Thanks Rjwilmsi 16:39, 21 June 2009 (UTC)

Consistency and diversity in weights and measures

Wikipedia rightly strives for both consistency and diversity in usage. In some cases this means making a choice between competing usages; in other cases, the differing usages are accepted. So, the differences between British and American spelling is accommodated, while, sensibly, the rules state that individual articles should be internally consistent. The same rule applies to weights and measures, only here we generally need to supply both SI and Imperial/US Customary units for the sake of readers who often are not familiar with one or the others.

However, there is a problem with inconsistency between similar articles, which can quite arbitrarily swing between metric and Imperial/US Common measures. This may be seen in the following table:

Metric first Imperial first




Lewis and Harris










Guernsey, Alderney, Sark

Niagara River

Niagara Falls

East Falkland, West Falkland

Falkland Islands

Now a certain amount of inconsistency is inevitable when editors have different preferences for weights and measures, but these variations are more Monty Python than encyclopedic. Now I know full well that we can't impose a rigid rule on people. However, I believe that we could put in place guidelines that would nudge editors towards more consistency. I suggest that the following wording be considered:

Add to the principles:

  • Consistency of usage, in articles, text boxes, tables and between articles dealing with similar subjects.

Revise this point from this:

  • Use units consistently. An article should have one set of primary units (e.g., write A 10 kg (22 lb) bag of potatoes and a 5 kg (11 lb) bag of carrots, not A 10 kg (22 lb) bag of potatoes and an 11 lb (5 kg) bag of carrots.

to this:

  • Use units consistently. An article should have one set of primary units.
    • Text boxes and tabular material should be SI first.
    • Where articles dealing with similar subjects are inconsistent, aim for consistency, with SI measures first.

What do other editors think?

It would be nice if Wikipedia were in a condition where we had nothing more important to worry about. That being said, I will always welcome the recognition that we can't impose a rigid rule on people. Septentrionalis PMAnderson 17:24, 10 April 2009 (UTC)
  • In fact, both Devon and Cornwall are internally inconsistent; both use sq km as principal for the area in the infobox, and ft as primary for altitudes in the much lower discussion of high places. This is probably reasonable, reflecting the data actually given in the sources; and the fact it has endured is a sign how few editors (or readers) care about such matters. Septentrionalis PMAnderson 02:56, 11 April 2009 (UTC)

I agree that we can't impose a rigid rule on people. However, the Style Manual can make recommendations. For instance, the style manual recommends that SI units should generally be preferred. It also recommends that articles should be internally consistent. I believe that the style manual could make it clear that these rules apply to British articles, while not labouring the point. Michael Glass (talk) 05:52, 11 April 2009 (UTC)


A solution to the problem outlined above is to state explicitly that SI and SI-related units should be preferred in UK based articles. At the same time I stated that US articles have conversions to SI units. This is also stated in the Conversions section that follows. It is also standard practice in US-based articles and is a description rather than a prescription. —Preceding unsigned comment added by Michael Glass (talkcontribs)

Don't we have to contend with the fact that the UK is only semi-metricated so you'd buy beer by the pint in the pub but petrol by the litre but drive this many miles down the road at that many kilometres per hour ... or something like that. In fact whilst we're at it perhaps Canada might be worth a mention too: here's another country that didn't quite manage to metricate fully. JIMp talk·cont 07:53, 14 April 2009 (UTC)
It's miles/hour on the street signs. But officers from the Department of Transport once directed me to take an overloaded car to a place for unloading, up to a certain speed in kilometres/hour, no conversion into mph. I wonder if they have the standard text for this in two versions, or if I would have received the same order if I had had a UK number plate. --Hans Adler (talk) 08:05, 14 April 2009 (UTC)
(ec) I reverted your change because it was likely very controversial, but undiscussed, and because some important exceptions were missing. In a country in which kilometres on street signs are illegal (I can't find the reference now, but Hull or a town near it used dual distance indications and was forced to remove them) it makes no sense to suggest kilometres for distances between towns. Articles about history are likely to need additional exceptions. As to US articles: We needn't repeat the need for conversion here, where it is not relevant. It's already hinted at by using the word "primary". --Hans Adler (talk) 08:01, 14 April 2009 (UTC)
Canada's SI-fication is essentially complete. The only things that aren't referred to in SI units and variants are lumber, drinks (at bars), and weights (in restaurants). It's not that we don't understand what a kilogram is, or that the average person is weighs roughly 55–60 kg, it's that people were used to measure weigh in pounds, and kept doing it. All publications regardless of their technical level are fully SI-fied. Newspaper, magazines, canned soup labels, meat weights, etc... all SI. Sometimes a conversion to imperial is given for convenience, but many don't bother anymore. Headbomb {ταλκκοντριβς – WP Physics} 08:10, 14 April 2009 (UTC)

If people don't like the most recent change, or feel it needs more discussion, so be it. The change wasn't to metricate the UK but to deal with the excessive variation in UK-based articles in Wikipedia. I have restored the wording to what was there when I made my most recent change. Michael Glass (talk) 09:33, 14 April 2009 (UTC)

Michael, that's not what you did. First Headbomb made a partial revert of your edit, reinstating mention of BIPM. [1] In the following edit I reverted it completely for reasons given above. Now you have reinstated your text for the first bullet, which again does not mention BIPM. [2] Since it was obviously not what you had in mind, I have reverted this again. Sorry for the automatic edit summary. (I forgot that I had temporarily switched off JavaScript, which would have given me the chance to enter one.) --Hans Adler (talk) 10:35, 14 April 2009 (UTC)

SI-ified Canada where floor-sizes for apartments/houses are given in square feet, where you buy butter in 454-gram blocks, where cans of "pop" come in 355 ml (i.e. 12 US fl oz) sizes but bottles of beer are 341 ml (i.e. 12 imp fl oz), where you write/print/photocopy on 11 by 8½ inch paper, where per kilogram prices at the grocery are fine print conversions of the per pound price ... anyhow ...

It seems to me that the easiest way around this is to use the source units & when these are mixed with no one system predominating go with metric/SI. JIMp talk·cont 10:43, 14 April 2009 (UTC)

At the moment, two sentences read:
In general, prefer broadly accepted units. Usually this means units approved by the Bureau International des Poids et Mesures (BIPM).
This, with its "in general" and "usually" is too repetitive. It can be abridged and still mention the BIPM:
In general, prefer units approved by the Bureau International des Poids et Mesures (BIPM).
The second issue is leaving UK based articles completely to the whims of editors on whether to go metric or Imperial. As I have shown, this has led to a Monty Python situation, with some counties going one way and some counties the other. Please see above. My suggestion is that Wikipedia recommend SI. This would, in time, relieve the problem. The wording could be as simple as this:
UK-related topics may have either SI (generally preferred) or imperial units as the primary units.
American articles are usually quite thorough in providing metric equivalents.
In US-specific topics, US customary units with conversions into SI and related units, are generally preferred.
I can't see any controversy in recommending what is, in fact, general practice. Michael Glass (talk) 13:13, 14 April 2009 (UTC)
If you want to change policy, then propose to change policy and start a proper discussion. Your proposed changes definitely change the meaning and do not reflect current practice.
  • "Broadly accepted" must be interpreted in the context of the article; the following sentences make that clear. The BIPM units are not broadly accepted in the US.
  • There is an article Road speed limits in the Republic of Ireland. It correctly talks about historical speed limits such as "30 mph (48 km/h)" and modern speed limits such as "50 km/h (31 mph)". This is an example where other considerations trump even intra-article consistency.
  • If there were a similar article Road speed limits in the United Kingdom, it would be even clearer that speed limits must be given in the form "30 mph (48 km/h)". Similarly, land distances in the UK must normally be measured in miles first, and an article such as Territorial waters must measure distances in nautical miles first.
It is simply not true that BIPM measures are preferred in such articles. Your proposal would describe the correct way to handle such articles less accurately. Personally I wouldn't mind at all if the community decided to implement such a change because the metric system is obviously superior and I don't mind advocacy for the metric system. But a lot of people do mind it. I think this was enough warnings from me, and if you insist further I will leave handling you to supporters of customary units. --Hans Adler (talk) 16:21, 14 April 2009 (UTC)
BIPM units are used in the US, as redefined by the NIST with minor spelling variations. The US adopted the metric system in 1832, but many Americans persist in using obsolete British units long after the Brits have abandoned them. The Brits themselves have trouble accepting the fact that the sun has set on the Empire and that they're part of Europe and should be using SI units. The real problem is that many people just hate change of any sort in their comfortable, mindless lives - you have to wait for the old generation to die off before you can effect any sort of useful change. In the interim we have to put up with endless debates about insignificant points of imaginary protocol.RockyMtnGuy (talk) 17:07, 14 April 2009 (UTC)
As for "prefer broadly accepted units; usually this means units approved by the BIPM" vs "prefer units approved by the BIPM", the fact is that not all units approved by BIPM are "broadly accepted". You wouldn't want to use the megasecond in any normal situation, but AFAICT the BIPM has never stated that the megasecond shouldn't be used. Probably, less ridiculous examples exist. So I like the apparently redundant form better. (And I agree that "Road speed limits in the Republic of Ireland" is an excellent example showing why the source unit should be given first and the conversion in parentheses, rather than "[a]n article should have one set of primary units".) --A. di M. (formerly Army1987) — Deeds, not words. 18:13, 14 April 2009 (UTC)

In reply I want to make four points:

1. The phrase "broadly accepted" The discussion above shows clearly why the words "broadly accepted units" are a problem: there is no agreement about what broadly accepted units are. Besides, it's an example of weasel wording to say "broadly accepted units" and then state that SI units are usually broadly accepted. Hans Adler's argument that SI is not broadly accepted is an argument against this contentious wording. In place of the complex and contentious wording of the moment, I recommend the following wording:

In general, prefer units approved by the Bureau International des Poids et Mesures (BIPM). [emphasis added]

Hans has drawn attention to some exceptions to this general rule. The wording above takes account of exceptions such as the difference in the speed limits in Ireland and the territorial limits measured in nautical miles. It even takes account of the US preference to put US customary measures first in US-specific articles. It simply states clearly that metrics should generally be preferred, while making clear provision for exceptions and other units to be included where necessary.

2. Monty Python variations Let's leave aside variations in usage in articles. Most people agree with general policy which says that articles should be internally consistent. However, the present policy on UK-based articles is to leave it to individual editors to determine which measures to use. The result is a number of grotesque inconsistencies, where Jersey goes metric and Guernsey sticks to Imperial measures. Ditto Cornwall and Devon, Cambridgeshire and Oxfordshire and so on. My solution to this is the following wording:

UK-related topics may have either SI (generally preferred) or imperial units as the primary units.

If distances in the UK must be in miles, it takes no account of other measures such as the height of hills or mountains and the area of counties. Now if we had distances in miles and other measures in metres or square kilometres, we would have the very mixture of units in Wikipedia articles that present policy rejects. Better to recommend putting the metric values first in Wikipedia articles. Over time, this might help to reduce the Monty Python variations in the articles. Remember, this is about articles in Wikipedia, not road signs in the UK.

3. US Articles At the moment, US articles are pretty good at including metric measures along with the US customary measures. The wording I propose would support this practice. The present wording says:

US customary units are generally the primary units in US-specific topics;

This wording hints that SI units would be provided, but it doesn't state it outright. Now policy is not the place for weasel wording. If it is policy and practice to have US customary measures followed by SI measures, then better to state this outright. That is why I prefer

In US-specific topics, US customary units with conversions into SI and related units, are generally preferred.

Yes it's longer, but it's more in line with current practice.

Use source material units Sounds simple and easy. However, sources will vary, and if you put them together in an article, you are likely to get inconsistencies both between articles and within articles. So there are problems with this argument.

I hope that this has clarified what wording I want and why I recommend it to MOSNUM. My argument is about wording, not about metrication in the UK, Ireland and Canada. Michael Glass (talk) 21:46, 14 April 2009 (UTC)

As for "[h]owever, sources will vary", if they do it is likely that there is a good reason for using different units, as in the historical Irish speed limit example above, or as in the example I made somewhere else about the diameter and the length of an optical fibre cable between two cities in the United States. Only in situations where 1) a value is a measurement, as opposed to a defined value, and 2) there is no strong reason why a particular unit has been used for it, would I allow the swap of source and conversion. (For example, if in an article about a town in the U.S. some source gives a distance in kilometres, I would agree to put the conversion in miles first and the value given in the source in parentheses; but even then, I would prefer to find a source giving directly a value in miles.) So I'd go with something like:
  • All other things being equal, it is preferable to use units consistently in an article, for example: A 10 kg (22 lb) bag of potatoes and a 5 kg (11 lb) bag of carrots, or A 22 lb (10 kg) bag of potatoes and a 11 lb (5 kg) bag of carrots, rather than A 22 lb (10 kg) bag of potatoes and a 5 kg (11 lb) bag of carrots or A 10 kg (22 lb) bag of potatoes and a 11 lb (5 kg) bag of carrots.
  • Defined values (as opposed to measurements), and high-precision measurements, should be given first in the original units with conversions following in parentheses, for example: When the metric system was adopted in Ireland, speed limits in built up areas were changed from 30 mph (48 km/h) to 50 km/h (31 mph), or The 10-mile (16 km) optical fiber cable between Pasadena and Los Angeles has a core diameter of 8 micrometers (0.00031 in) and a cladding diameter of 125 micrometers (0.0049 in).

--A. di M. (formerly Army1987) — Deeds, not words. 00:54, 15 April 2009 (UTC)

I have no problem with your arguments, A. di M, and the examples that you give. As you can see from the wording that I have proposed, there is room enough for such genuine exceptions. That is why I have used the word generally, to make room for these very exceptions. In fact, I explicitly mentioned the change in the Irish speed limits as one obvious exception. If these genuine examples need more detailed treatment in the Manual of Style, let's see what needs to be done. However, this is not the problem with so many UK-based articles. The issue is one of unnecessary variation. Take South Ulst: metrics first; go to North Ulst and it's Imperial first in the text and SI first in the text box. Why should two Outer Hebrides islands have such varying usages? Why should Oxfordshire differ from Cambridgeshire? Why should Devon differ from Cornwall? It makes no sense, and it is the inevitable outcome from a policy which said, "Choose your own weights and measures!"

Now what I propose is a simple change that will, in time, help to lessen this policy-driven confusion in Wikipedia: a simple statement that says, "UK-related topics may have either SI (generally preferred) or imperial units as the primary units." It's a recommendation, not an order, and it applies to Wiki articles on the UK, not the UK itself. Hopefully, over time, it will help to overcome this unnecessary inconsistency in these Wikipedia articles. Michael Glass (talk) 02:17, 15 April 2009 (UTC)

I still don't get what the problem is with the current version of things. To me, this is change for the sake of change instead of change to fix a problem. This particular phrasing was discussed for three months and no one had an issue with it. The new wording seems weaker in all regards as to the recommendation is makes. Monthy python variation is a non-issue, as the second bullet makes it clear (use units consistently). Specifying distances in miles but heights in kilometers is directly against this provision. The "In general, prefer broadly accepted units. Usually this means units approved by the Bureau International des Poids et Mesures (BIPM)." has no real issues. The sub-bullets give enough examples for anyone to understand what is meant by that, and to prevent weird-ass wikilawyering of unit-pushers.Headbomb {ταλκκοντριβς – WP Physics} 03:46, 15 April 2009 (UTC)

Let's deal with the issues one by one.

1. Clear and straightforward English

a. In general, prefer units approved by the Bureau International des Poids et Mesures (BIPM).

b. In general, prefer broadly accepted units. Usually this means units approved by the Bureau International des Poids et Mesures (BIPM).

Version A gives the same message in one sentence instead of two.

Version A is clear, straightforward and direct; version B is woolly and verbose.

Version B invites people to debate on what is or what is not "broadly acceptable" where it is broadly acceptable and where it is not, whether SI is broadly acceptable or whether US customary Units and Imperial units are or are not broadly acceptable and when and where and so on ad infinitum. Version A, which is clearly more direct and straightforward, doesn't go into this conundrum. So this is a change to sidestep a problem in the wording.

2. This particular phrasing

Unclear reference. Which particular phrasing were you referring to? How and why was it weaker?

3. Monty Python variation

Claimed to be a non-issue. Others claim it is a minuscule problem. I beg to differ. I think it makes Wikipedia look less than professional to have apparently random variation in similar articles. If it was just a few articles, it perhaps would not matter, but this Monty Python variation applies to so many articles.

  • Why have different preferences for weights and measures between Jersey and the other Channel Islands?
  • Why have metric first for the Shetland Islands but Imperial first for the Orkneys? Why should there be a string of other variations such as Dorset and Hampshire, Northumberland and Wiltshire, Cumbria and Somerset, Norfolk and Kent, Staffordshire and Leicestershire and on and on? I'm not asking that everything be sorted out overnight. We have a choice between two wordings:

a. UK-related topics may have either SI (generally preferred) or imperial units as the primary units.

b. UK-related topics may have either SI or imperial units as the primary units.

Both allow SI or Imperial units to come first, but the first one gives a clear preference for the SI version. In time this will help to rid the encyclopedia from unnecessary variation in UK-based articles. What's the problem with that? If unnecessary variation is such a non-issue, why do you have such an issue with it? Michael Glass (talk) 08:02, 15 April 2009 (UTC)

  • No reader cares about any of this, or it would have been cleaned up long since.
  • Using the units specified by the sources (and converting as necessary) has an actual influence on our accuracy; converting values from the sources to SI tends to degrade them.
  • A 10 kg (22 lb) bag of potatoes and a 10 lb (4.5 kg) bag of carrots is a bad idea; it is too easy to see the bags as the same weight. But that's because they're in the same sentence; using kg and ft at opposite ends of the article does not have this problem. Septentrionalis PMAnderson 18:09, 16 April 2009 (UTC)
  • Leave well enough alone, and go find something to do that actually improves the encyclopedia. Septentrionalis PMAnderson 18:01, 16 April 2009 (UTC)
First version A is not equivalent to version B. Version A says use BIPM units first. Version B says use he broadly accepted units first, which usually happens to be BIPM. This is not a minor difference. Things should be simple, yes, but not so simple they obfuscate what it mean. People are encouraged to debate whether SI or Imperial or specialist units such as the electronvolt is more appropriate. This is to be determined on a per-article basis, or sometimes on a per-topic basis. If you don't think Jersey and the other Channel Islands should have different primary units, discuss it there, (or with an appropriate WikiProject). As for changing the MOS to recommend say it's preferable to use SI units for UK articles, I don't really care as long as it has consensus.Headbomb {ταλκκοντριβς – WP Physics} 18:19, 16 April 2009 (UTC)
I generally agree with this; but the last word needs more: That should be consensus throughout the project; if British articles are being consistently written SI-first, fine. A few editors here should not decide it. Septentrionalis PMAnderson 18:24, 16 April 2009 (UTC)

Obviously there is no point in pursuing consensus when no consensus exists, or in recommending consistency when others are satisfied with the opposite. Nevertheless, I think I should point out a few things:

  • Articles are supposed to be internally consistent. Suggesting that it does not matter is not supported by present Wikipedia policy.
  • Version A does not say to use BIPM units first. This omits the crucial qualification, in general. Omitting this qualification invalidates the argument that follows.
  • It makes no sense to talk about broadly accepted units when there is no consensus on what units are broadly accepted, and when and where and in what contexts individual units are broadly accepted or whether there is any broad acceptance at all.
  • Is there consensus to say it's preferable (but not compulsory) to use SI units in UK-based articles? I don't know. What I do know is that Wiki policy says that US-based articles should put US customary units first. Why should Wiki policy give firm guidelines to Americans while allowing a free-for-all in UK based articles?

Michael Glass (talk) 01:37, 17 April 2009 (UTC)

We have to deal with the fact, that units of measurement are always going to be a bit messy. For example, I'm Australian, which is more metricated than the US or Canada or UK or Ireland, though probably not quite as much as continental Europe is. My weight is in kilograms (I'm too embarrassed to say how many) -- a pound is about 450g, but a stone I have no clue -- but my height is in feet and inches, even though I know it in centimetres too. And, living in Victoria, I drink beer in pints and pots, except in Irish pubs, when its pints and half-pints. When I lived in NSW, it was schooners and midis instead, again except for the Irish pubs, which are pints and half-pints there as well. I'm not that into cars, but my good mate who is, he does 0 to 100 km/h in so many seconds, but his tire pressure is in psi rather than kPa. I've never been to the UK (despite the fact I have a British passport), so I can't say too much about what everyday usage is there. But, let's not think that the UK articles as a whole have to choose Imperial vs. SI. I think, the answer needs to depend on the purpose. My initial suggestion: prefer SI and give Imperial equivalents, except for distances; there prefer Imperial and give SI equivalent. I'd guess, from what I know (which is reading rather than first hand) that reasonably represents the situation on the ground in the UK. Remember, its mostly geographical measurements that count here, since articles that use fluid or weight measurements are less likely to be country-specific. --SJK (talk) 06:06, 18 April 2009 (UTC)

Hello, fellow Aussie! I'm quite comfortable with both metrics and Imperial, but when Americans give their weight in pounds, I'm lost. It was stones and pounds that I learnt. However, my 17 year old son has no idea of miles and degrees Fahrenheit. That's all a foreign language to him. The problem, however, is with the great variability in weights and measures in British articles. Some are metric first. A few are totally metric. Plenty of them are quite inconsistent, with some things in Imperial and others in SI and yet others are Imperial first. My suggestion is quite simple: allow both systems but state a preference for SI, and then let time sort it out. If this seems radical, we should remember that other than British articles, Wikipedia states its preference quite clearly: SI everywhere except the US, where US customary must come first. Only in British articles do the guidelines allow a free-for-all in weights and measures. As a result, they're all over the shop. I believe that stating a preference for SI units in UK-based articles will, over time, help to sort this out. Of course it's possible to have some measures in Imperial and the rest in SI, but to mix measures in one article is against Wikipedia policy.

Michael Glass (talk) 12:28, 18 April 2009 (UTC)

I don't believe that it is against Wikipedia policy to mix measures in one article (sure, this page mentions consistency but as one bullet amongst many (possibly conflicting) and this page is a guideline). In fact, there sometimes are good reasons to do so (the Irish speed limits, for example). JIMp talk·cont 11:32, 19 April 2009 (UTC)

To quote the policy, "Use units consistently." This policy does not prevent discussion of the Irish speed limits in a rational way. The policy specifically mentions the need to balance avoiding ambiguity, using familiar units to the readers and the international scope of the encyclopedia. One obvious conflict is between familiarity (US readers are mostly more familiar with US customary units) and international scope, where the metric system is the obvious choice. Another problem is that different people are familiar with different units.
Wiki policy copes with this by having a general policy for SI but with conversions into traditional units for those who need it. In addition, US articles are to have US customary units first while UK articles may be either metric or Imperial. This last provision has led to a free-for-all in UK-based articles where a few are in metric only, some are metric first, some are imperial first and plenty have mixed units. Now this doesn't worry some people but I believe that this inconsistency is not the best practice. I have therefore proposed a simple solution: Wiki policy should state: "UK-related topics may have either SI (generally preferred) or imperial units as the primary units." (emphasis added). This guideline could, over time, help to bring more consistency to UK-based articles.
As you can appreciate, this policy provision would have no impact on the Irish speed limits, as the Republic of Ireland is not part of the United Kingdom. Also in UK-based articles, a general preference has ample room for exceptions, as the bullet point still specifically states that articles can be either SI or imperial.
I hope that more people will express their opinions about this proposal. Michael Glass (talk) 22:46, 19 April 2009 (UTC)

I think I understand the issue that Michael Glass is raising. The guidance provides for within-article consistency. In the case of the US, it provides for between-article consistency. In the case of the UK, the guidance actually prevents between-article consistency. Lightmouse (talk) 19:13, 22 April 2009 (UTC)

Policy on US measures

At the moment, the MOSNUM policy on US measures reads as follows:

This is modified by the policy on conversions:

  • Generally, conversions to and from metric units and US or imperial units should be provided, except...

In a quick reading of the policy, a reader might miss the recommendation to provide conversions, as it occurs in a slightly different part of the policy. I would therefore suggest a clarification in the wording that would make such a reading much less likely. I suggest this wording:

This version, which makes explicit what is implicit in the first version, has the following features.

  1. It clarifies but does not change existing policy.
  2. It is in line with and supports existing good practice in US specific articles, many or perhaps most of which have conversion factors as a matter of course.
  3. It is less likely to be misread as allowing US common measures to appear without conversions into metric measures.

This last feature is of growing importance. As time goes on, knowledge of customary measures in most English-speaking countries is diminishing, as the older generations die off and are replaced by people who grew up after the metric conversion had taken place. India changed to the metric system in the early 1960s, Australia and New Zealand changed in the 1970s and that means that Australians under the age of 40 are unlikely to be very familiar with the older units. Also, unlike the United States and the UK, where students are educated in both sets of weights and measures, the children only learn metric measures. So the conversion factors from customary measures to metrics are of much greater importance.

I would be interested in people's feedback on this proposal. Michael Glass (talk) 09:44, 22 April 2009 (UTC)

You have not provided the full text of your proposed change. Your brief description could be understood to eliminate the requirement for conversions from SI into US customary for articles that give SI measures first. --Jc3s5h (talk) 12:19, 22 April 2009 (UTC)

Thanks for raising those points. The policy on conversions is covered in the section on unit conversions:

  • Generally, conversions to and from metric units and US or imperial units should be provided, except:
    • articles on scientific topics where there is consensus among the contributors not to convert the metric units, in which case the first occurrence of each unit should be linked;
    • When inserting a conversion would make a common expression awkward (The four-minute mile).
    • When units are part of the subject of a topic - nautical miles in articles about the history of nautical law, SI units in scientific articles, yards in articles about American football - it can be excessive to provide conversions every time a unit occurs. It could be best to note that this topic will use the units and link the first occurrence of each unit but not give a conversion every time it occurs. [3]

As you can see, this provision covers conversions both to and from metric and US customary/Imperial units.

A second point is about the text of the proposed change. In this case, the only proposed change in the text was to one sentence, where the rest of the policy was not changed. That is why I gave only the proposed change and not the whole text, which, of course, is just one click away. I am sorry you gained the impression it was to eliminate the requirement for conversions from SI into US customary units. This is certainly not the case. The revision that I have proposed here does not touch this provision, which would be unchanged by my proposal.

I hope this answers all your concerns. If not, please write again. Michael Glass (talk) 12:59, 22 April 2009 (UTC)

Even less change to the meaning could be achieved by stating:
Woodstone (talk) 13:13, 22 April 2009 (UTC)

Yes, I think that your wording reads better. Thanks. Michael Glass (talk)

Shouldn't it read U.S. vice US per Wikipedia:Manual of Style (abbreviations)? LeadSongDog come howl 14:05, 22 April 2009 (UTC)
The abbreviation guide gives both but says that U.S. is more common in the United States. If there is evidence that the rest of the style guide is written in specifically American English, then I would have no trouble in making it conform with the established style of the article; otherwise, I would be inclined to leave it as it is. Michael Glass (talk) 23:01, 22 April 2009 (UTC)

Wording changed as per the discussion above. "However:" re-inserted to complete the sentence. Michael Glass (talk) 22:30, 23 April 2009 (UTC)

"Generally accepted units" Why this phrase is problematic

At the moment the policy instructs us in one place to "prefer broadly accepted units". However, the policy does not define what broadly accepted units are, except to state that it usually means SI and related units. The wording is problematic for the following reasons.

  • People have different ideas on whether any units are broadly acceptable.
  • Those who do agree that some units are broadly acceptable disagree about which ones are broadly acceptable and in what conditions etc.
  • Saying or implying that SI is "broadly acceptable" would not be agreed to by all.

Therefore it could be argued that the phrase "broadly acceptable" is at best problematic or even that it is a nonsense, as no units are broadly acceptable in any meaningful way. The phrasing is also obscure (we don't know or have different ideas about what is "generally acceptable". It is also verbose. If it says something meaningful, it takes too many words to say it.

I suggest this wording:

It is shorter, it is clear and it is to the point. It states present policy, clearly pointing out the exceptions to the general rule. I can't see any problem with it. However, others might be able to suggest some improvements. What do others think? Michael Glass (talk) 22:59, 23 April 2009 (UTC)

It is also misleading. The guideline is to use broadly accepted units, whatever they are. What exactly this means is to be determined on a per-article (or per-topic) basis, but usually this will be the BIPM units. Your change is non-trivial, and advocates BIPM units over alternatives which may be more appropriate. The current version also does not state that BIPM units are "broadly acceptable", it says that usually this will be the case. This is a description not a prescription. This section is not broken, so there's no need for a fix.Headbomb {ταλκκοντριβς – WP Physics} 21:01, 25 April 2009 (UTC)

It is necessary to read the policy on units of measurement as a whole. The third principle of using units of measurement reads as follows:

  • International scope: Wikipedia is not country-specific; apart from US and some UK specific topics, use metric units.

This states a general preference for metric units with two exceptions. So existing policy is not a free-for-all, where usage may be decided on a per article or per topic basis. According to the existing guidelines, it is to be metric except for US articles and some UK articles. The phrase "broadly acceptable" is problematic not only because it is vague and open to interpretation, it is also at odds with existing policy, which makes clear recommendations about which system of weights and measures to put first.

We have units determined on a per-article basis in Wikipedia's UK articles. Here, as I have demonstrated, the choice of measures is all over the shop. I think we should be working to reduce, not increase, this kind of unnecessary variation. The policy states a general preference for SI and related units, but make it clear what the exceptions are. This clear recommendation should not be muddled by an ambiguous phrase.

My suggestion, rather than changing current policy, clarifies it. It removes a phrase that is not only vague but is misleading, because it can be read in a way that is at odds with current policy. However, I agree with Headbomb that policy is a recommendation rather than a prescription. Michael Glass (talk) 22:59, 25 April 2009 (UTC)

I have now revised the wording in accordance with the proposal above. However, I have also dropped two unnecessary words from the second sentence to make the passage flow better. Michael Glass (talk) 05:46, 28 April 2009 (UTC)

I have reverted the change in wording. As I said before, the current wording has been thoroughly discussed (see archive rewrite of units of measurements June 2008) and passed unanimously. Consensus is to use generally accepted units, whatever those are. If the speed of snail racing is usually measured in furlongs per year, then it's furlongs per year. If volumes of oil are measured usually measured in barrels, then the article reflect that as well. Headbomb {ταλκκοντριβς – WP Physics} 04:42, 29 April 2009 (UTC)

I note this reversion and the reasons given to justify it.

  • Consensus passed unanimously, it is said, but no link given. This link [4] does not support this contention, as there was opposition to a rewrite of the policy - a different question to that being discussed here. False argument.
  • 'Consensus is to use generally accepted units, whatever those are.' No evidence given of any alleged consensus. No evidence to suggest that my proposed change would disturb the right to use customary units, as these are amply provided for in the wording, In general. Another false argument.
  • Furlongs per year This appears to be a corruption of the phrase "furlongs per fortnight". In other words, it is a furphy, a mirage, a humbug, something that signifies nothing. Read about furlongs per fortnight at this site and note what it says about the need for SI measures. False argument 3.
  • Volumes of oil in barrels. Yes, a US customary measure. Already covered by my wording. But "generally accepted"? The article says it's a measure that is largely confined to the American oil industry. That does not make it "generally accepted" any more than American customary units are "generally accepted". False argument 4

In short, the reasons given for the reversion simply don't stand up to scrutiny. Michael Glass (talk) 11:23, 30 April 2009 (UTC)

Concerning the first bullet, the Greenbox's discussion was chaotic and mixed with the red box's and the purplebox's. If you feel like reading everything, you'll see that the opposition was centered on whether it allowed IEC prefixes or not. See also the redbox with is provision of familiarity. Opposition to that was be on people thinking it mean that it did not allow for following current litterature (aka if snail racing uses furlongs per forthnight as their unit of speed, use furlong per forthnight). Concerning the second bullet, there isn't a single thread about that specifically, but there are many in which the provision has been interpreted by many (all) people to mean what I'm to mean use the generally accepted units, whatever those are. And what "whatever those are" are is to be decided on a per article basis (or per-topic basis). You don't have consensus to change this phrasing, so don't change it. This version stood unphased for over nine months, which must be a record of some sort. It's up to you to demonstrate their is consensus to change the phrasing, which you didn't do. Headbomb {ταλκκοντριβς – WP Physics} 11:49, 30 April 2009 (UTC)

I guess that furlongs per year and barrels were just examples. If you want a more realistic one, the diagonals of displays are always measured in inches, as far as I can tell (even in Italy, where inches aren't generally used for anything else; indeed in colloquial Italian you might say un diciassette pollici, lit. "a seventeen inches", and most people would readily understand that you are referring to a 17-inch screen). So centimetres are not "generally accepted units" for that particular measurement. Ditto for oscure combinations of units and prefixes: the kilosecond isn't a generally accepted unit by any stretch of imagination, but it is approved by the BIPM; the converse applies to the year, the century, and (when talking about food energy) to the kilocalorie. So "generally accepted units" and "units approved by the BIPM" are neither synonyms nor one a subset of the other. I feel the current wording of that sentence is fine. And I agree with Headbomb that units generally accepted for something can be ridiculous when measuring something else. Draught beer served in pubs isn't measured in the same units as bottled soft drinks are (indeed in some places you could say "two liter" and people would readily understand you're referring to such a bottle because they don't normally use litres for anything else, similar with the example with inches in Italy above). Similarly, you don't measure the energy of a ultra-high-energy cosmic ray with the same unit you'd use for the energy of airsoft pellets, or the food energy in a cake with the same unit you'd use for the energy consumption of an electric heater. --A. di M. (formerly Army1987) — Deeds, not words. 12:37, 30 April 2009 (UTC)
Just as an addendum, I found a use of furlongs per forthnight in muon catalyzed fusion. I just had to share.Headbomb {ταλκκοντριβς – WP Physics} 17:42, 1 May 2009 (UTC)

Thank you, Headbomb and A. di M. I read your comments with interest. I am afraid we are speaking at cross-purposes. Let me explain.

For Dorothy in Kansas, generally accepted units applies to the customary units that she has grown up with. Ditto for Sally in Saskatchewan and Christina in Chihuahua, except that the units they regard as generally accepted are different from Dorothy's. And as for Lucy in London, no units are generally accepted. She uses different units for different purposes, and she knows not to mention the metre to Colonel Blimp, her uncle, or the mile to cousin Milton, who's a metric fanatic. So Dorothy's certainty and clarity dissolves into a fog of uncertainty once you use that phrase in a global context.

When you think about the word general it is clear to you what you mean. However, from an international perspective your general actually means particular. So for me, your meaning turns general into particular and local and the phrase dissolves into confusion.

It's the same problem that you face if you use the seasons to refer to times of the year. For you, Christmas is in winter and Easter is in spring but that's not the case for me, where Christmas is in summer and Easter is in autumn. Why? I live in the Southern Hemisphere, where your natural order of seasons is turned on its head. in Singapore or Jamaica there are no seasons at all and in Darwin, Australia, there are just two seasons: the Wet and the Dry. So while seasons are real, they are not the same everywhere, and they are not universal, and in Wikipedia articles you can't use them to refer to periods of time..

So that's why the phrase, generally accepted units is problematic: it means different and conflicting things to different people, and for people like Lucy in London, it's a nonsense. And that is also why you find it so hard to give a credible example of a generally accepted unit. When pressed, the concept generally accepted unit dissolves into confusion, because in the global context there is no such thing. If there really were generally accepted units, we wouldn't need a policy about which units to use.

I can understand that the phrase generally accepted units has meaning for you. However, on a global scale - and Wikipedia is global - the phrase becomes contradictory and nonsensical for other readers. And that's what makes it problematic for Wikipedia. Michael Glass (talk) 02:12, 2 May 2009 (UTC)

Units generally accepted for the topic. Nanometers or micrometers in spectroscopy, not angstroms. Yards in american football, not meters. Solar masses to report the masses of stars, not kilograms or slugs. Tons of TNT equivalent in nuclear bomb yields, not joules. MeV/c^2 in particle physics, not kilograms. And so on. Headbomb {ταλκκοντριβς – WP Physics} 02:22, 2 May 2009 (UTC)

All these are covered by the qualifier, In general.... However, if you feel that this is not sufficient, then I have no objection to your phrase, Units generally accepted for the topic to be added. Michael Glass (talk) 06:29, 2 May 2009 (UTC)

Having thought about Headbomb's comments above for several days, it appears to me that we may be arguing at cross purposes. What I take generally acceptable units to mean is units that are used in a wide variety of ways, such as the common SI and related units and US customary and Imperial units that are widely used in Great Britain and the United States. What Headbomb referred to was mostly scientific terms that are generally used in some particular contexts. So though we were using the same term (generally accepted units) we were thinking of quite different things. In other words, we were arguing at cross purposes. This could explain why we kept on talking past each other.

What I said all along was that the term generally accepted units was problematic, because it meant different things to different people. It appears to me that this applies to Headbomb and me, because we had different things in mind when we used this term. If so, it goes to show that the term is even more problematic than I gave it credit for being, and that is another good reason for getting rid of it.

In my previous comment, I stated my belief that the qualifier In general... covers the kind of units that Headbomb raised. I note that Headbomb has not rushed to say that this is not the case. However, this qualifying phrase may not be strong enough for him and others. Here, therefore is another proposal:

  • In general, prefer units approved by the Bureau International des Poids et Mesures (BIPM). That is, SI units, SI derived units, and non-SI units accepted for use with SI are preferred over other units, e.g. 25 °C (77 °F) rather than 77 °F (25 °C). However:
    • in US-specific topics, the primary units are generally US customary units, with conversions given into SI and related units;
    • UK-related topics may have either SI or imperial units as the primary units.
    • Some scientific concepts and sporting rules are expressed in units other than SI and related units.
  • Use units consistently (e.g., write A 10 kg (22 lb) bag of potatoes and a 4.5 kg (10 lb) bag of carrots, not A 10 kg (22 lb) bag of potatoes and an 10 lb (4.5 kg) bag of carrots).

As you can see, this proposal deletes the problematical phrase, generally accepted units. However, it takes full account of the objection that Headbomb raised by referring to the scientific and sporting measurements that he drew attention to. The sentence that I have bolded should adequately cover the concerns that Headbomb raised in his comments and we and perhaps others could agree on this change of wording. Michael Glass (talk) 10:40, 6 May 2009 (UTC)

It does no such thing. You still have that BIPM pushing sentence which is not what has been agreed on in the past. What has been agreed on in the past is use the generally accepted unit. If these are BIPM, cool, if they are imperial, that's how it'll be. The new bullet doesn't help either. What about distances and speeds in naval context (nautical miles, knots, etc...)? That's neither a scientific concept, nor a sporting rule. What about gem cutting (carats, ounces, ...) ? That neither a scientific field nor a sport. That bullet will have to be expanded to a huuuuuuuuuuuuuge paragraph before it covers what you want it to cover. There is no need to change the MOSNUM on this, it says it what it means well, and it says them very concisely. Use the generally accepted units. If you need the "in the field" to make this clear for you, then add it, but the MOS doesn't endorse BIPM over any other units.Headbomb {ταλκκοντριβς – WP Physics} 16:28, 6 May 2009 (UTC)

The first comment is about BIPM pushing. It makes being in favour of the metric system sound like drug pushing! Not exactly the language that one would expect from a dispassionate observer. Not exactly expressed in a friendly way, either. However, there's no question that the wording does - Shock! Horror! - favour the Metric System. In fact, it favours SI as much as the following statements:

Wikipedia is not country-specific; apart from US and some UK specific topics, use metric units.
In general, prefer broadly accepted units. Usually this means units approved by the Bureau International des Poids et Mesures (BIPM).
If the choice of units is arbitrary, use SI units as the main unit, with converted units in parentheses.

And where do these BIPM pushing statements come from? Why, our very own Manual of Style (dates and numbers)! I believe that my suggested wording, "In general, prefer units approved by the Bureau International des Poids et Mesures (BIPM)," is much the same.

However, you do make some valuable criticisms about the wording that I proposed. My solution to the problem you raise is to change the sentence to include other measurements. If you want to include nautical miles and gem cutting and other measures, then instead of taking a combative stance, let us work together to find a way to express it in a way that is not so problematical. One way of putting it may be to say,

Some specialized measures are expressed in units other than SI and related units.

That, I reckon, should cover any measures that may be raised. My problem with the phrase "generally accepted units" remains. Michael Glass (talk) 11:21, 7 May 2009 (UTC)

This does not come from the MOS, it comes from you (this changed has managed to gone unnoticed until now, I reverted to previous version). Now take offense that BIPM pushing sounds like drug pushing all you want, but it doesn't change the fact that you do not have consensus to change generally accepted units to BIPM units. I already proposed a workable solution, you chose to ignore it. Headbomb {ταλκκοντριβς – WP Physics} 19:18, 7 May 2009 (UTC)

Not exactly a polite response, is it? As I explained repeatedly, there are problems with the wording "generally accepted units". You state you have a workable solution for the problem I have raised with the wording. Then please write it out in full so that I can consider it in context. Michael Glass (talk) 06:29, 8 May 2009 (UTC)

Again you choose to take offense for silly things. Take offense all you want, I don't care. Now as I explained repeatedly, there are problems with the wording "use BIPM units". See the last sentence 16:28, 6 May 2009 (UTC) post for my suggestion of a solution. Headbomb {ταλκκοντριβς – WP Physics} 07:12, 8 May 2009 (UTC)

Once again, another rude response from someone cringing behind an assumed name, who, when confronted with his bad manners has made it clear that he doesn't care. "In the field" means nothing. "Generally accepted units in the field" is gobbledegook. For the second time I request that Headbomb quotes his proposed wording in context. Then we might be able to make some sense of it. Michael Glass (talk) 10:48, 8 May 2009 (UTC)

UK articles: a suggested change in policy to encourage more consistency

There is a firm recommendations that articles on Wikipedia should generally have SI and related units first. However, for US - based articles, US customary units are to come first and for UK - based articles, the primary units can be either SI or Imperial units. As a result, there are firm guidelines for editors except for UK-based articles, where there is a free-for-all, with the inconsistencies that I have documented.

At present, MOSUM's wording is:

    • UK-related topics may have either SI or imperial units as the primary units.

This, I believe, has resulted in allowing inconsistencies between similar UK articles to an extent that is not seen elsewhere in Wikipedia.

So what can be done?

We obviously can't tell British editors that they must use metric measures or that they must go back to using Imperial measures. That is simply not on. However, we can advise or recommend or suggest that more consistency would be preferable. Something like this may help:

    • UK-related topics may have either SI or imperial units as the primary units. However, putting SI and related units first is recommended to increase consistency between UK -related articles.

This wording explains the rationale for the policy. It explains that it is about Wikipedia articles. It is framed as a recommendation and not a rule, and it specifically retains the provision that UK articles may still be Imperial first - even though the use of SI is recommended.

How do other editors feel about this proposed change in wording and policy. Michael Glass (talk) 11:08, 28 April 2009 (UTC)

Personally would be against as I would expect imperial first in UK specific articles especially for distances where miles are always used for road distance measures rather than km. You will not find km on road signs around the UK only miles. Keith D (talk) 11:34, 28 April 2009 (UTC)

Have a look at the top of this current section. What would you do to remedy the variation in usage that I have documented? How could you force Imperial only (or SI only) on editors? Should Wikipedia be bound by the road signs in England? Michael Glass (talk) 13:33, 28 April 2009 (UTC)

The choice between imperial and metric should be determined based on the context of any given article. On that basis, the current MOSNUM wording is perfectly acceptable, and can see no reason for changing it. It is not for WP to be recommending that the UK convert to metric. wjematherbigissue 13:46, 28 April 2009 (UTC)

The question is not about whether the UK should convert to the metric system but whether we should encourage UK articles on Wikipedia to be more consistent in their display of units. It is not good practice to have measures all over the place, where Devon and Cornwall, Oxfordshire and Cambridgeshire, the Shetlands and the Orkneys differ on whether they put metric or Imperial measures first. It is not rational to have metric first in the articles on East and West Falklands, but Imperial first in the article on the Falkland Islands. That is a Monty Python parody, not good practice for an encyclopedia. Michael Glass (talk) 22:24, 28 April 2009 (UTC)

I agree it would be nice if similar/related articles were consistent in their use of imperial and/or metric, but your solution to have mos display preference for one over the other is like using a sledgehammer to crack an egg, discarding local conventions. wjematherbigissue 22:46, 28 April 2009 (UTC)

Have you asked the opinions of people at Wikipedia talk:WikiProject United Kingdom and Wikipedia talk:WikiProject Measurement? -- (talk) 23:37, 28 April 2009 (UTC)

  • Let me just remind everybody that the obvious thing to do is to use units in UK articles exactly in the way that they are actually used by almost everybody in the UK: Metric for most purposes, and customary for some of the most important purposes. I believe that this is the real meaning of this sentence: "UK-related topics may have either SI or imperial units as the primary units." At least it should be. Any UK-related article talking about the distance between London and Edinburgh and the average July temperature in Manchester will have to use miles and Celsius. Not kilometres and Celsius, and certainly not miles and Fahrenheit. What does seem to differ between articles is the choice of km2 vs. sq mi, and of feet vs. metres for elevations. I guess that these are areas where there is currently no preferred usage in the UK. I could support an attempt to standardise these problematic units, but only if the customary units that are still common in the UK are not affected. It's no problem at all if the same article measures a road distance in miles and an area in square kilometres. The inconsistencies between customary and metric are no worse than the internal inconsistencies of the customary system. --Hans Adler (talk) 00:15, 29 April 2009 (UTC)

First I would like to thank Wjemather, Hans Adler and for their comments.

  •'s suggestions are particularly valuable, and I certainly will take them up.
  • IWjemather's argued that it is too heavy-handed for MOSNUM to display a preference for either SI or Imperial. However, the general policy favours SI, while stating an exception for US -based articles, where US customary units are to come first. Why then should UK-based articles alone be left to flounder between two systems without a word of guidance as to which one is preferable? However, I do agree with him that it would be nice to have more consistency between articles about the UK.
  • Hans Adler's comment is particularly valuable in giving us all a picture of the way metric and Imperial units are used in the UK. It sounds like it's miles for the motorway, Celsius for the temperatures and metres for the mountains (except some prefer feet for the foothills) and there is confusion between whether to pick square miles or square kilometres. Hans says that this little mess is no worse than the difficulties of the customary system, so what the heck. Well, this, I fear, is an oversimplification. The articles manage to have a mixture of units, sometimes with conversions supplied and sometimes not. Sometimes areas are given in hectares, or square km or square miles and distances may be in miles or kilometres or both. It really is all over the place. Now if this was just a matter for the UK, perhaps it would not matter so much. But Wikipedia is international, and for the sake of other readers, there should be more consistency.

I believe that something can and should be done to help overcome this excessive variation, and that is a simple statement that SI and related units are recommended or at least suggested for consistency's sake. However, we must also make it clear that both SI and Imperial units should be supplied. And this, at least, should be much easier to reach consensus on. Michael Glass (talk) 11:22, 29 April 2009 (UTC)

If there is no consistency in the actual use in the UK, I can't see why there must be in Wikipedia articles about the UK. If they measure distances in miles and paper sizes in centimetres, I can't see the point of arbitrarily decide to stick to kilometres and centimetres, or to miles and inches, just because of some notion that we should necessarily use one system per article. It's not like we should make it easy for the reader to quickly figure out how many sheets of A4 paper would fit in the distance between London and Oxford. So my suggestion is: measure things with the units used in the real world. (On the other hand, I think that all measurements in Wikipedia should be followed by a conversion, except for units understood by virtually all people able to read English, such as the second, the minute, the hour, the degree (of angle), etc.) --A. di M. (formerly Army1987) — Deeds, not words. 12:51, 29 April 2009 (UTC)
(Note previous discussion here related to the current wording). As pointed out, it depends what the measure is and in what context. A broad sweeping statement such as "SI units are preferred" is unacceptable.
The problem is that MOS has not been applied consistently, and I think it is this that you want to be addressed. This would mean changing the second bullet point (Use units consistently) to make it clear that it should be consistent within an individual article, and also across all articles within a given topic.
If you wish to change the first bullet, then you would have to go down the route of writing a full style guide for the UK as the media do (they are generally inconsistent in their approach, as it happens) to clarify when exceptions should be made to the use of metric. wjematherbigissue 13:07, 29 April 2009 (UTC)

A. di M., articles on the UK are of general interest. It is an advantage that they be widely understood. The use of both Imperial and metric units will assist. It would also help if there was more consistency in their presentation. A suggestion in the Manual of Style could help this process. Also, please note that my proposal would be a general guide, not a straitjacket. It's trivialising the question to talk about measuring distances between London and Oxford in sheets of A4 paper. The real world uses SI and Imperial/US customary measures. It is not asking too much that there is some more consistency in their presentation in UK -based Wikipedia, just as there is elsewhere.

Wjemather, my proposals do not make the sweeping statement that SI units are preferred. The statements I have proposed are qualified to make room for exceptions, the biggest exception being the United States. I agree that the MOS has not been applied consistently. Most people who edit on Wikipedia wouldn't even look at it. Nevertheless, a recommendation for consistency will have some effect over time, and that is what makes it worthwhile to consider. Michael Glass (talk) 12:01, 30 April 2009 (UTC)

re "A. di M., articles on the UK are of general interest. It is an advantage that they be widely understood. The use of both Imperial and metric units will assist.": I thought none of us ever proposed to use either metric or imperial units alone (i.e. without a conversion). If you thought I did, then I'm sorry that I wasn't clear enough. As for which unit should come first, I'd suggest it should be the unit which would most likely be used in the real world for that particular measurement (miles for the distance between two towns in the UK or in the U.S., kilometres for the distance between two towns in Italy, millimetres for the dimensions of a A4 paper sheet, inches for the dimensions of a letter paper sheet, pints for draught beer served in pubs, litres for soft drinks in plastic bottles, yadda yadda yadda), but, so long as there is a conversion so that anyone who is able to understand written English is able to understand at least one of the units used (as in "18 kilometres (11 mi)" or as in "11 miles (18 km)"), using an ordering or the other is not a matter of life and death. --A. di M. (formerly Army1987) — Deeds, not words. 14:31, 30 April 2009 (UTC)

It's good that we agree that conversions should be provided. I think that should be stated clearly for UK articles, just as it is for US articles. It seems we differ on whether UK articles should be encouraged to be more consistent. I can see no harm in that, but you are concerned that distances in UK articles should give miles first, because that is the way that British roads are signed. I actually have some sympathy with that view, provided there was consistency with the other measures. However, that is not the state of UK articles, where some are metric first, some are not and some are mixed. The present policy simply leaves it to individual editors to decide which units to put first. All I propose is a suggestion that SI be put first for the sake of consistency, and if greater consistency could be achieved by making an exception for road distances, then that would be an improvement on the present state. However, we should remember that policy insists on consistent use of measures within articles, so this could be a sticking point. Michael Glass (talk) 02:41, 2 May 2009 (UTC)

I agree with Michael Glass. For heaven's sake, let's move on from old-speak. It is inevitable that roads and the like will be expressed in km, sooner or later. Then we'll have to change them all here from US to international, finally, will we? If you're over the age of 75, you can be granted an exemption: just don't even conceptualise the distance. If you're under the age of 75, get a grip. Tony (talk) 09:50, 3 May 2009 (UTC)
Agreed. Sooner or later the British will have to accept the fact that the sun has set on the British Empire and that their former colonies have gone metric like the perfidious French. Sooner or later the European Union will crack down on them and force them to use kilometres. We here in the former colonies find the whole argument somewhat pointless since kilometres are not that hard to understand or use.RockyMtnGuy (talk) 18:03, 3 May 2009 (UTC)
I don't think there is any need for snidey remarks in this discussion, even if in jest. I doubt you would find any British subjects who do not recognise that the British Empire ended a long time ago. Perhaps it may be a little more problematical finding an American who agreed it is time that the US joined the rest of the world in going metric. You also seem to have a strange perception as to how the European Union actually works, Britain remains a sovereign state and Brussels does not have any power to 'force' the UK to mark our roadsigns in kilometres. If such a change is ever mooted it will be by the British parliament. 21st CENTURY GREENSTUFF 18:23, 3 May 2009 (UTC)

I think we should get back to the question at issue: a suggested change in policy to encourage more consistency. It's not about the British Empire, or the European Community or even the Metric System. It's about a suggested change in policy to encourage more consistency. I think more consistency should be encouraged but different wording might prove more acceptable. On the other hand, some editors might be quite happy with the status quo. What do people want, a Monty Python free-for-all, or a policy that encourages more consistency?. Michael Glass (talk) 11:26, 4 May 2009 (UTC)

As Keith D pointed out earlier in the discussion the change of policy would be problematical. Of course the conversions to other measures should always be included, but lay editors will always instinctively use the common useage first and that is frankly a mish-mash. If talking about beer the common use unit would always be pints, but if talking of bottled and canned drinks they would be in litres. Longer road distances would usually be measured in miles (because that is what roadsigns and maps are marked in), but if talking about the distance to the next road junction it would be measured in hundreds of metres (except the older generation who may still use yards). Weights are less confused with most British folks using grammes, kilos and metric tonnes, but body weights stand out as still being in stones and pounds. Equally most people in the UK will measure their height in feet and inches (ask most Brits their metric height and you will get blank stares). There is another oddity when it comes to temperature as most Brits use fahrenheit for hot temperatures in summer, but think in centigrade for cold winter temperatures. The time to suggest a change in policy will be in about 20 years time, when the last members of the Imperial measurement generation has died out. 21st CENTURY GREENSTUFF 12:01, 4 May 2009 (UTC)
Do I even need to say that I agree? However, I would add: When in doubt use metric first. That would apply when comparing summer and winter temperatures. A sentence like "When I want to buy cider I can choose between pint (0.568 l) bottles and half-litre (0.88 pt) bottles" would probably be fine, but an editor who insists on making the units consistent should definitely not make it "... choose between pint (0.568 l) bottles and 0.88-pint (0.5 l) bottles". --Hans Adler (talk) 12:49, 4 May 2009 (UTC)
Ignoring the pointless remarks of Tony1 and RockyMtnGuy with their crystal balls and clear lack of knowledge with regards to weights and measures in the UK, WP should go along with common local usage. In the UK it is a complex mix of imperial and metric that can not be easily summarised in one or two sentences – a full style guide would be needed.
As pointed out previously, having consistency across a range of articles within any given topic is to be encouraged and could be added to bullet 2 here (Use units consistently). wjematherbigissue 13:04, 4 May 2009 (UTC)

Wjemather fears that the situation of weights and measures in the UK is so complex that Wikipedia should go along with common local usage. This presumes that because the article on Jersey gives precedence to metric measures and Guernsey is Imperial, that this reflects the feelings of the people who live in these islands. I doubt it. It's probably more to do with the individual preferences of the authors of the articles than any local preference. It also presumes that these articles are only read by the locals, so that the needs of young Australians (who would want metric measures) and Americans (who would want the customary measures) count for nothing. Here is a proposal that has a chance to satisfy the broadest possible audience:

    • UK-related topics should display both SI and imperial units. While either system may come first, articles should be internally consistent.

This proposal gives something for almost everyone. There are imperial units for those who want them, SI units for the rest and internal consistency for the fastidious. However, it does nothing to sort out the Monry Python mess that I have drawn attention to. To deal with that I would suggest the following:

    • UK-related topics should display both SI and imperial units. While either system may come first and articles should be internally consistent, SI and related units are suggested for consistency between articles.

What do people think about these suggested wordings? Also - and I stress - the recommendation for SI and related units is a suggestion and not an order. Michael Glass (talk)

No, do not misquote me. Wikipedia should go along with common local usage, regardless of how complex local usage is. Use of measures across a range of closely related articles is inconsistent because MoS is written badly, stating one or the other (SI or Imperial) should be used. Both your proposals do not improve on the current wording. My suggestion would be something like...
  • UK-related topics should generally display SI units first, with imperial conversions provided in brackets, but with the following exceptions: distances, speed, aircraft altitude, personal measurements (height and weight), all of which should be be displayed using imperial first with metric conversions given.
Obviously a full list of exceptions would be needed – I have given just a few examples – and would suggest borrowing from the style guide of a leading UK publication such as The Times. wjematherbigissue 12:24, 6 May 2009 (UTC)
The Times style guide is here (scroll to Metric}. They recommend metric first (including °C for temperature) on articles related to the UK, except:
  • Use square miles over square kilometres (but use hectares and square metres over acres and square feet)
  • Use miles over kilometres and miles per hour over kilometres per hour
  • Use imperial units for personal measurements - use feet and inches for height and stones and pounds for weight
  • Use feet when dealing with aircraft height but metres when dealing with the heights of hills and mountains
  • Use pints when dealing with beer and cider, and metric units for all other liquids except milk (where you should use context to guide you)
  • Use miles per gallon for fuel capacity, but litres for fuel.
Obviously nautical miles are also used more generally, and UK articles should not be an exception. I don't think this list is overly onerous and would suggest that it would be a decent way of getting our articles a bit more consistent. Pfainuk talk 17:32, 6 May 2009 (UTC)

First of all, I did not quote wjemather. The complexity of British usage of weights and measures does not fully explain why there are such inconsistencies between individual articles. As I said, this probably has more to do with the preferences of individual editors of the articles. If, however, I inadvertently misrepresented his views, then I am sorry.

Secondly, I do not agree that Wikipedia is necessarily bound to go along with common local usage no matter how complex it is. Wikipedia is international, and therefore some adjustment has to be made to take account of this fact

Thirdly, I agree that UK-related topics should generally display SI units first, with imperial conversions provided in brackets. However, a great list of exceptions would largely negate the policy. Worse, it would result in even more inconsistency, only this time there would be inconsistency within articles, something that is against Wikipedia policy.

Fourthly, the advice to use "square miles over square kilometres (but use hectares and square metres over acres and square feet)" is a recipe for confusion.

Fifthly, it would make more sense to give both litres per 100km as well as miles per Imperial gallon. It should be noted that the Imperial gallon is obsolete in almost every place where it was once used, that it was never used in the United States and that it is largely obsolete even in Great Britain. MPG is now an orphan measure now that fuel in the UK is sold by the litre.

So though I welcome Pfainuk's support of the Metric System, I fear that his exceptions would prove unworkable. Michael Glass (talk) 11:56, 7 May 2009 (UTC)

My support (Wikipedia-wise) is for metric-with-exceptions, not for full metrication of UK-related articles. I do not believe that UK articles should be either uniformly imperial or uniformly metric. We should use units as they are actually used in the UK, and we can determine that by using the style guide of a major UK media outlet such as the Times.
I think that switching all UK articles to all-metric is a bad idea for the same reason that switching all US articles to all-metric is a bad idea. The primary readership is likely to be British and they are likely to want the primary units to be the measures that they understand most clearly. Most of the writers are likely to be British and most of the sources are likely to be British - and thus both writers and sources are likely to use the British system. Exactly the same reasoning applies to switching UK articles to all-imperial because the British system is not all-imperial either. Metric-with-exceptions is the closest the MOS is likely to get to being descriptive of actual usage on Wikipedia IMO.
I think the fact that these units are (supposed to be) converted anyway means that the internationalisation aspect is not a big deal. The articles would generally use an internally consistent set of units - we wouldn't be talking about 3 kilometres between villages in one sentence and 2 miles between them in the next. And even where one measurement has two sets of units, they would be clearly delineated by context. It just wouldn't be either purely metric or purely imperial.
On units of area, I would actually have said that acres are rather more common than hectares in the UK, but the cite says hectares. I personally wouldn't object to either square kilometres or acres and square feet as primary units in the case of area (though obviously others might).
On fuel economy, I doubt one Briton in ten thousand has a good idea of what constitutes reasonable fuel economy in litres/100km. I certainly don't. The measurement is simply never used in the UK. Not even by car manufacturers. And even though petrol is sold in litres. Pfainuk talk 17:54, 7 May 2009 (UTC)

Firstly, thank you for your thoughtful, detailed and measured response. I feel I should make the following points:

  • I understand that you would like to follow the Times guide. The trouble is that applying it consistently would break Wiki policy about using units consistently in individual articles.
  • My proposal, that metrication be suggested would not, I am sure, be followed immediately, so it would not pose such an immediate threat to the status quo as you seem to fear. Remember, a suggestion is not an order.
  • I am glad that you see the problem with units of area. It would be good to fix on SI units to smooth out this inconsistency between articles, but we both realise that this could meet with resistance, so that is why I would make it a suggestion rather than a rule.
  • Expressing fuel economy in both MPG and litres per 100km would do a service for readers. It would not disturb the UK as MPG is still there and it would enlighten all who use this metric measure and many who do not.
  • My proposal is only be a suggestion and not an order. If this would be too much for people to stomach perhaps you could suggest another way to deal with the variation between articles that I have noted, or is this something that doesn't concern people? Michael Glass (talk) 06:48, 8 May 2009 (UTC)
"Expressing fuel economy in both MPG and litres per 100km would do a service for readers. It would not disturb the UK as MPG is still there and it would enlighten all who use this metric measure and many who do not." – Could you please stop applying the universal consensus that non-metric units must be followed by a conversion to metric to every single non-metric unit that comes up and present it as your very own original and potentially controversial thought. This is very distracting and makes it very hard to assume good faith and high intelligence at the same time. I thought you had understood this point when you said: "It's good that we agree that conversions should be provided." Apparently not.
To be absolutely clear I will say it again: Conversions are not even an issue, especially not when the primary unit is non-metric. If you find non-metric units without conversion in UK-related articles this is because 1) the editor who wrote this didn't bother to convert, 2) the editor didn't know how to convert, or 3) conversion wasn't deemed necessary because it would essentially have been a repetition, as in "The distance from A to B is 10 miles (16 kilometres), and the distance from A to C is also 10 miles." Or the more borderline "The distance from A to B is 10 miles (16 kilometres), and the distance from A to C is 20 miles."
This is just the most glaring example for the problem that this thread looks more like a monologue with some other editors providing occasional inspiration for you to say the same thing in slightly different words, than like a discussion. For instance I believe you still haven't told us clearly whether you agree that the distance between UK towns needs to be given in miles first, with a conversion to kilometres. Which of the following sentences should be the correct one in a UK article:
"The distance between Oxford and Cambridge is 114 miles (182 kilometres)."
"The distance between Oxford and Cambridge is 182 kilometres (114 miles)."
This is a yes or no question, so please give a clear answer. --Hans Adler (talk) 08:17, 8 May 2009 (UTC)
It clear from his first point, that Michael Glass interprets the phrase "use units consistently" as dictating the use of either metric or imperial as the primary units for every measure within an article. Whereas what I believe is meant, is that metric or imperial should be used for any given measure every time that measure is used within an article, which allows for metres to be used for the height of a building, but feet and inches to be used for the height of a person. wjematherbigissue 10:24, 8 May 2009 (UTC)

To respond to Hans Adler, I believe it is essential that distances be expressed in both units and would prefer that SI came first. To respond to wjemather, I understand that using units consistently means that all measures in an article be expressed with either metric measures coming first or with Imperial measures coming first. If buildings are measured in metres but people are measured in feet and inches, this, in my opinion, is inconsistent. Having stated my interpretation of the policy - which is to take the words to mean what the words say - I can see that this might prove impossible with UK articles, because people in the UK use SI for some things and Imperial measures for others. For example, in the article on the Falkland Islands, distances are given in miles first but temperatures are given in degrees Celsius without conversion into Fahrenheit. However, as Hans Adler believes that there is consensus for conversions to be supplied in UK articles, I have changed MOSNUM accordingly. Michael Glass (talk) 11:33, 8 May 2009 (UTC)

That revision lasted about 5 minutes before it was reverted to what was before. So much for assuming consensus. Michael Glass (talk) 11:39, 8 May 2009 (UTC)

I have reverted your change, as it reinforces what I believe to be your misinterpretation of the intent of MOSNUM. Additionally, conversions are not the issue at hand. The unit conversions section of MOSNUM adequately covers this aspect, and your edit did nothing to enhance it.
To avoid further misinterpretation, MOSNUM should be reworded to make it clear that whilst in general metric should be used for UK related articles, in some circumstances imperial units come first with metric conversions provided. wjematherbigissue 11:52, 8 May 2009 (UTC)
There absolutely must be a conversion, unless a science-related article, in which case metric alone may be used. As far as which is the main unit in UK-related articles, my personal view is that it's madness not to use metrics, converting to US units in parentheses. Otherwise, all will have to be changed sooner or later as the UK inevitably completes its conversion. Tony (talk) 11:55, 8 May 2009 (UTC)
I hope you are joking. Or do you really prefer "A bottle of Bulmers cider contains 0.568 litres (1.2 US pints)" to "A bottle of Bulmers cider contains 1 pint (0.568 litres)"? --Hans Adler (talk) 12:48, 8 May 2009 (UTC)
Even with Imperial this doesn't make much sense. There would be a perpetual struggle against anonymous editors from the UK, and from my personal experience in the country I guess that at least half of the UK editors would be conscientious objectors, or even fight on the anti-metric side. I know it's silly, but that's how it is in this country. --Hans Adler (talk) 13:08, 8 May 2009 (UTC)

Now I understand why Monty Python comes from England. Consistency taken to mean inconsistency. Now I reckon I've heard it all. Michael Glass (talk) 12:08, 8 May 2009 (UTC)

The first statement of MOS:CONVERSIONS already says precisely that, and it does not need to be restated elsewhere. Your views, or anybody else's for that matter, on whether the UK will eventually convert in entirety to metric are irrelevant. In any case, it is not going to happen soon, and what matters is current usage. wjematherbigissue 12:11, 8 May 2009 (UTC)

This is really getting disruptive now. [5] This edit by Michael Glass combined two things:

  • It restated WP:NBSP#Unit conversions in a very specific subcase of the preceding section, WP:NBSP#Which units to use. This is unnecessary policy creep.
  • It makes a radical change from the previous guidance, which was "Use units consistently" with an example consisting of weights of potatoes and carrots, i.e. it was talking about consistency of units one dimension (weight, length etc.) at a time, to "While either system may come first, articles should be internally consistent", which is most appropriately interpreted as saying that each article must choose once and for all whether to use the not yet fully established metric system for all units or the partially already totally obsolete old system for all units.

Michael Glass, whether you like it or not, the system of units currently used in the UK is a hybrid of the metric and Imperial systems. Since the Imperial system is clearly not an option for UK articles except some historical ones, your change would basically legislate complete metrication of the majority of UK-related articles. You are not going to succeed with this, and I suggest you stop before we start discussing whether you need to be banned for trolling.

As to the meaning of "consistency" here: UK articles should (with some exceptions such as history articles) consistently use the hybrid system that is used in the UK. And where that system offers a choice between Imperial and metric units, and article should make this choice consistently, but possibly for each unit separably. This has nothing whatsoever to do with Monty Python. --Hans Adler (talk) 12:40, 8 May 2009 (UTC)

It is possible to consistently use metres to describe the height of buildings, and consistently use feet and inches to describe the height of people. That is how the UK system works, consistently. wjematherbigissue 12:46, 8 May 2009 (UTC)
Ah, sorry, you are right. Yes, it's not even necessary to always use the same unit for one dimension. It may also vary with the domain where it is applied. And these "inconsistencies" are not new at all. There was a time when the English used yards of 36 inches to measure land and ells of 37 inches to measure cloth. Some time after this system was exported to Scotland (and long before the Acts of Union), ells became obsolete in England and yards became obsolete in Scotland. That's why the ell is now regarded as a Scottish unit. For weights the differences were even worse, because even the weighing techniques were different. There were many "pounds" of different weights, making it necessary to define a "hundredweight" as a 104 pounds of spices or 112 pounds of heavy goods – both had the same real weight, which was important for balancing cargo in a ship. [6] --Hans Adler (talk) 13:01, 8 May 2009 (UTC)
Another suggestion for solving this problem: Let's all sit down and have a cuppa (227.2045 millilitres). Sincerely, GeorgeLouis (talk) 16:47, 8 May 2009 (UTC)

Even better, let's just define inconsistent as meaning the same as consistent. Michael Glass (talk) 21:50, 8 May 2009 (UTC)

It is obvious that this particular discussion has got nowhere. However, I want to comment on this statement:

Michael Glass, whether you like it or not, the system of units currently used in the UK is a hybrid of the metric and Imperial systems.

Accepted, though this doesn't have to mean that Wikipedia has to do the same.

Since the Imperial system is clearly not an option for UK articles except some historical ones, your change would basically legislate complete metrication of the majority of UK-related articles.

Rejected. The change suggested explicitly said that either SI or imperial units could come first. It also said that the articles should be internally consistent. The belief that this would basically legislate complete metrication of the majority of UK-related articles is groundless. How Hans Adler could get his interpretation from my wording is a puzzle to me, unless it could be attributed to the recent full moon.

You are not going to succeed with this, and I suggest you stop before we start discussing whether you need to be banned for trolling.

Having worked himself into a lather over an imaginary danger he lashes out with a crazy threat. However, I put Hans Adler on notice that I do not take kindly to those who try to bully me. Michael Glass (talk) 11:10, 12 May 2009 (UTC)

Unnecessary vagueness

I believe that the following wording is unnecessarily vague:

  • International scope: Wikipedia is not country-specific; apart from region-specific topics, use international units.

Region-specific: meaningless, as the region is not supplied.

The wording is better expressed:

  • International scope: Wikipedia is not country-specific; apart from US and -some UK-specific topics, use international units.

at least with this wording you know where the non-international units are to be used.

Of course it would be better to specify SI and related units. Michael Glass (talk) 21:50, 8 May 2009 (UTC)

I am not at all sure that the vagueness is unnecessary. If you mention US and UK explicitly instead of "regions", you make it impossible to interpret this wider for historical articles; otherwise there is enough wiggle room to permit ancient Egyptian units first in an article about ancient Egypt.
And "international" is definitely not the same as "SI and related units". Crude oil is traded in barrels, so that's the international unit for crude oil and the article would be completely justified to use barrels first. (In fact it's inconsistent in its use of barrels and km3.) Your proposal would change this, and I am not sure it would be an improvement. Perhaps in this case; but probably not in general. --Hans Adler (talk) 00:06, 9 May 2009 (UTC)

The argument about historical articles and Ancient Egypt only applies if the wording said, "use SI units exclusively." All I have proposed is to use SI units so I can't see the problem. In the case of crude oil, there appears to be two measures. One is the barrel (42 US gallons) and the other is the metric measure. I really don't think the sky would fall if the metric measure was put first. However - and correct me if I am wrong - we might both agree it would be an improvement if the article was consistent in its use of barrels and the metric measures.

Anyway, all of this is irrelevant in deciding whether the policy should say "region specific" (and then neither mention or define this specific region) or specify that this applies to US and some UK specific topics. I can't understand why people would want to obfuscate the wording for no apparent logical reason. Michael Glass (talk) 02:00, 9 May 2009 (UTC)

Internationally, crude oil is traded in US oil barrels, tonnes, and cubic metres, depending on the particular market. Bills of lading for oil tankers often will have all three, and may also have long tons as well. The use of US oil barrels in the popular media is just an attempt to (over)simplify the situation for the general public.RockyMtnGuy (talk) 17:12, 19 May 2009 (UTC)
There is no obfuscation at all in "region specific". It just means, use those units first which are normally used regionally where the article subject is situated. Those editors who are most likely to edit such a regional article will know what is meant, because they live in the region. E.g. virtually all UK-based editors agree that for UK articles miles must come first, and those who don't agree know very well that they are being eccentric.
Your first two sentences seem to make no sense. Surely you proposed to use SI units first. Thus when writing about 5th century BCE Greek travelling literature, all distances would have to be given in kilometres, with the actual units from the text in parentheses. I think that's eccentric. --Hans Adler (talk) 02:28, 9 May 2009 (UTC)

When quoting texts you quote them verbatim. So if you were quoting an ancient text referred to an ancient measure you would quote it and then translate the measurement into modern terms, putting that measurement in square brackets. Anyway, the controversial text has been removed from the policy altogether so there is no point in discussing it further. Michael Glass (talk) 02:48, 9 May 2009 (UTC)

Hans, your statement, "virtually all UK-based editors agree that for UK articles miles must come first, and those who don't agree know very well that they are being eccentric" cannot possibly be true—I myself know quite a few who see no reason to pander to the bickering about completing the job; there must be many more out there. Whereas the European Commission has temporarily "given up" on doing battle with older people in the UK in a position to thwart modernity, the Commission's goal, of course, has been to eradicate US units from the UK. However, here, eradication is not at all under consideration: it is merely the consistency of metric as main unit followed by US unit that is being proposed. Who still wants the nuisance of having to groom the inconsistency out of individual articles because both are allowed? That confuses the majority of editors who aren't privy to MOSNUM's recommendations. It is far better to go for simplicity and uniformity, and one that should please every editor except those with an inexplicable resistance to change. It's good enough for articles related to Canada, Ireland, Australia, South Africa and New Zealand ... what is the problem? Tony (talk) 13:50, 12 May 2009 (UTC)
Again, your ignorance of the usage of measures in the UK is staggering. Either that, or you are feigning ignorance to make a point. The UK does not use US measures and never has. I advise you go away and check up on the differences between the imperial system used in the UK and the US system.
I would have to agree with Hans. I am far from being an older person as you describe, and would find it very bizarre indeed if someone described travelling distances in anything other than miles.
Canada, Ireland, etc. consistently use metric, so related articles use metric as that is what local editors would naturally use. The UK uses a mix of metric and imperial, so related articles should do the same – this is what UK editors unfamiliar with MOSNUM would do instinctively.
No matter how hard you try, you are not going to succeed in imposing metric on the UK. I am also wondering why you are not trying to do likewise with the US? wjematherbigissue 16:42, 12 May 2009 (UTC)
There are obvious and significant differences between Imperial measures as used in the UK on one hand, and US measures on the other. I suggest, Tony, that you might like to read up on those differences here.
Complete metrication of British articles would be impractical to maintain, would be inconsistent with recommendations for all other articles related to a specific country, and would violate WP:NPOV.
It would be impractical to maintain because most British users are likely to write UK-related articles using the British hybrid system, based on sources also using the British hybrid system. Well-meaning anonymous users from the UK are likely to switch units to the hybrid system. And I can't see that many British editors reverting back to fulfil an apparently arbitrary MOS requirement.
It would be clearly inconsistent with the ENGVAR-style system used elsewhere - whereby articles use the system of measurement in common use in the country concerned as the primary units - at least for English-speaking countries. Instead, all English-speaking countries except the UK would use such a system. The reason we have such a system is surely because it's the most practical and the most descriptive of common usage on articles related to specific countries.
It would be POV because - like it or not - metrication is a political issue in the UK. Forcing metric units as primary in all circumstances on UK-related articles would imply pretty strongly that Wikipedia believes that the UK should switch its remaining imperial measures to metric. Similarly, forcing imperial units as primary in all circumstances imply the opposite position. The only way we can keep UK-related articles consistent with one another while maintaining political neutrality is by adopting the British hybrid system as the primary system of units on UK-related articles.
For these reasons - impracticality, inconsistency with other countries, and the political bias that would be caused, I believe that full metrication of UK articles on Wikipedia is fundamentally undesirable unless and until prominent British media sources adopt the metric system as their primary system of measurements. As I noted in quoting the Times style guide earlier on, they do not do so today. Pfainuk talk 17:10, 12 May 2009 (UTC)
See here for a news report about the British "hybrid system". I made this term up to describe the situation, when I used it further up on this page. But it seems I am not the only one who sees it that way. By the way, the term seems to be applied more often to the situation in Canada, which is different. (For example they are already using kilometres and kilometres per hour, while the UK still uses miles and miles per hour.) --Hans Adler (talk) 18:01, 12 May 2009 (UTC)

This whole section began as a discussion about whether MOSUM should read:

  • International scope: Wikipedia is not country-specific; apart from US and -some UK-specific topics, use international units. or
  • International scope: Wikipedia is not country-specific; apart from region-specific topics, use international units.

Then someone removed the entire sentence from the article. Now we have no guidance in MOSNUM as to what units should apply world-wide. Not a smart move. I believe that either sentence would be better than nothing, even though I think the second one is too vague.

In deciding this question we would not be considering whether or not the UK should or would or could complete its metric changeover; we would be considering the wording that would set Wiki policy for the use of weights and measures in most of the rest of the world. Michael Glass (talk) 06:23, 13 May 2009 (UTC)

I can't help thinking that some people are pushing an agenda here. If we were to suggest that all measurements in the UK were to be in imperial measurements there would be howls of outrage from some people who are pushing for all in metric. The truth is that if one orders a shot of scotch in a pub and with a half pint chaser, the shot will be measured out as 25 ml. and the half pint will be 10 fluid ounces, to insist that both be measured the same way makes the article look disjointed as neither measurement easily fits into the other system. Here is a Local Government example where they use both, I don't think it looks wrong, for use on Wikipedia it needs a conversion for those who come from a different society but any adult Brit should be able to understand the page without conversion templates.
I think that there are real problems with some weights and measures on Wikipedia, and these tend to be the result of the same name, such as ton, being used in third party sources, where it is not clear if the tonnage is American or Imperial. For example if one is contributing to the article on the bombing of Dresden, various third party sources refer to tons of bombs dropped, but few of them (if any), make it clear if the tonnage is being measured in short or long tons (or even if the authors knew that the primary sources may have been using different types of ton), in such cases using just metric tonnes is probably best as it saves having to put in three measurements of a ton every time tonnage is mentioned. --PBS (talk) 11:05, 14 May 2009 (UTC)
"I can't help thinking that some people are pushing an agenda here." Yes, Phillip, of course Michael is pushing an agenda: to improve WP. Hans, I feel you are continuing to exaggerate by talking in terms of the "complete metrification" of UK-related articles. No one thinking of removing the US units (whatever you want to call them), but merely putting the metric units we all understand first, and main unit, with a conversion on all occasions (aside from scientific articles, as now). Tony (talk) 08:38, 17 May 2009 (UTC)
Michael's agenda is quite obvious: Legislating metric first with as few exceptions as possible, closing as many loopholes as possible. This would imply that Road speed limits in the Republic of Ireland would have to use metric first in all instances (actually it's probably a justifed WP:IAR case already, because of its internal "inconsistencies"). And virtually all horse-related articles would have to switch from hand (length) as the primary unit for height to metric first. I am sure there are many other such cases.
In many cases this might be feasible. Giving distances between UK towns metric first is probably not feasible at all at this time, and certainly not while distances between US places are given in miles. In the best case it would open a huge edit war between a few logged-in British editors and a huge number of UK-based anonymous editors. In the worst case the large-scale edit war would rage between logged-in editors.
Obviously when I am talking about "complete metrication" of articles I mean using metric units as the primary units in all instances, such as "0.57 litres (1 pint)", or "96 kilometres per hour (60 miles per hour)". The first makes sense in a sentence that also mentions "2 litres (3.52 pints)"; the second makes no sense in a UK article. I am saying this as someone who thinks it's totally stupid for a country to resist full metrication; but living in the country it's obvious to me that there is a hybrid system in place in which tree heights are measured in metres and it would be eccentric to measure road lengths in kilometres. (I have never seen or heard anyone give a distance in anything but miles here.) --Hans Adler (talk) 16:47, 17 May 2009 (UTC)
That raises yet another issue [for anyone suffering from a dearth or shortage of them ;-) ]: When the original (often quite approximate) measure seems clearly to have been in either metric or Imperial/customary, it's a bit silly, and sometimes misleading, to start with the conversion, for example "0.57 litres (1 Imperial pint)", "2.54 cm (1 inch)", "2.205 lb (1 kg)" or "39.4 inches (1.0 metres)". —— Shakescene (talk) 17:47, 17 May 2009 (UTC)
You still seem to have missed the fact that the US and Imperial systems are actually separate different in many ways. It isn't a case of different words for the same system: while many of the units are the same, a fair few are completely different. For example, US measures of volume (such as the pint and gallon) are quite a bit smaller than the British ones. For example, the US system prefers a ton of 2000lb, whereas the Imperial system prefers a ton of 2240lb.
In the contexts where imperial units are still commonly used, very few British people actually have a working knowledge of the metric versions. This is not a bunch of bloody-minded traditionalists arguing for the imperial versions first for the sake of it. Generally speaking, in those contexts where imperial units still dominate, people in the UK genuinely have little idea of what the metric units mean in practice.
If you were to ask a group of British people their weight in kilograms - even young British people who were taught in metric units exclusively at school - very few if any would be able to tell you. Ask in stones and pounds and most would know (though they might not want to tell you). Ask heights in metres and centimetres and you might have a bit more luck from children - but most adults would still have little idea. Ask in feet and inches and very few wouldn't know.
And it goes on. People might know that a thousand metres is a kilometre, but they would have very little handle of exactly how fast 70 km/h is - or how far 70 km is - without converting to imperial. People in the UK may know the facts of how the metric system works, but few have the knowledge through understanding that is required to be able to use it efficiently in contexts where it is not generally used in the UK. I would suggest that your contention that we all understand metric units is questionable at best and nonsense at worst.
For this reason, sources are likely to be in imperial units in contexts where the imperial system is more commonly used in the UK not from a sense of tradition but from the fact that it's the set of units their audience is likely to be familiar with. Editors are likely to use imperial units in these contexts again not through tradition, through familiarity. Personally, I don't think that expecting editors to spend time and effort switching the standard units used by well-meaning British editors based on standard British sources to conform with some arbitrary MOS guideline is good for Wikipedia. It'd be a lot of effort with very little gained.
And as I explained above, insisting on metric units first on UK-related articles - even where the only well-understood usage in the UK is the imperial version - would be a clear indication that Wikipedia is in favour of full metrication of units in the UK and as such would be a direct violation of WP:NPOV. Personally, I don't think that violating our rules on political neutrality is good for Wikipedia either. Pfainuk talk 17:44, 17 May 2009 (UTC)

Instead of discussing the wording, the discussion has veered onto my agenda. As Tony said, my agenda is to improve Wikipedia. Yes, I think it would be better to have more consistency in the use of weights and measures. However, that does not mean that I want to ride roughshod over other people's opinions and rights. Why am I being demonised? Because people with another agenda are fighting tooth and nail against anything they see as a threat to their point of view. Pfainuk (above) makes it clear that UK people feel comfortable with using metric measures for some things and Imperial measures for other things. However, that was not at issue. What was at issue was the policy that should apply to Wiki articles about the rest of the world. Let's go back to the wording:

International scope: Wikipedia is not country-specific; apart from US and -some UK-specific topics, use international units. or
International scope: Wikipedia is not country-specific; apart from region-specific topics, use international units.

As I stated, I prefer the first over the second, because region-specific is too vague. So let's discuss the wording rather than people's agendas. Michael Glass (talk) 08:35, 18 May 2009 (UTC)

The MOSNUM is purposefully vague here. There are more regions in the world than the US and the UK. It would be both wrong and a epic display of self-absorption to say that the "foundational guideline" or "core ideas" are to "use international units other than in US and some UK related topics. The core idea is to use international units, with regional considerations as appropriate. Headbomb {ταλκκοντριβς – WP Physics} 03:26, 19 May 2009 (UTC)

I don't understand how you could want a policy could be purposefully vague. Flexible, yes, but not vague! If the policy read "Use international units with regional considerations as appropriate," it would be something as vague as the Oracle of Delphi, and capable of as many interpretations.

But let's do it a different way. Let's try being as specific as possible, while leaving as much wiggle room as necessary. What if the policy read:

International scope: Wikipedia is not country-specific; use SI and related units, supplemented with other national and international units where appropriate.

This wording would cover other international units, such as measuring horses by hands or oil by barrels or earthquakes by the Richter Scale or whatever other things are necessary. It would also cover national units, such as the US customary units and the Imperial units that are in use in the UK and its dependancies. Would that satisfy your requirements? If it does not, please explain why not. And when I ask for an explanation, I don't mean sloganeering. I want specific examples of where the wording is problematical Michael Glass (talk) 11:32, 19 May 2009 (UTC)

Firstly MOS is not policy, it is simply here to provide guidance. Secondly, the guidelines in this case need to be vague, otherwise they would fill an encyclopaedia on their own, having the need to be specific for every measure in every imaginable case. Finally, you are back to your SI pushing, which we have already established is a non-starter. wjematherbigissue 12:38, 19 May 2009 (UTC)
The main page of the MOS has a section called "National varieties of English" I think some of the words in 'Strong national ties to a topic applies to this problem, "Australians should not stumble over Americanisms in Australian Defence Force; Americans should not find Anglicisms in American Civil War." The truth is that people in the UK use a dual system, and while the measure car engine size by the CC the measure the power by horses, they measure petrol in liters and distance in miles (unless it is less than a quarter of a mile in which case they are as likely to use metres as yards). It is not that they could not understand distances in kilometres (it is just that they would have to convert to miles for it to have meaning). We could use the word "gasoline" in place of "petrol" in all British articles, we don't because we accept that National varieties of English is the preferred Wikipedia way. I think this issue of weights, measures, distance and speed, should be left to using the same method as is used in reliable sources for articles:(with some adjustment for consistency within an article if the reliable sources differ), as with the example I gave above in the Local Government example.
Paraphrasing from WP:MOS#Foreign terms "The use of any particular measuring system is neither encouraged nor discouraged; its usage depends on the systems used in contemporary verifiable reliable sources on the subject. Where sources diverge ...". (not sure what to recommend on divergence ...). In most cases in most articles this would mean the metric system, because the WP:V is weighted to scientific literature, but it would automatically take take care of the exceptions in the US and the idiosyncrasies of the UK. --PBS (talk) 11:11, 20 May 2009 (UTC)

What a breath of fresh air! Someone other than the usual three debaters expressing an opinion! In the case of language, the advice of the Manual of Style is quite appropriate. However, when it comes to weights and measures, SI and related measures are not only the accepted standard over most of the world but SI is the standard for science and increasingly the standard for industry. This does not mean that SI should be used to the exclusion of other measures but it does mean that SI's place should be recognised.

In reply to WJmather, I agree that I should have used the word "guidance" rather than "policy". However, I believe that the guidelines need to be clear rather than vague. About the claim of SI pushing, I think that this is a mixture of both wisdom and silliness. It is wise in alerting me to the fact that the wording needs to be improved, but silly in treating SI like some kind of virus that must be resisted. I am also interested in your use of "we". Yes, I know that there are three people who have opposed me here. However, that doesn't mean three people speak for the whole of Wikipedia, even if those three think they do.

But let's get back to the wording.

  • Wikipedia is International; in general, apart from US and certain UK related topics, use SI and related units, supplemented, where appropriate, with other national or internationally used units.

Now I think that should cover just about any situation where units other than SI units may be used:

  • It's general advice. Therefore it envisages that there would be exceptions.
  • The UK and the US are specifically recognised as exceptions to the general guideline.
  • The wording says UK related topics. This is to cover occasions where UK dependancies use non-SI units, e.g., the Falkland Islands or the Channel Islands.
  • The wording covers other internationally used units.
  • It also covers national units, such as the local weights and measures in Myanmar (Burma)

It anything is overlooked, please let me know. Michael Glass (talk) 12:06, 20 May 2009 (UTC)

It is very difficult to judge a passage out of context. Michael, do you intend to keep the requirement that US or UK customary units be usually provided in parenthesis, unless it is a scientific article where no one uses customary units, or unless there are so many measurements it is better to put conversion factors in a footnote? The thinking around here has been that US readers reading articles that have nothing to do with the US would have a tough time without the conversions. --Jc3s5h (talk) 14:07, 20 May 2009 (UTC)
The context is the third bullet in the "Units of measurement" section. --A. di M. (formerly Army1987) — Deeds, not words. 20:27, 20 May 2009 (UTC)
I think the point is that readers from all over the world should be able to understand the measurement. As for your proposed wording ("SI and related units, supplemented ... with other ... units"), it could be interpreted to mean that one should write "In Irish pubs, beer is customarily served in 0.57-litre (1 imp pt) glasses." That's backwards. (Also, by "related units" you mean "non-SI units accepted for use with the SI"? The year isn't one, but it is much more of an international unit than the hectogram is.) I'd go with something like: Wikipedia is international: in topics where regional units are used, provide a conversion to international units, such as SI units and units accepted for use with the SI; conversely, when using international units which are not in common usage in all English-speaking countries (such as the kilometre), provide a conversion to customary units (such as the mile)., or a less verbose version thereof if you can find one. --A. di M. (formerly Army1987) — Deeds, not words. 20:27, 20 May 2009 (UTC)
Note that the bullet speaks of the general idea, which is to use international units as a rule of thumb, but that region-specific considerations have to be taken into account. Going more specific than this defeats the purpose of summarizing the spirit of the Units of Measurements section. The section immediately following the three bullets – aka "Which unit to use" – covers the specifics. The three bullets aren't broken, and don't need any fixing. Headbomb {ταλκκοντριβς – WP Physics} 22:40, 20 May 2009 (UTC)
And a later section covers conversions. wjematherbigissue 09:39, 21 May 2009 (UTC)
I have no problem with the requirement "apart from region-specific topics, use international units", but only if "international units" is taken with its literal meaning. If cathode ray tubes are measured in inches all over the world except in Australia and South Africa, then the international unit for CRTs is the inch, and articles should use the inch as the primary unit for measuring CRTs, except articles specifically about Australia and/or South Africa. Unfortunately, however, if Michael Glass misunderstood the phrase "international units" as meaning "SI units and units accepted for use with the SI", other people might misunderstand it as well, given the name of the SI. The fact that the "i" in "international" is lowercase shows that the literal meaning is intended, but some readers might not notice it. (Maybe, what about keeping the current wording but adding an example to clarify that we don't mean "international units" as in "International System of Units"?)[Never mind. Just replaced "international units" with "internationally used units". Hope this solves the problem. --A. di M. (formerly Army1987) — Deeds, not words. 19:17, 21 May 2009 (UTC)] --A. di M. (formerly Army1987) — Deeds, not words. 18:52, 21 May 2009 (UTC)

First, I would like to thank all those who commented on my draft wording. It's great to be working on the wording in a co-operative manner. As there is concern about the guideline and what it says, here is a link to the section [7] and here is an extract of what I believe is the crucial part of the guideline for understanding the proposed wording with one clause in italics: _______________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

== Units of measurement ==

The use of units of measurement is based on the following principles:

  • Avoid ambiguity: Aim to write so you cannot be misunderstood.
  • Familiarity: The less readers have to look up definitions, the easier it is to be understood.

* International scope: Wikipedia is not country-specific; apart from region-specific topics, use international units.

If there is trouble balancing these bullets, consult other editors through the talk page and try to reach consensus.

===Which units to use===

__________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________ My proposed wording was to replace the third bullet point - the one I have placed in italics with these words (also italicised).

* Wikipedia is International; in general, apart from US and certain UK related topics, use SI and related units, supplemented, where appropriate, with other national or internationally used units.

I hope that this puts it into context for everyone, though I do urge people to look at the policy as a whole. Now for the questions that have been raised:

  • Yes, I intend to keep the requirement that US or UK customary units be usually provided in parenthesis, unless it is a scientific article where no one uses customary units, or unless there are so many measurements it is better to put conversion factors in a footnote. This provision is important so that people who are unfamiliar with metric measurements will not be disadvantaged.
  • "Your proposed wording ("SI and related units, supplemented ... with other ... units"), it could be interpreted to mean that one should write "In Irish pubs, beer is customarily served in 0.57-litre (1 imp pt) glasses." That's backwards." Agreed. I would also state that this is a misreading of the wording. I have said 'in general' to provide for situations like this. Of course, if it is felt that this wording is not strong enough, then we could perhaps work on it some more.
  • By "related units" do you mean "non-SI units accepted for use with the SI"? Yes I do. As this is not clear the wording "SI and SI related units" may be preferable.
  • What about Wikipedia is international: in topics where regional units are used, provide a conversion to international units, such as SI units and units accepted for use with the SI; conversely, when using international units which are not in common usage in all English-speaking countries (such as the kilometre), provide a conversion to customary units (such as the mile).,? Well, first of all it is verbose. Secondly, it fails to take account of the fact that the metric system is dominant in every area of the world except the United States, the UK (for some applications), Burma and Liberia. Everywhere else, including Australia, New Zealand, Canada and Ireland, all English-speaking countries, metrics are dominant.

Here is my proposal, revised in the light of the comments above:

* Wikipedia is International; in general, apart from US and certain UK related topics, put SI and SI related units first, supplemented, where appropriate, with other national or internationally used units.

The changes are bolded.

What do others think? Michael Glass (talk) 10:47, 21 May 2009 (UTC)

You are encouraging others to read through the MOS, but have you read it yourself? The "Which units to use" sub-section covers all this quite nicely. As such there is no requirement for the principles to be specific, yet you continue to try and push SI into these introductory statements, while ignoring the fact that SI, and SI related, units are inappropriate in many instances, not just US and UK related articles. This is becoming tedious. wjematherbigissue 11:43, 21 May 2009 (UTC)
Seriously, it's like the 4th time your trying to rephrase and re-introduce the same discussion. The horse is dead, stop beating it. Headbomb {ταλκκοντριβς – WP Physics} 12:55, 21 May 2009 (UTC)
Should we really write a 43-centimetre (17 in) CRT television set despite the fact that those things are measured in centimetres in Australia and South Africa but in inches everywhere else? Should we write 0.23-millimetre (0.009 in)-gauge guitar strings despite the fact that no-one measures them in millimetres? C'mon. Saying "international units" is fine. The inch is the internationally used unit for CRTs and it should be used to measure CRTs in non-regional articles. Also, the wording suggests that we should "generally" write stuff like 0.69 gigaseconds (22 years); matter of fact, I can very hardly imagine cases where anyone would ever want to do that. --A. di M. (formerly Army1987) — Deeds, not words. 19:12, 21 May 2009 (UTC)

Saying that you couldn't use minutes, hours, days and years under SI is a load of bovine manure. [8]. To argue this way is nonsensical. However, if people on MOSNUM are determined to stand against the world-wide system, they are welcome to it. I have tried my best to work out a wording that would deal with any rational objection to my words. This is my last attempt.

* Wikipedia is International; in general, apart from US and certain UK related topics, put SI and other units accepted for use with SI first, supplemented, where appropriate, with other national or internationally used units.

The words that are bolded are based on the official policy. Michael Glass (talk) 09:20, 22 May 2009 (UTC)

You are still completely missing the point, and it shows bad faith on your part to suggest that those opposing your attempts at changing the guidelines are opposed to global standards. You must be aware by now that the use of SI (and other units) is well covered in the "Which units to use" section. I am thankful that you will not be pushing this any further. wjematherbigissue 09:51, 22 May 2009 (UTC)
That proposal is identical to the one you made yesterday except that you replaced "SI related units" with "other units accepted for use with SI" (which, as you admitted, were intended to mean the same). So I can't see how it addresses any of the problems which were raised about it. Writing 0.23-millimetre (0.009 in)-gauge guitar strings when guitar strings are measured in inches to within a thousandths of inch everywhere makes no sense regardless of whether the article is about the US, the UK, some other place, or about no place in particular. The same applies to a whole lotta other things, too: if you understand French, just see fr:Pouce (unité)#De nos jours for a list of things which aren't commonly measured in anything else than inches. The same applies to kilocalories, light-years, parsecs and other such units which aren't approved for use with the SI but are the only units most people all over the world would use to measure stuff such as food energy values, interstellar distances, yadda yadda yadda. (As for time units, I did not mention hours and days—which I know are accepted for use with the SI, but weeks and years. Misquoting people won't help supporting your position at all.) Can you just point out exactly what is wrong with the current wording, apart from region-specific topics, use internationally accepted units for the topic at hand (namely, measure CRTs in inches first, unless if you are specifically dealing with Australian or South African CRTs, in which case you would use centimetres first)? --A. di M. (formerly Army1987) — Deeds, not words. 11:33, 22 May 2009 (UTC)
The guideline is international units first, not SI and related units. This 10th (or whichever iteration this is, and I am glad this is finally the last one) proposal is no different than all the ones that came before it. There is no "official policy" that Wikipedia follows. We do not have the luxury of being able to follow one. Headbomb {ταλκκοντριβς – WP Physics} 13:09, 22 May 2009 (UTC)

All the exceptions you refer to are covered by the words "in general". I proposed changing the words because they are too vague. "International units" to me suggests SI units in a way that does not come out and say so directly. In any country that uses metric measures, international units would mean SI. That is the problem with the expression '"international units". It means different things to different people.

Where units other than SI are used to measure things such as guitar strings, or hands are used to measure the height of horses, it strikes me as anomalous, like using Roman numerals. These exceptions are covered by the words "in general".

The expression "region specific topics" is so vague and woolly that it doesn't make any sense to me at all. That is why I wanted to sweep away this gobbledegook and replace it with something that makes sense in plain English. But, and this has been made abundantly clear, some editors want the policy to be vague, so there's no point in pursuing it further.Michael Glass (talk) 13:40, 22 May 2009 (UTC)

I think it is better to use a wording which makes clear which principle we should be following, rather than putting the cart before the horses and just state a rule of thumb ("SI and other units accepted for use with SI") which has zillions of exceptions hoping that the "in general" somehow makes clear not only that they exist, but even what they are. It's almost like realizing that most mathematicians are male, suggesting that "in general, mathematicians should be referring to by masculine pronouns" and claiming that the words "in general" cover cases such as Emmy Noether. (The main difference is that, in my fictitious example, there would be very little—if any—risk that some over-zealous editor could take the rule too seriously and refer to Noether as "he".) "Internationally accepted units for the topic at hand" is as unambiguous as it could possibly be: the units which are most commonly used around the world for the given class of measurements: kilometres per hour for road speeds, kilocalories for food energy values, inches for cathode ray tubes, and degrees Celsius for atmospheric temperatures. "Region-specific topics" are topics where different units are used locally rather than the internationally most common ones, for example road speeds in the US and in the UK, for which miles per hours are used instead of kilometres per hour, or air temperatures in the US in degrees Fahrenheit, or Australian CRTs in centimetres. Now I agree that might not be the most explicit possible wording for that, but if you can find a clearer wording which doesn't change the meaning, you're welcome to propose it. --A. di M. (formerly Army1987) — Deeds, not words. 14:22, 22 May 2009 (UTC)
BTW, I am Italian and I am a university student of physics, so I'm definitely not a person who could want to oppose metrication for the sake of opposing metrication. Anyway, I have gotten sick of this silly discussion, too. Farewell. --A. di M. (formerly Army1987) — Deeds, not words. 14:28, 22 May 2009 (UTC)
Because it fits so well here: I am German, have lived in the UK for barely 2 years and am leaving the country in a few months. I believe the level of resistance to metrication here is silly, and I am suffering from this totally unnecessary problem in that I constantly have to translate miles into kilometres when driving. (The worst thing is that while British cars have dual-unit speedometers, European cars don't show miles per hour. So I have to translate 50 mph into 80 km/h. Then after a while I may ask myself whether it was 80 km/h or 80 mph.)
I am interested in obsolete historical units as a curiosity. It's absurd that the US and to a lesser extent the UK and Canada continue using them, but it's a fact that we have to deal with. --Hans Adler (talk) 19:11, 22 May 2009 (UTC)

If the wording of the guideline contained the phrase "Internationally accepted units for the topic at hand" it would be much clearer. However, it just reads "international units". Why not put that forward as a suggestion? Michael Glass (talk) 16:22, 22 May 2009 (UTC)

Because it already written that way. Headbomb {ταλκκοντριβς – WP Physics} 18:20, 22 May 2009 (UTC)

Yes, it's just been added, though I think the passage needs editing. Please see below: Michael Glass (talk) 04:08, 23 May 2009 (UTC)

I fail to see how the section below is related in any way to the editing of the passage in question. Nor was the recent addition about the passage of the below section. It's a very weird thing to misrepresent. Headbomb {ταλκκοντριβς – WP Physics} 04:46, 23 May 2009 (UTC)

New wording on weights and measures

The recently added wording reads as follows:

I would edit this as follows:

My reasons:

  • Shorter sentences are easier to follow.
  • Many exceptions is too POV; a number of exceptions is more neutral in tone.

In addition:

  • The example of temperatures in Fahrenheit and Celsius spoils the flow of the passage. I think it could be dropped,

Michael Glass (talk) 04:08, 23 May 2009 (UTC)

I've attempted a compromise, because having two consecutive sentences starting with "However" sounds weird to me; also I feel "various" hasn't the same connotations as "many" but isn't as long as "a number of". (BTW, I am glad we've moved on to discuss wording rather than meaning.) --A. di M. (formerly Army1987) — Deeds, not words. 10:08, 23 May 2009 (UTC)

Wording of the policy on weights and measures

I note that Headbomb has restored the earlier wording of the introduction. As the words replaced had some merit, I have tried to bring the two versions together to combine the best of both wordings. Michael Glass (talk) 12:55, 14 May 2009 (UTC)

Frankly, that is no better. If anything it is worse, so I have reverted again. wjematherbigissue 13:16, 14 May 2009 (UTC)

Let us look, clause by clause, at the wording that Wjmather rejected:

A:Follow these principle in using units of measurement:
B:The use of units of measurement is based on the following principles:

A is simple, straightforward and short. Why reject this simple wording in preference for a more complicated sentence? Is anything of importance omitted by using B instead of A? I don't think so. All that is lost is ponderous language.

A: Readers need to understand the measurements, so avoid ambiguity and aim to write clearly.
B: Avoid ambiguity: Aim to write so you cannot be misunderstood.

Yes, A is longer but B tells us to aim for the unattainable. No-one can write so they cannot be misunderstood. Why not substitute the more modest aim, to write clearly? But let us say that you were not happy with A or B. Then why not try to recast the sentence? That would require work, of course, and I challenge Wjmather and others to work with me on this wording.

A: Different readers are familiar with different measurements, so both metric and US/Imperial measurements should be supplied.
B: Familiarity: The less readers have to look up definitions, the easier it is to be understood.

Yes, A is longer, but it points out that different people are familiar with different measurements and that is why both metric and US/Imperial measures should be supplied. B is shorter but I doubt that it is better, because it offers no solution to the problem noted.

A: Wikipedia is international; apart from region-specific topics, use international units.
B: International scope: Wikipedia is not country-specific; apart from region-specific topics, use international units.

Once again A is simpler, more straightforward and shorter. Why reject it in favour of the longer and more ponderous B?

Reverts are easy and quick, of course. However, perhaps if Wjmather and others could work with me we could come up with something that is better than either A or B. What about it? Michael Glass (talk) 10:44, 15 May 2009 (UTC)

To be totally frank: So soon after your wearisome attempts at rewriting this guideline so that it conforms to your misreading of it, I don't think you are going to find much cooperation for minor stylistic tweaks. And "both metric and US/Imperial measurements should be supplied" instead of "familiarity ..." is more than a tweak, it's a change of meaning. 1) It can be read as saying that where applicable all three measurements should be applied, as in "1 pint (0.57 litres, 1.2 US pints) of cider". 2) It doesn't address the often heard argument that a unit is linked, so readers can simply look up its equivalent in another system. 3) It doesn't provide for historical articles where the most natural units to use may be obsolete ones that are neither current US nor Imperial units. For example a historical article on minting in England would in one period naturally measure the gold taken to the mint in pre-imperial troy pounds and the finished coins in Tower pounds. It would give metric and possibly Imperial equivalents in parentheses. 4) "Imperial" is not the system currently used in the UK. E.g. in the Imperial system gold was measured in troy pounds, not in avoirdupois pounds. If we write "Imperial", sooner or later someone will come along, point to this guideline, and insist on something like "The robbers stole 267 kg (716 lb troy)" where we should really convert this as 588 lb avdp. I object to all 4 changes of meaning. --Hans Adler (talk) 11:23, 15 May 2009 (UTC)
In a nutshell, what Hans wrote. This is getting tendentious. Headbomb {ταλκκοντριβς – WP Physics} 12:04, 15 May 2009 (UTC)
Michael, yes is was easier simply to revert your entire change. However, three of your changes made no improvement to the current wording, so nothing has been lost there. Obviously the main objection is to change 3 (bullet 2). I see very little wrong with the current wording. It needs to be ambiguous to take account of instances when none of metric, imperial or US customary measures are appropriate, as Hans says in historical contexts, but also for subjects such as oil (generally measured in barrels). Also, as I have said before, conversions are dealt with in another section, so do not need to be covered here. wjematherbigissue 12:21, 15 May 2009 (UTC)

Hans, it seems you have a ready argument for rejecting anything I suggest. If my edit changes the meaning, you reject it; if it doesn't, you dismiss it as a 'minor stylistic tweak' and then reject it anyway, because it changes the meaning. Let us leave aside the changes that you have argued against. I assert that what you call minor stylistic tweaks are an improvement, because they make the language is simpler, clearer and shorter.

Wjemather, it seems you admit to reverting at least one of my changed wordings, not because you disagreed with it, but because it was easier. Thanks a lot.

I will comment on the argument about ancient measures and looking up meanings later. Michael Glass (talk) 14:42, 15 May 2009 (UTC)

Hans's criticisms Only one criticism made sense to me.It could be read as saying that all three measurements should be applied. As this is a possiblity I'll withdraw that proposal. However, the points he makes are a very good argument for using SI and related measures, at least as supplementary units, everywhere.

I cannot see how the proposed wording would affect the use of other measures, whether ancient or modern, whether they are troy pounds or barrels of oil or whatever. However, I reject the excuses that personal animosity is a good reason to refuse to cooperate or that Hans finds it wearisome to argue his point of view. Personal animosity is not a logical reason for rejecting proposed wordings.

Wjmather's points Wjmather has admitted that he took the easy way out in reverting my edit in full. Therefore when he writes 'Your changes made no improvement to the current wording,' the statement is self-serving. In at least one case the charge of 'no improvement' is demonstrably false.

A: Wikipedia is international; apart from region-specific topics, use international units.
B: International scope: Wikipedia is not country-specific; apart from region-specific topics, use international units.
A is obviously shorter, clearer and easier to follow than B. Wjmather's argument simply falls away. He rejected this wording, not because it was worse, but because a total revert is easier than a partial revert.

I believe that this proposed revision is

  • neutral
  • shorter
  • clearer

Why should we reject it simply because Wjmather took the easy way out? Michael Glass (talk) 01:01, 16 May 2009 (UTC)

And the previous version is also neutral, concise/short and clear. The removal of three words is utterly trivial and pointless, and breaks the style of the three bullets. Headbomb {ταλκκοντριβς – WP Physics} 01:40, 16 May 2009 (UTC)

No more trivial and pointless than your last edit [9]. You are prepared to make what you call minor tweaks to the wording to improve the style; so am I. If you are concerned about breaking style, consider how you could improve bullet 2, which also breaks the style of the other two. Michael Glass (talk) 02:12, 16 May 2009 (UTC)

WP:NPA. As for that edit, I corrected a mistake from Greg, who misplaced a parenthesis. "Positive one" and "negative one" are terms very rarely encountered compared to simply +1 and -1. This surprises the reader a lot more than +1 and -1 would, and "between positive one and negative one" is also harder to parse than "between +1 and -1". Now stop being bitter because you didn't get your way.Headbomb {ταλκκοντριβς – WP Physics} 05:36, 16 May 2009 (UTC)

In fact, I tend to agree with that edit though I feel that "'plus one' and 'minus one'" could be considered. As for quoting the policy on not making personal attacks, I suggest you look at your own behaviour first. For one who is rude and doesn't even care, this wins the prize for gall. Now, about your latest edit. I reverted it because it implies that problems over wording are one-sided. Problems with wording are more often disputes between editors. The policy shouldn't imply that these are one-sided problems. Michael Glass (talk) 08:30, 16 May 2009 (UTC)

Nowhere did I attack you. What I said is I can't be helped to give a damn that you take offense at me calling your version of things "BIPM-pushing POV" because you thought this made you sound like a drug-pusher. Headbomb {ταλκκοντριβς – WP Physics} 15:05, 16 May 2009 (UTC)

That's not the way it came across to me, but thanks for your explanation. Michael Glass (talk) 23:33, 16 May 2009 (UTC)

Bureau International des Poids et Mesures International Bureau of Weights and Measures!
"UK-related topics may have either SI or imperial units as the primary units." Does not work in my opinion because it my use both as the primary units it depends on the things being discussed (the shot of whiskey and the half pint chaser, cc and horse power, litres of petrol and walking five hundred miles).
Surly it is better just to recommend using that which is used in modern reliable sources on the subject with some sort of suggestion of what to do if the sources are divided on usage, as it is supported by the Wikipedia Verifiability policy, and it will take care of things like whether the altitude of a flying aircraft should be in feet or metres, without having to have complicated rule set to arbitrarily impose standards on articles. It results in the units used being the least surprising to the readers, and it would certainly makes writing articles about UK weights a measures much simpler to follow.
Forcing one system on areas of specialization reminds me of the mess, we get into, if we try to impose a dating system on British history articles, which does not follow the conventions used in reliable sources -- should the execution of Charles I be done using the contemporary Julian calendar, the revised calendar, or the Gregorian calendar-- Keep It Simple Stupid, keep to the Wikipedia:Verifiability policy and follow the lead in the cited sources. --PBS (talk) 11:17, 21 May 2009 (UTC)
100% agree. --A. di M. (formerly Army1987) — Deeds, not words. 19:23, 21 May 2009 (UTC)

Why are there two "Unnecessary vagueness" sections?

I don't know if anyone else has noticed, but there are currently two sections of the manual page entitled "Unnecessary vagueness", one slightly more complexly formatted than the other. There are all kinds of good reasons to avoid identical names in the same article (which is why I hate multiple polls with just "Support", "Oppose" and "Neutral": when I see the edit summary I ask Support what?) Can we at least have consensus about which to delete? —— Shakescene (talk) 20:53, 21 May 2009 (UTC)

(Apparently not, according to the recent edit history.) —— Shakescene (talk) 05:17, 23 May 2009 (UTC)
I deleted the second of them by mistake (I had noticed Michael Glass had re-added the first one after it was removed, but I hadn't noticed he had reverted himself); I don't really care about which one is retained. (If I had to choose, I'd keep the second one, because that's a general principle and it's weird to mention it in a section about fine details.) --A. di M. (formerly Army1987) — Deeds, not words. 09:59, 23 May 2009 (UTC)

User:SimonTrew's Understanding of the discussion so far

Hello everyone,

I've been following this discussion for some time but not put anything into it. I don't want here to do anything but set down some deliberately vague thoughts that I have taken from this discussion.

As a UK editor and based in the UK but having lived elsewhere I thought I would just add a general rambling discussion, partly as a little comic relief but also maybe to steer us back to the point, which is that we invent units of measure to suit the things we are measuring.

I've been designing units of measure subsystems in computer systems for many years and have heard many of these arguments before, and shan't repeat them. It seems to me Michael Glass has a reasonable argument with the inconsistency between different articles of similar standing (e.g. counties or islands) in the UK. However, that is a general problem in WP: MOS only really says articles should be consistent, not that topics etc should. That is undesirable, but is not specific to numbers: spelling suffers the same problem, and for the same reasons (different authors, subsequent editors, sources, and so forth). Personally I think there should be a broader recommendation that groups of related articles (topics or projects) should have consistency but then that totally hoists the need to discuss it out of MOSNUM (which would be a good thing).

It is incontrovertibly the case that in the UK road distances must be given in miles-- not just on signs but also in written law etc. The same also applies to clearance heights. A swedish lorry driver was cleared of careless driving a couple of years ago because the bridge he hit was not signed in Imperial measure. The fact his cab would have had its height in metres etc was irrelevant. (CN I know.)

Ordnance Survey maps are metric, by the way.

I am thirty-seven. I have no idea how tall I am except in feet and inches. I use SI every day of my working life, and Imperial in my life outside work. I like the dual system, it conveys appropriate imprecision. To say something is 200 yards away gives a rough idea, to say it is 200 metres away sounds very exact.

As always, it seems to me to think of the intended audience (who is likely to be reading this article?) and go from there. SI, even with appropriate rounding, can imply a level of precision that is unwarranted. That is why in all cultures at all times people invent units of measure suitable for the task, be it hands, carats, parsecs, calories (kilocalories), or whatever. The french livre and the spanish libre are different (400g and 500g if I remember it the right way round) but both just mean "a pound" because that's a handy size for measuring butter and fats, some other foodstuffs, stuff like that.

The paper sizes thing is interesting actually, since few who don't really draw would know the measurements, let alone say that an A0 sheeet of paper has an area of a square metre, and that the other sizes are half of that, and the aspect ratio is the square root of 2.

I'm a little surprised at Hans because he seemed to have the most sensible grasp of the UK system of most of the regular contributors to this argument then he says he finds himself converting it (not quoting you verbatim Hans)! That's kinda the point, really. If you give a British person a distance in kilometres mentally they will convert it into miles. I think, at least for people say 30 or under, they are less likely to do that for smaller measures (a metre or below), but still a lot of work is done in inches and feet etc. This is not purely out of spite. If you have a room built to imperial measure, a metric width wallpaper WILL NOT FIT the same as an imperial width wallpaper. I just viewed a house today and the old tiles are imperial and the new ones metric. THEY DO NOT LINE UP. 25mm IS NOT AN INCH. So, some things are kept in Imperial simply because they have to be. Screw threads are another example, as is plumbling: if you have Imperial plumbing and try to fit metric plumbing to it, beware, a compression joint WILL fit (just about), but seal it well or you will have it all leaking out of the joint.

As a small point 100l/km is always used by the manufacturers in the small print (and I think legally must be) but in practice the given figure is always in MPG. One difficulty here with converting (in one's head) is that it is a reciprocal conversion, one can't simply multiply by some rule of thumb (e.g. C to F one can multiply by 2 and add 30, that's about right. It's not spot on, I know the exact conversion, but it does for day-to-day conversation and is very easy to do in one's head).

Residential property guides in the UK virtually always give room sizes in feet × feet and the footprint of the property in (fractions of) acres. I am not sure nowadays about commercial property, that may be slowly moving over to metric, it does seem to be.

Although I use SI all the time at work, from the subatomic level (where again they give way to other units such as Van de Vaals derived units) to astromonical size units, and they're very handy for that kind of thing, my horses still always lose by a short head, my pencil is 2B not measured in Rohms hardness, and so on.

Carpets give an interesting example in that prices are generally given in square yards and metres both. There was a concerted effort in the mid 70s to move it over to metric. However, one large trader realised that a square yard was perceived as pretty much the same as a square metre but the price would seem a lot cheaper-- part of the metrication process was a slogan was "a metre is about three foot three, not much bigger than a yard, you see?" and so of course then all the other traders also followed suit and everyone was soon back on square yards.

I remember when they switched from 1/6 gill to 25ml measures for shorts a lot of pub chains had ads for "new larger measures" even though the difference is only about 5%, and 1/4 gill to 35ml measure is actually a shorter measure (1/4 gill is 35.5ml). It is that kind of thing that makes people very wary of switching to metric. The same happens, of course, with currency changeover (e.g. for the Euro)-- I can't seem to find a good article discussing the worry about that I think the German wikipedia has a good one "Teuro"? (Fat euro or something).

Draught beer and cider MUST be served by a third of a pint, half a pint, or multiples thereof. Milk (and I thought Orange Juice but have never been able to find this) may be served in pints to the doorstep in returnable bottles-- though really to me that is rather irrelevant since one could just as easily deliver 568ml.

Just some rambling thoughts to show that in the UK the use of Imperial measure is not dead, it is not restricted to "those over 75" (I am half that age), it is not anti-European or anything, it is people just using units that make sense in their daily lives. SimonTrew (talk) 18:32, 29 May 2009 (UTC)

Simon, you have given a marvellous picture of the use of weights and measures in Britain. It explains why similar articles are inconsistent: different editors have different preferences, and so Dartmoor is metric first in some places and Imperial first in others. Elsewhere in Wikipedia it's supposed to be US customary measures first in US articles, and metric first elsewhere. But not in Great Britain. Articles like the one about Big Ben appear to be thoroughly metric while that on the Tower Bridge is Imperial first. You would think that this inconsistency would be indefensible, but its defenders will support it to the last. Michael Glass (talk) 08:54, 30 May 2009 (UTC)
Dunno about "different editors", but a sentence starting with "Jones' engineer, Sir John Wolfe Barry, devised the idea of" should use the units Barry used, whichever they are. Sentences which are not that specific, e.g. "The highest point is High Willhays", should use the units which are in most common use in UK nowadays; according to the Times style guide cited above, "Use feet when dealing with aircraft height but metres when dealing with the heights of hills and mountains", so that sentence should use metres. What about throwing that "primary" units nonsense and say: Articles about UK-related topics should generally use metric units first, except for measurements which are still commonly made in imperial units in the UK. These include road distances, road speeds, personal heights and weights, heights of aircraft (but not heights of hills and mountains), volumes of beer, cider, and sometimes milk (but not other liquids), and miles per gallon for fuel consumption (but not gallons for fuel volumes). As I said earlier, there's no point in insisting that the diameter and length of an optical fibre between two UK towns be given either in micrometres and kilometres or in thous and miles, when everybody would use micrometres and miles. "A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds". --A. di M. (formerly Army1987) — Deeds, not words. 11:03, 30 May 2009 (UTC)
For my part, I don't think that the inconsistency between articles is not particularly helpful or professional. But I notice that - looking back over the discussion - most of the arguments against your change are not based on people approving the current system. Instead, the primary difference in opinion appears to be on how to fix it.
You suggest that we should recommend international/SI units in a UK context. I don't think that this makes sense. Either such a recommendation is binding (as in, "we should do it like this because the MOS says so") - in which case there's no point calling it a "recommendation" - or else it is non-binding and fails to solve the problem you object to. You've recognised that there are issues with insisting on metric units in UK-related articles. Well, if we're not going to insist on one or the other, and we are going to insist that if distances are measured in miles then temperatures have to be measured in Fahrenheit regardless of local custom, then we're inevitably going to have the issue you complain about.
The position of several editors here appears to be that we should solve the issue by mandating a system of units across articles that is neither rigidly imperial nor rigidly metric, but rather reflects the units in actual use in the UK. Such a system reflects what actually tends to happen on UK-related articles, as well as the likely preferences of sources, editors and readers. And we could pretty easily use the style guide of a major British media outlet as the basis for this system.
Such a system would be consistent. The distance between towns would always primarily be measured in miles. The capacity of draught beer would always primarily be measured in pints. The height of mountains would always primarily be measured in metres. Temperatures would always primarily be measured in Celsius. Sure, we'd get articles that are not purely imperial-first or metric-first, but so what? There seems little benefit in saying that we have to rigidly use one or the other when the measures actually used mix them.
There's no inherent reason why the fact that you measure the distance between towns in miles should mean that you should also have to measure the average temperature in Fahrenheit or that you should have to measure its elevation in feet. Better to apply the system actually in use in the UK. Pfainuk talk 10:44, 30 May 2009 (UTC)
Exactly. And in practice since people don't calculate in their heads any more it doesn't make a difference whether you subdivide a mile into 1,760 yards or 1,609 metres. So it's only natural people in the UK are moving towards doing the latter in spite of their affection to their traditional system. --Hans Adler (talk) 10:57, 30 May 2009 (UTC)
(ec)Michael, I am not sure you are getting it. These two articles are using feet or metres first, respectively, for building heights and building lengths. This is one of the few areas where metric and pre-metric are about equally in use. (Mostly because "a metre is a yard".) Another is square miles vs. square kilometres, and hectares vs. acres. You are not going to find a similar example with miles vs. kilometres for road distances; not even on the Channel islands articles as I just checked, even though due to their separate history and close proximity to France they have very special issues as witnessed by Lihou, which uses vergées first, then acres, then hectares.
Inter-article consistency is desirable and currently a problem. But this is a wider problem than just units. E.g. compare the dual mathematical concepts of "equaliser" and "coequalizer", and look at what happened when somebody tried to clean this up: Talk:Equaliser (mathematics)#Requested move. --Hans Adler (talk) 10:57, 30 May 2009 (UTC)
I can only come back and give my own perspective. When I am on the continent, or in Canada, and have to use kilometres, I kinda mentally translate that into miles, even if I am driving a rental car that only has an odometer measuring kilometres. (BTW Hans I believe there is a legal requirement for cars that are stabled here to measure speed in miles per hour, you should get a new odometer fitted, or perhaps they have dropped that now.) I agree with Hans (and said so) that yes the inter-article consistency is a problem and that it is wider and so should be hoist out of this discussion (I don't know quite to where). I imagine it has been discussed elsewhere many a time, I presume there are some guidelines for projects or something? I disagree "people don't calculate in their heads any more", I do all the time, I am always comparing prices etc by doing some mental arithmetic (you sometimes find for example that buying two smaller bottles of something is cheaper than one larger bottle, kinda a reverse psychology on the part of the retailer) and sometimes that involves metric/imperial conversions too.
I am not sure how Hans divines the mind of a British person and works out that he translates "1 mile" into "1609 metres", I would doubt one in ten British people even know how many yards there are in a mile let alone metres. It's just "a mile" or "a quarter of a mile" or whatever. That's kinda the point. The measure, or the unit of measure (not really sure which here) is appropriate to the concept being measured one doesn't think in terms of any kind of number really just oh it's about THAT far. I don't think, then, it really varies whether one's mental model also includes metric (SI) or imperial or US customary.
I am guilty of this myself when I said "british people mentally convert kilometres into miles". How should I know?
With housing it is especially important to keep Imperial in daily life simply because something like 90% of housing stock is built to Imperial measure. Most plumbing nowadays is metric but if you have Imperial measure plumbing it simply WILL NOT FIT. Same with carpets, wallpaper, etc etc etc. Last time you bought 6 rolls but now you need 7 because not only is it marginally narrower but also the drop on the wallpaper has changed because the pattern is also on a metric-based repeat. See, these things aren't easy.
You may wish to have a look at my work at Coca-Cola formula where I have tried to back-translate ridiculous metric measure to US Customary. I am not sure I have it all right, but it is patently obvious the recipe was originally given in US Customary and some idiot converted it to metric (not necessarily the Wikipedia editor it may have been in source) ending in stupid amounts because of overprecision and all kinds of other faults. I am sure that that article needs improvement, but I hope it may serve as an example when you see the struggle there when someone carelessly translates into metric. That is nothing against metric; it's against its careless translation. SimonTrew (talk) 19:53, 30 May 2009 (UTC)
I think you missed my point that while there was once a time when people knew the algorithm for the complicated conversion between miles and yards, they now use a pocket calculator or computer at those rare occasions when they have to convert. Hence for all practical purposes, a system with metres for short lengths and miles for longer distances is no worse than the original one with yards and miles. In fact it's superior because the metre is an international unit. But I neglected the constraints that you describe, which come from Imperially measured goods. Of course there are other conversions that we have to do more often. --Hans Adler (talk) 21:35, 30 May 2009 (UTC)
For the pre-metric quantities (including drams) in the purported Coca-Cola formulas, look (for example) at this earlier version of the article (pulled from its edit history): (It took me a year to understand that you can pull the actual version in one motion by just clicking its date in the edit history, in this case 08:38 14 January 2005.) Note that the third, 1968, formula, whose original text is quoted here seems to have been stated originally largely in metric quantities (as a chemist, apothecary or pharmacist in 1968 might very well do.) —— Shakescene (talk) 20:22, 30 May 2009 (UTC)

Interesting discussion. I would like to respond to some points.

  • One point appears to be that I have identified the problem but that my solution is impractical. If I propose a rule to force metrication, this would not work, and if it's only a recommendation, that wouldn't work either, because it would be ineffective. Actually, what I proposed was to allow both systems, but state a preference for SI, and then leave time and patience to sort it out. This might sound ineffective, but it apparently worked with temperatures, where Celsius gradually supplanted Fahrenheit in British usage.
  • A second objection is that the British are wedded to the mile, so Wikipedia has to follow this preference in UK-based articles. I admit that this fact alone would stump any chance of applying consistency in measures on many articles.
  • A third objection is that it we should fix on current British usage, and have Imperial roads winding over metric mountains.

Actually, this last provision is actually an oversimplification of what really happens in British articles. Some, like Shetland Islands give distances in kilometres while others like Hampstead Heath give the height of the highest hill in feet. The measures really are all over the shop, and that is why I proposed making a recommendation that Wikipedia articles on the UK and its dependancies should generally prefer metric measures. However, this proposal has proved to be quite unacceptable to several editors here, so I won't push it any further in MOSUM.

By the way, there are 1760 yards, 5280 feet and 63,360 inches in a mile. Michael Glass (talk) 08:42, 31 May 2009 (UTC)

I wouldn't object to changing the first so that it gives distances in miles and the second so that it gives heights in metres. As for consistency, I don't think there is anything intrinsically wrong in giving road distances in miles and heights in metres: from a theoretical POV, it isn't much worse than measuring lenghts in metres and durations in seconds. (In Italy, the same identical length would be given as 2260 metres if vertical and as 2.26 kilometres if horizontal. Nobody ever complains that this is inconsistent, probably because you don't usually have to directly compare horizontal and vertical lengths of that size. Now maybe a factor of conversion of 1000 is much nicer than one of 1609, but so what?) --A. di M. (formerly Army1987) — Deeds, not words. 13:07, 31 May 2009 (UTC)
I think the most common conversion is probably 1600 metres to the mile. The extra nine metres are generally insignificant given that miles are not generally used for precise measurement. I would also note that the fact that, say, 6,600 feet (2,012 m) and 1.25 miles (2.012 km) are actually the same length is far less obvious in the non-decimal imperial measures than in metric. So it's understandable that people used to a non-decimal system of measurement might not see the need, and indeed, find it strange, to insist on rigorous adherence to a single system.
It should be mentioned that many imperial measures are used only in specific circumstances. The fathom of six feet is traditionally only used for water depth. The hand of four inches is only used to measure horses. The furlong of 220 feet is only used to measure horse racing tracks. That several different units might be used for the same dimension, depending on context, is quite normal - and these units are generally not mixed. That metric units get added to the mix as well is not particularly surprising.
I would propose that we go ahead with the sort of change we've been discussing. I would support your wording above. I'd suggest it be firmed up slightly (to avoid the inevitable argument as to what exactly constitutes common usage) - though that said, this is supposed to be a guideline, and I suppose some ambiguity isn't necessarily a bad idea. Pfainuk talk 21:38, 1 June 2009 (UTC)

Both the Hampstead Heath and Shetland Islands articles are largely (though not completely) consistent in their use of measures. It would be better to leave them alone than apply some ham-fisted inconsistency of measures on them in the name of consistency. Michael Glass (talk) 01:01, 2 June 2009 (UTC)

So, you're now arguing that we should not use have consistency between articles, a position that you described on Saturday as "indefensible"? Curious. Pfainuk talk 17:13, 3 June 2009 (UTC)
Perhaps I should rephrase this: if a distance is measured primarily in miles (inches, feet, yards) why, in your opinion, is it necessary that mass, when measured elsewhere in the article, has to be measured primarily in pounds (ounces, stones, long tons)? And why, in your opinion is it necessary that - because distance is primarily in miles - temperature has to be measured primarily in Fahrenheit? Particularly bearing in mind that this defies local custom (and so inter-unit conversion is not a strong factor).
Second question, how does insisting on this make our articles better, when it means that (for example) the height of Mount Usborne is measured primarily in metres on Mount Usborne and on East Falkland, but in feet on Falkland Islands?
The fact is, the same measurement is frequently carried out in different sets of units on closely related articles. You appear to be saying we have to have this because otherwise different measurements - measurements of different and unrelated quantities - might be given in different sets of units on a single article. Yes, I am arguing for a 10-mile (16 km) road across a 1,200-metre (3,900 ft) mountain. But you appear to be arguing that that same mountain must be measured as 1,200 metres (3,900 ft) on one article and 3,900 feet (1,200 m) on another closely related article, depending on the whims of the editors. I think we should be measuring the same thing the same way on closely related articles, and I think that applying the Times style guide - or something similar - is the most consistent practical way of doing this. Pfainuk talk 18:15, 3 June 2009 (UTC)

In response to Pfainuk, I have the following to state:

  • My comments above were directed at messing about with Hampstead Heath and the Shetland Islands to impose a forced inconsistency on them.
  • Voluntary inconsistency may be problematical; enforced inconsistency is far worse.
  • In my opinion, the best option is to allow both Imperial and metric measures to come first in articles but to state a preference for metric measures. This could help to sort out inconsistencies between the measures that Pfainuk noted in articles about the Falkland Islands.
  • I repeat that though this is my opinion I would not put this onto MOSUM at this time. Thank you, however, for making it necessary for me to restate my position on this matter. Michael Glass (talk) 06:36, 4 June 2009 (UTC)
You are not stating clearly what you mean by (voluntary/involuntary) "inconsistency", which prompts me to say the following: Just because it is possibly transitional and apparently so young that nobody has named it yet, is no reason to discriminate against the system of weights and measurements currently in use in the UK. It is a hybrid of the metric and Imperial systems, with inches, feet, metres, miles for lengths/heights, acres, hectares, square kilometres and square miles for area, Celsius for temperatures, pounds avoirdupois and kilogrammes for weights, and litres and pints for volumes. We should use it for the UK, although whenever we have to choose between a metric and an Imperial unit of similar size and about equal popularity we should prefer the metric unit because it will be understood more widely and in some cases we avoid misunderstandings by American readers who may not know that the UK pint is larger than 1/2 litre while theirs is smaller.
I am not sure that Hampstead Heath is internally consistent:
  • 790 acres (320 ha)
  • 440 feet or 134 metres high
  • 790 acres (320 ha)
  • 321 feet (98 m) high
  • 0.5 km² (50 ha; 120 acres)
The choice of the square kilometre here may be due to the round number.
Shetland is internally consistent in using metric first, but that's an odd choice:
  • 280 km (170 mi)
  • 1,466 km² (566 sq mi)
  • 967 km² (374 sq mi)
  • [...] gave future kings of Norway the right to redeem the islands for a fixed sum of 210 kilograms (460 lb) of gold or 2,310 kilograms (5,100 lb) of silver
  • 64 kilometres
  • 5 °C (41 °F) etc.
  • 1 mm (0.039 in) of rain etc.
  • 40 km (25 miles)
  • 11 km
It's amazing to me that some of the metric lengths are not even converted; my original research using Google has shown that miles seem to be predominant on these islands. The strange use of kilogrammes for a historical treaty comes from the original (Norwegian) source; the number for gold makes sense insofar as it is equal to 350 historical Danish pounds. Wherever possible such historical data should use the original units because there is normally some uncertainty in the conversion; I can't fix this problem because I can't find a better source. --Hans Adler (talk) 11:34, 4 June 2009 (UTC)

What I meant by involuntary inconsistency is when the use of units in the UK in 2009 is frozen in aspic and foisted on all, whether they want it or not. I think it is better to leave it to the good sense of editors to make their own arrangements in this transitional period. However, I would add that it is helpful to suggest the use of the metric system. I hope that this makes my meaning clearer. Michael Glass (talk) 13:05, 4 June 2009 (UTC)

It wouldn't be helpful to recommend the metric system. As I say, either the MOS would be considered a reason to change to all-metric - in which case it would mean metric units would be primary everywhere on UK-related articles - or it would be optional and would not help sort out the inconsistencies in Falklands articles and others.
You talk about "leaving it to the good sense of editors", but that's not what we do at the moment - we require that all units for a given article be given in either the imperial system or the metric system. Which, in your interpretation, means that editors on an article like London have to choose which measurements they want to give in units that are barely used by the locals and which will only be used as conversions by sources.
If they choose to use miles for distance (like all their sources), then the current guidelines tell them they have to measure rainfall in inches and average temperature in Fahrenheit. If they choose to use the commonly-used units for climate (again, like all their sources), they have to convert all the distances into kilometres and then convert them back into miles using the template.
Personally, I see the as a solution in need of a problem - in my view the benefits of using the system of units currently applied in the UK (generally speaking - and the whole point of the MOS is that it allows for common sense exceptions) far outweigh the benefits of imposing either the imperial system or the metric system on a given UK-related article.
So, again (since I don't believe you answered this before), why should measuring distances in miles mean that temperature has to be measured in Fahrenheit as the MOS currently proscribes? On what basis should such an insistence be made? A scientific basis? A cultural basis?
And how, in your view, do the benefits of imposing a single system on a given article outweigh the flaws of such a system - such as the fact that the units preferred in articles are not likely to be the same as those preferred by sources, editors and readers, such as the fact that this system will inevitably mean that exactly the same measurement is given in different systems on closely-related articles (something that will not be changed by your proposal), such as the fact that - in practice - such a system creates more work in converting articles to meet the MOS, when they have originally been written using units preferred by British editors? Pfainuk talk 17:55, 4 June 2009 (UTC)

First of all, I do not believe in imposing on editors either the Imperial or the metric system for UK articles, but rather leave it to the good sense of the editors to choose the units to put first.

There are three things that I would like to recommended about UK articles.

  • The first is to accept the fact that there will be inconsistency in usage with UK articles, simply because British usage is inconsistent and also because different editors have different preferences.
  • The second is to use both metric and Imperial measures in British articles as a general rule. This is to provide for the maximum number of readers and help to smooth out any difficulties that might arise from using one system or another.
  • The third is to recommend that while editors may have either metric or Imperial measures in first place, metric measures should be suggested.

All three together would provide the guidance that is needed with the flexibility that is required. Michael Glass (talk) 14:18, 7 June 2009 (UTC)

The current system does impose metric or imperial on British articles in that it insists that a single article use one system as primary in all cases. In this way, it achieves the worst of both worlds. It leads to the inter-article inconsistencies that we both agree are a problem, while at the same time imposes one or other system on each article. In practice, this system is routinely ignored - but if the MOS is going to be routinely ignored, why have an MOS?
How about this. We replace the wording we have now with:
On UK-related topics, primary units may be either imperial or metric, depending on the context in which the units are used (which may be determined based on sources). Where there is doubt as to which unit is most appropriate in a given context, the metric unit is to be preferred. It is strongly recommended that similar measurements should use the same primary units, but a given article may use primary units from different systems in different contexts. Conversions between units are considered particularly important on UK-related articles.
This no longer gives a list of units to be in imperial, and contains your recommendation that metric be preferred in case of doubt, while allowing imperial units to be used where appropriate. It no longer requires that articles take their primary units from a single system. Indeed, pretty much the only requirements it makes are that similar measurements should use similar units (so that we're not talking about going 5 miles (8.0 km) down a 10-kilometre (6.2 mi) road or something), and that conversions should generally given.
I would imagine that, faced with the same issue of which units are most appropriate, editors dealing with closely-related articles are likely to make the same decisions as to which units should be primary, at least partly resolving the inter-article consistency issue. Pfainuk talk 15:37, 7 June 2009 (UTC)

I think there is some merit in your suggested wording. I'll think this over. Michael Glass (talk) 03:40, 8 June 2009 (UTC)

First of all I am impressed by the work you have put into the suggestion above. It has real merit, but I think that the use of units in an article should be largely determined by the use of units in the majority of the sources quoted. Here is a suggested revision of what you proposed:

In UK-related topics, the primary units may be metric or imperial, but it is important to provide conversions to the other units. The choice of units should largely depend on the units used in the sources referred to. If in doubt, put the metric unit first. Similar measurements should use the same primary units (this is strongly recommended), but a given article may use primary units from different systems in different contexts.

I have tried to preserve all the good features of your suggested wording, but to put them in a more concise form (72 words instead of 87) but it may still be too long to fit comfortably into the guideline. I look forward to your feedback on this suggestion. Michael Glass (talk) 14:05, 9 June 2009 (UTC)

Excellent. I agree with this version. --Hans Adler (talk) 14:36, 9 June 2009 (UTC)
I would support your version.
Looking at the preview screen, we do say that we should make similar measurements using the same primary units in the bullet point below the one we're discussing, so I have no objection if you choose to take that as read and delete the first part of that sentence (as far as the "but"). I think the rest of the sentence is an important clarification, so I think we need it. On my screen this would mean that the comment would be two lines long, which is not exactly short, but is manageable. I support it in either case.
My thoughts on the sources question - I would expect that most sources would use the most appropriate units in the context concerned anyway, so I think the question as to whether it is non-source-based context or source-based context we're dealing with is generally going to be moot. And sourced-based context does make it easier for non-Brits to understand the MOS properly. Thanks, Pfainuk talk 20:49, 9 June 2009 (UTC)
Other than clarifying that the current wording does not mean use all metric or all imperial, the proposed changes add nothing but unnecessary duplication of what already exists in the guidelines. Simply replacing "either... or" with "both... and" would achieve the same.
UK-related topics may have both SI and imperial units as the primary units.
The rest of the bullets in the guidelines deal with the remainder, especially with regards sources and using SI first – I quote: "put the source value first and the converted value second. If the choice of units is arbitrary, use SI units as the main unit". This already seems quite clear to me. wjematherbigissue 23:22, 9 June 2009 (UTC)
I noticed that - but would suggest that (since it's a change from the previous method), we ought to note at least that a given article may use primary units from different systems in different contexts. Pfainuk talk 17:26, 11 June 2009 (UTC)

I feel the best clarification would be:

UK-related topics may have both SI and imperial units as the primary units, largely depending on the units used in the sources of the information.

This would help to encourage the use of units based on the sources rather than the whims of individual editors. Michael Glass (talk) 00:41, 12 June 2009 (UTC)

You seem to have an ability for finding sources that quote in metric to satisfy your whims, and using them as justification for changing articles. Just because one out of a hundred sources use metric, does not mean that is what should be used. wjematherbigissue 01:03, 12 June 2009 (UTC)
To clarify, and this time fully quote the existing guidelines: "If editors cannot agree on the sequence of units, put the source value first and the converted value second. If the choice of units is arbitrary, use SI units as the main unit, with converted units in parentheses." Sources should not determine the order, unless the order cannot be agreed. A source may be cited with the order reversed in the text if appropriate. It is entirely possible to find sources using whichever units you may desire, and this should not be exploited to push an agenda of imposing metric (or anything else) on all articles. wjematherbigissue 09:05, 12 June 2009 (UTC)

What is your problem with finding or verifying sources for information?Michael Glass (talk) 01:36, 13 June 2009 (UTC)

I don't know where you get that idea from. Clearly, the only issue I do have is that you are still continuing this needless discussion in the hope that one day everyone will give up and let you metricate everything. wjematherbigissue 08:12, 13 June 2009 (UTC)

Do you mean you don't have a problem with finding sources of information and verifying information? Good. End of discussion. Michael Glass (talk) 11:43, 13 June 2009 (UTC)

It's a tad irritating that we seem to be agreed on a broad principle, but cannot change because of this one detail.
My view is that, on a general principle, we should not be writing rules based on what one editor might do or not do. In many cases in the United Kingdom it is pretty obvious - to a Brit - which unit is most appropriate. But I can quite see that to people who may not have been to the UK, this is less obvious.
There are clear benefits to relying on sourcing. For one thing, it means that we avoid original research. For another, it allows non-Brits to be clear on units on the same basis as Brits. That said, I see no reason not to allow editors sufficient flexibility to base unit conversions on whichever unit is considered most appropriate by consensus, while meeting policies such as WP:V and WP:NOR.
How about, UK-related topics may have both SI and imperial units as the primary units, and a given article may use primary units from different systems in different contexts, based on the principles outlined for all articles below.
As Wjemather notes, the principles include using sources where there is disagreement. Pfainuk talk 17:12, 17 June 2009 (UTC)

Channel Islands: Terminology

Please note, by the way, when giving examples of inconsistency in Jersey, Guernsey etc the Channel Islands are not part of the United Kingdom. They are a Crown dependency. It is important I think in this discussion to make that distinction, since specifically we seem to have rounded upon use in the UK and in UK articles (the two of which of course overlap). It is wrong to imply, as Michael Glass has done severally in this argument, that they are part of the UK. Similarly to say "Great Britain"-- Northern Ireland, though part of the UK, is not part of Great Britain (it is the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland). Ignoring these distinctions brings detriment to the argument about usage in "UK articles". SimonTrew (talk) 20:30, 30 May 2009 (UTC)

While of course you are correct, the average user coming for guidance to the Manual of Style won't take the time to determine what sense of UK is involved (e.g. while the Channel Islands and Isle of Man are considered distinctly by such bodies as the European Union and the European Court, for most practical purposes—outside banking, finance, taxation and customs—their international representation is understood by everyone as included in the UK's.) And much of what holds true about customary usage and familiarly-understood units for Great Britain will also hold true for both Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland (which joined the then-European Communities at the same time as the UK), so the reader needs to understand when we're talking about general geography and when international and intra-national boundaries do coincide with differences in usage. —— Shakescene (talk) 21:18, 30 May 2009 (UTC)
Quite agree. I make the point simply that if we are going to get picky about "UK articles", especially about articles *about* the UK not those written by UK editors, we better make sure what we are talking about. It's no big deal (I am English not British) but let's make sure we don't get the argument cluttered with nonsense like this, simply by making sure we are on the same terms. SimonTrew (talk) 00:16, 31 May 2009 (UTC)
Not all international bodies recognise them as being included in the UK's. For example, they have different number plate registration and different international plates (GBM, GBJ, GBG etc). It has been a long-standing grumble in Northern Ireland that although they have their own driver licensing and plate issuing agency their international plate is GB, even though they are not even part of Great Britain. SimonTrew (talk) 00:23, 31 May 2009 (UTC)
It must be even more galling for Northern Irish (of all beliefs and loyalties) when they form part of a UK athletic team whose international abbreviation is GB or GBR. While the athletes from the dissolving USSR were still competing as a single team, at least its abbreviation was changed from SU (Soviet Union) to EUN (Équipe Unifiée). —— Shakescene (talk) 00:34, 31 May 2009 (UTC)

What matters is which units of measurement are used in Jersey etc., not any other geo-political stuff. --A. di M. (formerly Army1987) — Deeds, not words. 13:14, 31 May 2009 (UTC)

a d m i disagree. what matters is what people elswhere can understand. so put in miles and metres both. the oddity with the channel islands pointed out up there is jersey is one way and guernsey another, it's the inconsistency BETWEEN articles which doesn't break any wp style rules but is anomalous (or between derbyshire and lincolnshire or whatever). I would like to campaign for a guideline that related articles i mean things you could group into a project or whatever they need their own style guidelins. That's kinda deiberatley vague but you need to say hey channel islands articles use imperial first (or metric first, whatever you decide) so that they are consistent between themselcves. The inconsistency between similar articles it certainly gets my goat so i imagine it does the average wp reader too. That's what we';re alll trying to improve isn't it? SimonTrew (talk) 10:38, 6 June 2009 (UTC)
I meant "what matters in deciding whether to write 32 kilometres (20 mi) or 20 miles (32 km)". If kilometres are normally used in these islands, use the former. If miles are, use the latter. I've never advocated using any unit of measurement without a conversion (except for things which are measured with the same unit all over the world, such as ages of people in years, electric tensions in volts, etc.). --A. di M. (formerly Army1987) — Deeds, not words. 20:50, 11 June 2009 (UTC)

Aircraft measures

Aircraft height is always in feet, but usually just given as a level e.g. climb to level 250 is 25,000 feet. With modern altimeters, autopilots and so forth, a commercial airliner will be almost bang on to 25,000 feet with an astonishing degree of accuracy (as, say, reported by GPS systems). Of course "height above sea level" depends on the definition of sea level but that is another story. Similarly, distances are in nautical miles which are defined in SI (whatever) as 1852m (the knot, nm per hour, being a derived unit). SimonTrew (talk) 00:12, 31 May 2009 (UTC)

By the way what I may not have may made clear is this is international, worldwide as far as I know. Of course internally the autopilit software uses SI (far easier) but levels are always given in feet. It's one of those things that just "sticks" i.e. once you've got it, it's very hard to change. Similarly wind speed is given in knots and stuff. Yet without doubt all new aircraft (and I think all new cars now even america ones) are built in metric. SimonTrew (talk) 03:47, 19 June 2009 (UTC)
Cars actually suffer from the same hybridisation in the UK. I just replaced a tyre which is defined as "185 R15", i.e. 185 mm wide on a 15 inch rim! --RexxS (talk) 13:15, 19 June 2009 (UTC)
Aircraft navigation suffers from the early domination of the aircraft industry by the Americans and British, with altitudes measured in feet and speeds measured in knots because Anglo-American nautical methods were applied to aircraft navigation. Things haven't changed because there are safety issues involved and human lives are at stake. (see Gimli glider for the results of a metric conversion error in measuring fuel levels.) Communications are always in English for the same reason. If the French or Germans had dominated the early aircraft industry instead of the Americans and Brits, the results might have been different.RockyMtnGuy (talk) 16:57, 23 June 2009 (UTC)
Technically, communications weren't always in English; the strict standardization was put in place after the Tenerife airport disaster. --Golbez (talk) 17:24, 23 June 2009 (UTC)

RfC: Acceptable number format?

This request for comment is for several related questions. This RfC is about the appearance of the numbers, and whether they can be successfully cut-and-pasted into other applications. The templates used to format them is not the topic of this discussion; template coding can follow whatever conclusions the RfC comes to.

  1. Is 4,046.8564224 an acceptable number format? (Notice the comma to the left of the decimal point and the gap to the right used to group digits into groups of three digits.)
  2. Is 4046.8564224 an acceptable number format? (Notice that gaps are used on both sides of the decimal point to group digits.
  3. If gaps are acceptable both to the right and left of the decimal point, and an article needs gaps to the right in some numbers in the article, should all the numbers in the article, including numbers with three or fewer digits right of the decimal, be formatted with gaps?

The Manual of Style (dates and numbers) (MOSNUM) for quite a while advocated comma separators to the left of the decimal, and either no separators, or gap separators, to the right of the decimal. However, none of the examples in the MOSNUM or in the documentation for the {{Val}} illustrated that this could occur in the same number, thus creating a style clash within the same number. About a week ago this was changed to allow 4046.8564224 or 4,046.8564224 but not 4,046.856 422 4. Today the change was reverted and the reverting editor suggested wider input be sought.

(In case you are curious where the number 4046.8564224 came from, it is the exact number of square meters in an international acre.) --Jc3s5h (talk) 02:08, 13 June 2009 (UTC)

  • The short answer is that 4046.8564224 may be suitable for scientific articles and may (but don’t have to be) used there. For general-interest articles, use either 4046.8564224 or 4,046.8564224. The reason for using {{val}} is to prevent editors from leaving a single dangling digit, like you used above when you wrote 4046.8564224.

    It is not the job of Wikipedia to promote change in the way the world works by adopting good ideas by standard bodies just because they are good ideas and come from standard bodies. Wikipedia generally simply follows the way the world really works. Truly good ideas from standards bodies usually rapidly gain traction in the real world. When that happens, Wikipedia follows suit. In other cases, such as the IEC’s proposal that the world adopt the new binary prefixes like “256 mebibyte”, the proposal falls on its face. And again, notwithstanding the compelling virtues of the IEC’s proposal, Wikipedia ignores the proposal so as to not confuse our readership. Note also that the rule of SI is to have a space between the number and the percent symbol, such as “50 %” rather than the “50%” we are all accustomed to. Like the rest of the world, we ignore that one too.

    As regards the delimiting of large numbers and/or high-precision numbers in all our general-interest articles, Wikipedia specifies the U.S. method of delimiting numbers using commas in the significand because that causes the least confusion with its readership. U.S. readers are far and wide entirely unfamiliar with other delimiting conventions whereas their European counterparts are typically comfortable with several different methods and are not in the least confused by the U.S. convention. Scientific articles are a notable exception, since the language of science is scientific papers which follow the SI method so that such papers can be read by a world-wide audience. Even then, delimiting with narrow spaces is allowed in our scientific articles—not required. Greg L (talk) 02:19, 13 June 2009 (UTC)

Minor correction and comment: I thought the {{val}} template would close up the gap in a number like 0.1234 but not in a number like 0.1234567. It turns out that it does close up the gap in the latter number to avoid leaving a single digit at the right end of the number. One of the international bodies, the BIPM, in the The International System of Units (SI), (p. 133) indicates the gap may be omitted when there are 4 digits to the left or right of the decimal , but not more than 4. ("However, when there are only four digits before or after the decimal marker, it is customary not to use a space to isolate a single digit.") Of course, since {{Val}} does not profess to follow any international standard, this behavior can't be regarded as an error. --Jc3s5h (talk) 02:51, 13 June 2009 (UTC)

  • No that is not correct that {{Val}} does not profess to follow any international standard. It follows ISO convention, observed by the SI and the NIST to the right of the decimal marker. That progression is as follows:


    I noticed also that you have had difficulty using {{val}} and have been getting error flags as shown here. Simply omit the commas and it will work fine. Your unfamiliarity with the template may underlie why you are uncomfortable with it.

    {{Val}} produces scientific notation values like this:

    Conductance quantum G0 = 7.7480917004(53)×10−5 S. Compare that to the value here at the NIST. They are identical because {{val}} follows the convention used by science for scientific notation.

    {{Val}} is smart enough to handle the entire progression of delimiting, up to 14 significant digits, it won’t do a line-end word-wrap anywhere in the equivalency, it uses narrow spaces on both sides of the × symbol, and it even knows to use a true minus sign in the exponent (10−5) instead of the hyphen (10-5) you would get if you simply type it off the keyboard.

    Editors are encouraged to use {{val}} because it delimits long, high-precision strings of digits to the right of the decimal marker and provides consistent, well-formatted output.

    Your objection seems to be over how it combines the practice of commas to the left, and narrow spaces to the right in numbers that aren’t scientific notation. Indeed, {{val}} follows MOSNUM guidelines for numbers containing four or more digits to the left and delimits them with commas. Your proposed solution (simply adopt the European practice of thin spaces both left and right) is contrary to MOSNUM and is very confusing to U.S. readers.

    The simple solution, is rather than try to change the way the world works, is for you to simply not use {{val}} to delimit on the right of the decimal marker for those relatively rare occasions where there are simultaneously four or more digits to the left. You are perfectly free to write 4,046.8564224 rather than the 4046.8564224 {{val}} generates for you. That should make you happy, and it would make me happy. I would encourage you, however, to avail yourself of the {{val}} template. Why? Because, since you are expressing five or more digits to the right of the decimal point, I assume you intend readers to actually read and understand those digits. Delimiting to the right helps to parse those digits just as delimiting with commas to the left helps to parse the digits on that side. Greg L (talk)

I agree that general-interest articles that do not contain any numbers with more than four digits to the right of any decimal should be the US format, which is widely understood. When there are more than four digits to the right of the decimal, we could just not use any digit grouping to the right of the decimal, but that is hard to read. We use commas to the left and gaps to the right; I really don't know if general-interest readers will find that less disconcerting than the BIPM style or not. The disadvantage is that rather than choosing between a style that has wide acceptance but is hard to read, or the BIPM style, which has limited acceptance, instead we go off and create our own style, which so far as I know, is not used by any other publication.
I think that readers are accustomed to seeing numbers displayed in many formats (phone numbers, social security numbers, and various gimmicks used in advertising) so even readers who have not been exposed to the BIPM format before will only be confused for a few moments. --Jc3s5h (talk) 03:11, 13 June 2009 (UTC)

In reply to Greg L's comments above, I see an example in the previously mentioned International System of Units {SI) brochure on page 126 that confirms Greg's belief that it is OK to eliminate the rightmost gap to avoid isolating the last digit after the decimal, even if there are more than four digits to the right of the decimal: 9.109 3826 (16) × 10−31 kg. Still, the vals template does not follow the BIPM/NIST/ISO convention for all cases because for some numbers, it violates the convention: "Neither dots nor commas are inserted in the spaces between groups of three." (ibid. p. 133)

However, I can't accept the idea of not using the val template when a number has both 5 or more digits to the left, and also 5 or more digits to the right of the decimal. It is very common for one template to invoke another template, so the editor who is actually typing the number may not be aware that the val template is being called. It would also be very confusing for an editor who is not especially familiar with the val template, and is just updating a number that was originally put in by someone else. It would be much better to alter the behavior of the val template so it produces acceptable results for any numbers, no special cases. (The problem of high precision numbers in scientific notation is understandable, since it is an issue for representing such numbers in most computer applications.)

As for using thin spaces to the left of the decimal being confusing to the general interest reader, I'm not convinced that is any more confusing than using two different digit grouping marks in the same article. Remember, the context here is an article where some of the numbers have five or more digits to the right of the decimal, so the reader will have to figure out what the thin spaces mean. Given that the reader figures this out, how hard is it to realize the same convention is being used to the left of the decimal? --Jc3s5h (talk) 04:43, 13 June 2009 (UTC)

  • As a general comment regarding this RfC and other style issues, note that Wikipedia often uses bits and pieces of different standards, for different reasons. The reasons for choosing a style should go beyond simply finding sources that support a certain format, and should justify that style on the basis of practical merits. I saw it recently argued that Wikipedia ought to only use citation formats that are already accepted as standards by other bodies—but that argument didn't clearly articulate why this was preferable on Wikipedia, nor did it explain why Wikipedia contributors should not exercise their prerogative to create formatting methods that are more suitable in a principally online medium than (for example) publishing industry standards. On the other hand, many standards are the product of a valuable design process, and shouldn't simply be ignored because they weren't invented here, or aren't popular, or aren't pretty. We should take popular usage under advisement, but ultimately build the MOS based on what we can establish to be good, rather than what we feel is most popular. Familiarity is one major objective, but absolutely not the sole one, nor necessarily the most important one.

    It's not a matter of changing the world, but rather of serving the needs of the encylopedia most effectively. We ought to do what we can to improve Wikipedia, even if there are prevailing conditions in the wider world that make Wikipedia's style decisions inappropriate elsewhere.

    So on the topic of the RfC at hand (starting with item #2), the answers vary depending on the degree to which we're willing to be prescriptive, and conversely, the degree to which we're bound by local convention. I'd suggest that in an encyclopedia with an international audience, we'd be best served by using a number format that is understood in the least ambiguous terms. It just so happens that this is the exact problem that the BIPM convention is designed to address. It's a good system, not simply because respectable authorities recommend it for contexts where interlanguage or international communication might be necessary, but because it's strong on its own merits. (You can't confuse 1,234 and 1.234, most importantly.) It's weakest feature is the fact that American audiences are very likely to be unfamiliar with it. On balance, however, most Wikipedia users are likely to correctly understand numbers formatted in this fashion, even if it takes a moment the first time they see it. As a bonus, the use of CSS allows this number to be copied without digit grouping symbols (i.e. copy 4046.8564224 and the clipboard contains 4046.8564224), makes the number non-breaking, and employs spacing in an unobtrusive and readable fashion. Item #2 is acceptable and preferable (and therefore should always be permitted as an option).

    In terms of item #1, I don't particularly like the mixing of delimiting characters, but that's an aesthetic issue with relatively little traction. From a readability perspective, it is superior to not grouping digits on the RHS, because the thousands places are clearly displayed. Given that we will presumably maintain a version of the U.S. customary digit grouping method, I wouldn't be opposed to #1. (I've seen a variant on this using commas on both sides, but I'm informed that in modern U.S. practice this is rare. I wouldn't be opposed to that either.)

    For #3, if the output with or without {{gaps}} would be identical, then there's no need to require the template. If the number needs digit grouping (according to whatever style is in effect), then the output ought to be consistent within the article. I definitely like the concept of {{val}}, because of its ability to format difficult numbers. Its design is such that for some cases, however, {{gaps}} has to be used, because of technical limitations. We shouldn't mandate converting an article exclusively to one or the other, when both output similarly-formatted results. TheFeds 06:52, 13 June 2009 (UTC)

  • Commas to the left and spaces to the right looks weird, to me. Why does example 1 have a three- then a four-digit group to the right? Tony (talk) 07:35, 13 June 2009 (UTC)
  • TheFeds, both {{val}} and {{gaps}} provide the appearance of gaps without actually including thin space characters, so both facilitate cut-and-paste. Both can accomodate a unit of measure with a non-breaking space between the number and the unit. I imagine that if a pasted number has no commas, more computer applications will accept it (but an important one, Excel, will accept the commas).
  • Tony, in the case where a number has digits to the right of the decimal, and the right-most digit would otherwise be by itself, the ISO/BIPM/NIST style allows (but does not require) that the thin space be eliminated. (In other words, if dividing the number of digits to the right of the decimal by three gives a remainder of 1, the rightmost thin space may be dropped.) --Jc3s5h (talk) 13:47, 13 June 2009 (UTC)
  • Thanks, Jc. User:JimP created a combined thin and non-breaking space for just such an application, I think in 2007. It was dropped when we realised silly Internet Explorer displayed it wrongly. Is this function now available? Tony (talk) 14:35, 13 June 2009 (UTC)
  • Both templates prevent breaks in numbers and the associated units. If an actual space character were found in Unicode that is both non-breaking and thin, some browsers would not display the character correctly and many applications (such as Excel) would not parse the number correctly if it were cut-and-pasted. I think including actual space characters of any kind should wait until most numeric-oriented computer software and most computer languages can deal with numbers in that format. I expect that to happen around the same time °, μ, and Ω appear on computer keyboards. --Jc3s5h (talk) 15:20, 13 June 2009 (UTC)
  • Get a Mac. Here: °, µ, and Ω. All from the keyboard. Always the same in all applications because it is a system-wide resource. Greg L (talk) 15:42, 13 June 2009 (UTC) BTW, going off the keyboard of the Mac also gives you the special Unicode “micro” symbol µ that most people would want rather than the Greek letter μ. Greg L (talk) 15:45, 13 June 2009 (UTC)
  • The Unicode narrow no-break space (U+202F) is available, and seems to render without error on IE7. (For more examples of Unicode spaces, see here.) The regular thin space breaks, unless surrounded by non-breaking markup. Unfortunately, you're right that most software wouldn't know what to do with spaces other than the regular one. TheFeds 17:18, 13 June 2009 (UTC)
  • Jc3s5h, I think we're talking past each other a little bit: I agree with you that the CSS margin spacing is an advantage of {{gaps}} and {{val}} (and said so above, using the clipboard example). TheFeds 17:18, 13 June 2009 (UTC)
  • I suspect that most have little idea of how much effort went into deciding how much of a CSS margin space went between the numbers. Different browsers and operating systems produced different results. So a bunch of screen shots were taken by editors who participated in the project and they were e-mailed back and forth so others could understand what still others were seeing. Some browsers could resolve to 0.05 em; others couldn’t and only resolved to 0.1 em. Some browsers would round “0.25 em” up and others wouldn’t. One editor looked at sandboxes using his iPhone. And all that was just to settle the width of the gap. The discussions for {val}'s functionality and protocol was just as lengthy. The template is locked down for a reason too: we need stability in our articles. Greg L (talk) 17:26, 13 June 2009 (UTC)
Let me know if you guys ever figure out what number format works best for Wikipedia. I'll be afk for a month, so please take your time if you need me to update {{val}} after you're done. May I suggest you make the final decision as explicit about number formatting as possible to prevent having to go through yet another one of these discussions again in the future?     — SkyLined (talk) 22:19, 13 June 2009 (UTC)
Guys, I've read over this discussion. This is at the cutting-edge of how to strike an appropriate balance between non-expert and expert readers. It may be that the relevance of the discussion overwhelmingly involves expert/semi-expert readers: is that the case? Although it's not close to my expertise, I can't quite see why the {val} template needs to be fixed, and why the guidelines for using {gaps}, and how editors should hand-delimit numbers, need to be fiddled with. I've seen the relevant guidelines evolve over the years, albeit at a distance, and have had the impression that their specificity WRT formatting numbers probably minimises confusion and maximises consistency between articles for our readers. In particular, I'm concerned to minimise the potential for confusion among semi-expert and non-expert American readers, if indeed we do need to factor non-experts in (I'd appreciate your thoughts). Tony (talk) 16:36, 16 June 2009 (UTC)
I don't want to needlessly confuse non-expert readers. However, I don't know which they would find more confusing, gaps instead of spaces to the left of the decimal, or two different methods to group digits being used in the same article, and maybe even in the same number. After all, they are used to two concepts in what they usually read: commas as the grouping character, and only one grouping character. All the proposals on the table violate one or the other concept. {I'm using "character" loosely, to include gaps that look like thin spaces but really are not.) --Jc3s5h (talk) 17:07, 16 June 2009 (UTC)
As I get older and my vision gets worse, I become more aware of problems of accessibility. I have to say that 4,046.8564224 would be my preferred format from a readability point-of-view. Even when commas and decimal points get blurry, I know that the last one is the decimal point and can tell immediately that the number is four-thousand and something; I can also see at a glance, because of the spacing to the right of the decimal point that it has precision to the seventh decimal place. It may seem obtuse to prefer commas to group digits to the left and thin spaces to group digits to the right, but it actually makes the number more recognisable for me. --RexxS (talk) 00:43, 17 June 2009 (UTC)

(unindent) RexxS, I can see why accessibility is an argument against using commas both to the left and right of the decimal, but I don't see why it would be an argument against using thin spaces to both the right and left of the decimal. --Jc3s5h (talk) 02:04, 17 June 2009 (UTC)

It's only a small preference for commas over thin space on the left, so I'm not opposed to either, it's just that I can miss the decimal point momentarily in something like 4046.856422 and it looks like 4 billion and something at first glance or when I don't have my reading specs on. Having the commas on the left doesn't guarantee I don't misread the number, but they help me to identify the significand a little easier. Hope that makes sense. --RexxS (talk) 02:30, 17 June 2009 (UTC)

I was kind of invited to this RFC. Some notes I took during the reading of this discussion:

  • IEC "256 Mebibyte" seems good. But in some entrenched areas it's just hard to motivate. And "mebi" sounds weird ;)
  • Maybe it's feasible to make numbers with per user configurable view-format?
  • SI units are actually very useful. Because the old system with BTU, feet, mile, inch, ounce, etc.. have several definitions depending on often unclear context. Besides needing a lot of "magic constants" (with varying precision as well) to make simple physics formula to work.
  • Also beware that 1.2000 * 104 specifies number of value digits. But 12000 really won't. Which is the reason why the first number is used in many cases (101 in college physics).
  • Copy and paste to other tools for calculation usually restricts everything to 12.3456 format. Most wikipedia numbers must be converted at all times.

In the Mile article the number "1,609.344" combines "," and "." and makes this a really confusing number. In school "," was taught as the comma delimiter. Besides the number can't be copy & pasted directly into any other calculation tool. And on a larger level the article just shows that a measurement such as a mile or mph etc.. have an unclear definition in contrast to km/h (1000 meters per 3600 seconds). At least it's not straightforward. Electron9 (talk) 01:53, 25 June 2009 (UTC)

This RfC really isn't about units of measure, just the number. As for copy and paste, numbers with commas (as digit grouping characters) can be pasted into Excel, but some other applications will not accept them. (The behavior of Excel might depend on the language and location settings; my operating system is set for US English.)
In what country did you attend school? It is really essential that the period be used as the decimal marker in Wikipedia. Indeed, if this cannot be enforced by placing it in the Manual of Style, we should propose it as a policy. Every Wikipedia article I have ever seen followed this convention. The only alternative would be to include a statement in every single article that contains numbers as to what caracter represents the decimal point. --Jc3s5h (talk) 02:09, 25 June 2009 (UTC)
I find I'm able to copy & paste both 1,609.344 and 4046.856422, not only into Excel, but also into the Windows calculator. What "tools for calculation" don't accept them? For "numbers with per user configurable view-format", please see the date autoformatting saga. --RexxS (talk) 02:27, 25 June 2009 (UTC)

Digit grouping

On June 3, User:TheFeds changed the digit grouping section. I endorse the spirit of the change, but I mercilessly edited it to conform to my understanding of many printed style guides (I suspect my edit reflects what TheFeds had in mind). I wish to call editors attention to the fact that the {{Val}} template does not conform to the changed MOSNUM, in that it uses commas to the left and thin spaces to the right, even in the same number (e.g. 123456.78901). If this change is accepted, the Vals template can be changed to conform to the change. --Jc3s5h (talk) 11:53, 3 June 2009 (UTC)

Has anybody ever seen a number written as "0.123,456" anywhere? --A. di M. (formerly Army1987) — Deeds, not words. 14:40, 3 June 2009 (UTC)
Normally, I would refer to the BIPM/ISO 31-0/NIST convention which suggests spaces, on both sides—that's definitely the dominant convention in most modern (e.g. post-1980) texts with which I'm familiar. Other style guides (e.g. Chicago) just suggest grouping thousands (mathematically, 1000n) with commas, but don't specify whether n < 0 counts (as it does in the BIPM convention). It's not quite fair to cite an elementary-school introduction to these things, but the general guidance that we received involved using the BIPM convention preferentially, or using commas instead (on both sides) if desired. That seems to carry over to hand-written work with which I'm familiar. I've also seen commas used on the right of a decimal point in older books (like, early 20th century). Somewhat-recent American texts using imperial/customary units usually use the commas-on-the-left-only style, but when they convert to SI editions, they seem to adopt the BIPM convention. Tables of values often use digit grouping symbols on both sides—but they're just as likely to omit them altogether. So basically, the edit I made was referring to accepted style manuals, and when unclear, erring on the side of mutual consistency; it looks like you might prefer erring on the side of historical practice in the U.S.A. and (perhaps) Britain? Maybe we should be emphasizing the BIPM convention, because it is less ambiguous on this point? TheFeds 21:41, 3 June 2009 (UTC)
The Chicago Manual 14th ed. (current edition is 15, but I don't have it) says on page 310 "commas should be used between groups of three digits, counting from the right....Exceptions to this rule are ...decimal fractions of less than one". Later on the page, under SCIENTIFIC COPY, it suggests the BIPM style.
The Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association 5th ed. on page 130 gives the example "numbers to the right of a decimal point 4,900.0744". I wonder if the examples of using commas to the right of the decimal point mentioned by TheFeds were in English? This is, after all, an English encyclopedia.
As for emphasizing the BIPM convention, I think that is unrealistic, since most Wikipedia editors are not scientists, engineers, or the like. It is really only in science and engineering that the BIPM convention has made any headway in the US. It is generally rejected when dealing with money, due to the opportunity for forgery. Far more Americans write checks than read scientific journals. --Jc3s5h (talk) 22:23, 3 June 2009 (UTC)
I'm quoting from memory, but I'm quite sure that the Numbers section of the 15th edition of Chicago says something like 'In numbers with a thousands place, use commas to group digits in threes, counting from the decimal point'. It's possible that it also states the exception for decimal fractions less than one, but I don't remember it. It goes on to give the BIPM convention as an alternative. (If anyone happens to have access to that, they can check up; it's been a couple months since I last looked through the actual document.)
Either way, no commas on the right of the decimal isn't a huge deal, and I'd be amenable to either style. But if we're relying upon a particular style guide as our basis for the decision, we should be clear whether or not following one recommendation in a guide is an endorsement of the rest of the guide. (I suspect that it isn't necessarily.) TheFeds 03:42, 4 June 2009 (UTC)
I've deliberately avoided chigago manual of style since i am not american but my 1967 copy of the engineers number handbook (a little book full of figures and conversions) says that it should be written with commas in the integers and spaces in the decimals. i have never actually seen it written that way but that is what it says and that would come from ISO. I think WP:COMMON sometimes must prevail. SimonTrew (talk) 11:02, 6 June 2009 (UTC)
Can you provide bibliographic information for the engineers number handbook? Does it indicate that units should always be chosen so that most of the digits always fall to the left or rigit of the decimal point? If so, that is not feasible for templates. --Jc3s5h (talk) 16:20, 6 June 2009 (UTC)
Will do but I amjust in the process of moving so all my books are in boxes. And its only kinda a little handbook so it will take me a while to find as I unpack! Please bear with me. SimonTrew (talk) 02:55, 19 June 2009 (UTC)
Haven't forgotten just still unpacking books and it is such a slim volume is easily missed. It is maroon cover almost a pamphlet I would guess about 64pp. and the front is in that newfangled kinda neon font in white on maroon and I am not sure if it has an ISBN. However please could you remind me if I havenot done so by the end of the month, I am liable to forget these things. If it hasn't an ISBN (and would no doubt be out of print anyway) there's not a lot we can do as far as RS I guess, as it is probably mid 1960s, but I can at least as far as MOSNUM goes tell you what it says to give you and so give you an alternative way to toss up a decision where it differs. It has logs and trig tables and stuff but also all kinds of conversions etc. I am not sure I even have the title right, when I think of it, I think I do but I am doubting myself now. I have it in my visual memory but maybe I have not got number right it may be conversion or something like that. SimonTrew (talk) 18:24, 23 June 2009 (UTC)
Found it, it's actually called the Science Data Book. My memory must be faulty as it uses spaces both sides of the point. It is totally silent on the matter of formatting actually. Anyway for completeness it is published by Olicver & Boyd 1971, ISBN 0 05 002487 6, Edited R M't Tennant. I *thought* it had a preamble with this stuff in it, but must be mistaken, just refers to various conventions on weights & measures etc. Generally it uses <3 to left of d.p. i.e. scientific/engineering notation, i.e. use 10^3, 10^6, 10^-9 etc but not 10^7 or 10^-2. (can't be bothered to type all those sups!). It does very occasionally veer from this but only when explicitly making a contrast etc. SimonTrew (talk) 07:09, 29 June 2009 (UTC)
I just tracked down what the Chicago Manual of Style, online 15th ed. says on numbers:
9.59 Comma between digits
In most numerals of one thousand or more, commas are used between groups of three digits, counting from the right. (In scientific writing, commas are often omitted from four-digit numbers.
No commas are used in page numbers, addresses, and years (though years of five digits or more do include the comma.)
Punctuation conventions can be found on page 1535 of the tenth edition.
Our business office is at 11030 South Langley Avenue.
Human artifacts dating from between 35,000 BP and 5000 BP have been found there.
9.60 Space between digits
In the International System of Units, half-spaces rather than commas are used to mark off groups of three digits, both to the left and to the right of the decimal point. In numbers of only four digits either to the left or the right of the decimal point, no space is used (except in table columns with numbers having five or more digits). This system is far more common in Europe than in the United States. Chicago’s Astrophysical Journal, for example, uses commas, not spaces (see bibliog. 5). See also 9.22, 9.59.
3 426 869
0.000 007
2501.4865 (four-digit numbers require no space)
See B. N. Taylor, Guide for the Use of the International System of Units (SI) (bibliog. 2.4).
That's mostly along the lines of what I remembered, and doesn't really talk about RHS commas, except to suggest that the Chicago Astrophysical Journal uses them in preference to spaces.
It also looks like Chicago doesn't go into what to do about (for example) seven digits on the RHS when using thin spaces as the digit grouping symbol; it just says "four-digit numbers require no space"—which is like the BIPM's text, but not their examples. That suggests to me that they don't recommend grouping seven digits on the RHS in groups of 3 & 4, but rather would use 3, 3 & 1. TheFeds 17:55, 29 June 2009 (UTC)

Digit grouping consistency

Since the change to allow numbers formatted like 12345.67809 and discourage the format 12345.67809 has not been challenged for nearly a week, let me ask a related question. If one of the numbers in an article uses gaps to group digits, should all the numbers in the article be changed to match.

For example, if an article currently reads there are 43,560 square feet in an acre and an exact SI conversion is added, should it revised to say there are 43,560 43560 square feet (exactly 4046.8564224 m2) in an international acre? --Jc3s5h (talk) 17:29, 9 June 2009 (UTC)

Being a Dane living in England, I have lived with two different ways of presenting the same information (Denmark uses a comma as the decimal separator and a point as the digit group delimiter, whereas England uses a point as the decimal separator and a comma as digit group delimiter) and I find the BIPM way the least confusing solution as 1,234.567 is ambiguous: Is it 1234.567, i.e. the English interpretation, or 1,234567, the Danish interpretation? By using spaces only as digit group delimiters, no number will be ambiguous, whether a point or a comma is used as decimal separator. —Preceding unsigned comment added by (talkcontribs) 17 June 2009

  • It is not the job of Wikipedia to promote change in the way the world works by adopting good ideas by standard bodies just because they are good ideas and come from standard bodies. Wikipedia generally simply follows the way the world really works. Truly good ideas from standards bodies usually rapidly gain traction in the real world. When that happens, Wikipedia follows suit. In other cases, such as the IEC’s proposal that the world adopt the new binary prefixes like “256 mebibyte”, the proposal falls on its face. And again, notwithstanding the compelling virtues of the IEC’s proposal, Wikipedia ignores the proposal so as to not confuse our readership.

    As regards the delimiting of large numbers and/or high-precision numbers in all our general-interest articles, Wikipedia specifies the U.S. method of delimiting numbers using commas in the significand because that causes the least confusion with its readership. U.S. readers are far and wide entirely unfamiliar with other delimiting conventions whereas their European counterparts are typically comfortable with several different methods and are not in the least confused by the U.S. convention. Scientific articles are a notable exception, since the language of science is scientific papers which follow the SI method so that such papers can be read by a world-wide audience. Even then, delimiting with narrow spaces is allowed in our scientific articles—not required.

    Please remember that the overriding principal on Wikipedia is to follow practices that cause the least confusion with its readership. Note also that the rule of SI is to have a space between the number and the percent symbol, such as “50 %” rather than the “50%” we are all accustomed to. So that our articles cause the least confusion and look most natural, we wisely ignore that suggestion (yes, even thought it comes from the BIPM and their SI).

    I note that the two of you (The Feds and you, Jc3s5h) have been having a discussion amongst yourselves, above, and have been quietly making changes to MOSNUM without buy-in and consensus of the rest of the Wikipedian community. I know you clearly believe what you are suggesting is a better way to do things. Please bear in mind that MOSNUM guidelines are often the product of tortuous and lengthy (often very lengthy) discussions and are done a certain way for a reason. When a situation arrises where a proposal, as you wrote above, has not been challenged for nearly a week, that does not equate to acquiescence and agreement with a proposal. Please widen the discussion so there is a clear consensus before revising MOSNUM. Greg L (talk) 02:09, 13 June 2009 (UTC)

    In Norwegian we're very custom to space between the number and percentage sign (i.e. "50 %") and we're very customary to the ISO 31-0 (which says "Numbers consisting of long sequences of digits can be made more readable by separating them into groups, preferably groups of three, separated by a small space. For this reason, ISO 31-0 specifies that such groups of digits should never be separated by a comma or point, as these are reserved for use as the decimal sign.") way of writing numbers (i.e. using space as an thousand delimiter like 1 000 000,000 1, i.e. one million and a 1/10000 part). Per WP:SOURCES ("In general, the most reliable sources are peer-reviewed journals and books published in university presses; ") we should use scientific journals as our best source, and from this it follows that we should try to addhere to standards like this (used in these journals all over the world, even in the US) Nsaa (talk) 15:34, 18 June 2009 (UTC)
The period (stop) is well-entrenched as the decimal point in the anglosphere. Gee, those full spaces look awkward on my display—no wonder many people recommend thin spaces. Tony (talk) 16:07, 18 June 2009 (UTC)
But this isn't an 'Anglosphere' Wikipedia, our readers come from almost every country, and the use of the comma is common in South Africa and Australia it appears, so I'm not even sure it is well entrenched in the 'anglosphere'. Our article Decimal separator is a help on this.
Nevertheless, it is the 'English' Wikipedia, and it would seem odd to adopt a convention that is not in use among the (English) sources that we use. I can find no reference to Australia using a comma as decimal separator; in fact the article you pointed to, Decimal separator, lists it with all the other English-speaking countries in using the period. The same article only lists South Africa among English-speaking countries as using the comma (and that is qualified as "officially[citation needed], but dot point is commonly used in business"). I am pretty convinced that the use of the period is very well entrenched in the Anglosphere. --RexxS (talk) 18:09, 23 June 2009 (UTC)

Comparison of texts in "Large numbers"

This discussion came about as a result of two different versions of part of the "Large numbers" section. The first example below incorporates some clarifications I made, plus some changes Jc3s5h made. The second example is the prior version of that section. Now that we've been discussing it for a while, I'd like to see whether others feel that the first example is clearer overall, and should therefore be the basis for the eventual revision of the section. I know I'm of that opinion, principally because that version is clearer about what is permissible and in what situations, states individual possibilities in separate bullets, and covers cases that are ambiguous in the other version. Does anyone feel that the second option is clearer?

  • In a number with many digits, digit grouping symbols (inserted at intervals from the decimal point) should be used to subdivide the number into easily readable groups. The acceptable digit grouping schemes are:
    • Commas every three digits (8,274,527) only to the left of the decimal point, with no grouping to the right of the decimal point. This is traditional usage in many English-language contexts.
    • Thin, non-breaking spaces every three digits (8274527 or 0.12345). This format is suggested in BIPM and NIST style guides for scientific works, and is in common use in interlanguage contexts. The {{gaps}} template uses CSS to produce this output (using the syntax {{gaps|8|274|527}}). The &thinsp; character may cause rendering problems in some browsers, and should be avoided when practical.
    • Other traditional digit grouping schemes, when relevant to the subject matter of the article (e.g. 82,74,527 in the Indian numbering system).
  • When a number has exactly four digits on any side of the decimal separator, those digits may optionally be expressed as a group of four instead of three (e.g. both 9876 and 0.9876 are acceptable).
  • In large numbers (i.e., in numbers greater than or equal to 10,000), commas are generally used to break the sequence every three places left of the decimal point, e.g. 8,274,527. In scientific and mathematical contexts, {{gaps}} may be used to insert thin spaces, e.g. {{gaps|8|274|527}} produces 8274527 (note: the thin space character and its HTML entity, &thinsp;, do not render correctly on some browsers). Consistency within an article is desirable as always.

If we generally prefer the first example, we should implement that change to the MOS (it got reverted during the course of our discussion), because it's generally independent of the RfC going on below. (The result of the RfC can easily be added, once it is established—until then, we can stick to the status quo for the U.S. customary style guideline) Any objections or suggestions? TheFeds 07:04, 19 June 2009 (UTC)

The first version does not make it clear that for the thin space scheme, the thin space may be omitted to the left of the decimal if and only if there are exactly four digits to the left. But to the right of the decimal, the rightmost thin space may be omitted if the rightmost group would otherwise contain only one digit. That is, 7682533 is wrong but 0.768 2533 is OK.
Also, neither version endorses the current behavior of the {{Val}} template. --Jc3s5h (talk) 14:23, 19 June 2009 (UTC)
While I see what you're getting at, it doesn't seem to be something that NIST or the BIPM endorse (they say exactly-four-digit groups on either side are the lone exception). I'm not so sure we're well-served by having an exception to the exception (for 3n+4 digit groups on the RHS). Is it particularly advantageous to use that style on Wikipedia?
Per the BIPM:
Following the 9th CGPM (1948, Resolution 7) and the 22nd CGPM (2003, Resolution 10), for numbers with many digits the digits may be divided into groups of three by a thin space, in order to facilitate reading. Neither dots nor commas are inserted in the spaces between groups of three. However, when there are only four digits before or after the decimal marker, it is customary not to use a space to isolate a single digit.
Regarding {{val}}, I think the best way to handle it is to decide what the preferred formats ought to be (in the MOS talk arena), and then afterward, discuss changing {{val}} so that it meets one. Alternatively, if the RfC eventually determines that the format currently used by {{val}} is acceptable, we write it in as another option (distinct from the BIPM and local styles) TheFeds 22:30, 19 June 2009 (UTC)
TheFeds, the BIPM brochure which spells out the quote you gave contains examples where there are more than four digits to the right of the decimal, yet the rightmost group consists of 4 digits. See the number 9.109 3826 (16) × 10−31 kg on page 126. It seems that the BIPM didn't do a very good job of writing the rule that describes what they do in practice (or maybe the translation from French to English isn't very good).
As for which version at the top of this thread is better, I am not willing to choose between two versions, neither of which describes a fairly popular template ({{tl:Val}}). I think we have to wait to decide what we want to say before we can decide how to say it. --Jc3s5h (talk) 10:50, 20 June 2009 (UTC)
Quite right: I see those examples and wonder what the BIPM was meaning to say. It's not a translation error—the French means the same thing.
Cependant, lorsqu’il n’y a que quatre chiffres avant ou après le séparateur décimal, il est d’usage de ne pas isoler un chiffre par un espace.
I guess that lends more weight to the idea that we ought to be considering what's good for us, rather than following the convention religiously. TheFeds 17:08, 20 June 2009 (UTC)
I was browsing through the archives on this topic, and came up with several discussions that relate to our current questions:
To summarize, in Archive 19 (May 2005), it was suggested that spaces, or better, thin spaces be used. ISO 31-0, BIPM and Chicago were cited. Editors were concerned about technical limitations in browsers (not supporting thin space characters). Objections to spaces included that text-to-speech was affected when used. No consensus, because of technical limitations, however it was agreed that either commas or non-breaking thin spaces were acceptable typographically.
In Archive 24, as part of a larger discussion on when to use SI vs. regional units, it was suggested that the &nbsp; character be used for digit grouping, due to technical limitations. This didn't really get anywhere, for unrelated reasons.
In Archive 74, a similar question to the above was posed: should digit grouping exist on the RHS? Consensus was that ISO 31-0 permits digit grouping with thin spaces on the RHS, and would be acceptable, but IE6 did not support them well. Some editors expressed preferences for commas, others for thin spaces (all relating their experience in English-speaking contexts). International preference was for thin spaces.
In Archive 87, it was suggested that 0.249 592 9 was ugly and unfamiliar. Another editor suggested that it should be permitted, given SI standards, and the goal of reducing ambiguity. There were a few WP:IDONTLIKEIT arguments, with editors advocating against certain regional preferences. Eventually agreed that SI formatting was less familiar, but more readable, especially when using comma-based lists of numbers. Technical limitations again come up, with regard to thin spaces. Ended in proposal to allow either no spaces after decimal point (U.S.), or spaces every 3 places (SI), or no spaces with editors' judgment in special cases. No consensus between those 3 options.
In Archive 94 (December 2007) the same issues were raised, but with a potential solution to the technical limitation against the use of thin spaces: CSS margins. This was apparently the origin of the proposal to group with commas on the left, and thin spaces on the right (current behaviour of {{val}}). Has advantage of being pasteable into computer programs, while still being readable. Viewed as good technically, and by proponents of allowing SI usage, but some editors still did not support using spaces (ever). Later devolved into personal bickering.
But later on the same page (Archive 94, February 2008), a more technically-refined version of the previous proposal was made. This addressed details of how wide CSS margins ought to be. This also explained a rationale for using commas on the left, and gaps on the right of the decimal—mainly that Americans were familiar with commas, but that the RHS needs delimiting for readability. It was considered rare that both commas and spaces would exist in a single value, but it was suggested that this was not a problem when it occurred. It was also suggested that WP:MOSNUM policy should reflect a particular formatting style ({{delimitnum}}). In the discussion, there was broad support for a formatting function, but some expressed concern that spaces and commas should not be mixed within a number.
In Archive 98 (March 2008), more details were given about the implementation of {{delimitnum}}. Here, {{val}} was introduced, as an alternative that didn't perform the spacing. (It would later use {{delimitnum}}'s spacing.)
In Archive 122 (April 2009), there was a discussion about using the Indian English terms lakh and crore (derived from Hindi, etc.). Some said that these were not appropriate in English usage, others argued that there were many English speakers in India, and that their usage should be respected. It was suggested that the use of these terms be linked. There was no consensus on how to handle digit grouping (which is different in this system).
Later in 122 (May 2009), concern was expressed that the text of the WP:MOSNUM#High-precision numbers was inadequate. This led to renewed discussion of why MOSNUM advocates commas on the left and spaces on the right, and that {{val}} implements this. Some felt that this compromise (to an unusual format) was better, others felt that it was contrary to any accepted external standards. No consensus was reached.

One major theme throughout this discussion was that technical limitations (mainly: IE6 did not handle certain Unicode spaces properly) prevented the use of spaces. This was addressed by implementing the CSS gap method, which is apparently well-supported on all major platforms (including modern versions of IE; IE6 is now dated software, and supporting it is not such a critical issue). Similarly, there was the need to paste numerical text from the browser into number-crunching software (e.g. Microsoft Excel). The CSS gaps allow this, whereas thin spaces were unreliable. (Also, on a related note, copying and pasting chunks of text can be affected by the spacing method. By using CSS, the spacing is encoded in the markup, rather than the text; this means that derivatives of Wikipedia will end up with unformatted numbers when quoting it. I don't think this is a big issue.)
I noticed that there are apparently two schools of thought about formatting numbers: SI is better or U.S. customary is better. (I've already expressed why I prefer SI.) However, given this divide in opinion, with reasonable justifications provided on both sides, it seems logical to suggest both on an equal footing, and leave the choice to the editors. The idea to use the hybrid format (commas on the left, and decimals on the right) in {{val}} and elsewhere apparently originated with Greg L, who advocates it as a compromise. Unfortunately, I (and apparently others, judging by the discussions summarized above), think that it has the disadvantage of satisfying neither camp. I'm personally of the opinion that if we continue to use that format, and people keep wondering about why it exists, and indeed whether it should exist, we invite the very long discussions for which this topic has become known.
In much the same vein as I wouldn't insist that editors commit to using the de facto "international" standard (the SI), and instead would allow the current U.S./historical British comma-based digit grouping scheme, editors also should have the choice to use (for example) Indian numbering, where the article context is appropriate. If at a future date, Wikipedia wants to standardize on the SI, I wouldn't be opposed to it. But for the moment, I think that the best solution is to avoid prescribing a particular hybrid format in the MOS, and instead allow editors to choose among the two prevailing conventions at will, and to choose an appropriate regional format when the article context would permit it. That's the thinking behind the wording that I used for the MOS.
So, I've made a couple minor adjustments to the text:
  • In a number with many digits, digit grouping symbols (inserted at intervals from the decimal point) should be used to subdivide the number into easily readable groups. The acceptable digit grouping schemes are:
    • Commas every three digits to the left of the decimal point, and no grouping to the right of the decimal point (e.g. 8,274,527 or 0.12345). This is traditional usage in many English-language contexts.
    • Thin, non-breaking spaces every three digits (e.g. 8274527 or 0.12345). This format is suggested in BIPM and NIST style guides for scientific and engineering works, and is in common use in interlanguage contexts. The {{gaps}} template uses CSS to produce this output (using the syntax {{gaps|8|274|527}}). Using HTML entities for this purpose (e.g. &thinsp; or &#8239;) may cause rendering problems in some browsers, and should be avoided when practical.
    • Other traditional digit grouping schemes, when relevant to the subject matter of the article (e.g. 82,74,527 in the Indian numbering system).
  • When a number has exactly four digits on any side of the decimal separator, those digits may optionally be expressed as a group of four instead of three (e.g. both 9876 and 0.9876 are acceptable).
One consideration of this particular phrasing is that it gives equal weight to the alternatives—I think that will keep arguments over which format is most popular to a minimum. Also, the text is not overly prescriptive (this came up previously in the discussions); given that editors may ignore rules that don't improve the encylopedia, it isn't really necessary to insist that edits "must" be a certain way. Combined with the MOS caveat that exceptions sometimes apply, it's appropriate to say that certain things "should" be done. (So instead of saying "things are generally done", as if it's fait accompli, suggest that "things should be done".)
I'll defer to others' experience with regard to digit grouping using commas on the RHS. It's clear that no RHS grouping is acceptable according to some major style manuals and publications that use commas on the LHS.
I've retained the four-digit grouping language, because it seems that even the BIPM can't get this straight. The text is a faithful statement of what they prescribe. If someone follows the BIPM's examples (in contrast to the text of their standard) and groups the four rightmost digits of a number with seven digits on the RHS of the decimal, it would seem fair to call that an allowable exception under the MOS. If we want to, it would be straightforward to diverge from the BIPM's text and specifically allow other groupings (per Jc3s5h's suggestion).
As for {{val}}, {{delimitnum}}, {{scinote}}, etc., judging by the discussions I reviewed, I think the best way to handle them is simply to have them default to SI-style spacing (given that they are designed to handle scientific numbers), with a very simple parameter to allow other styles (U.S., Indian, etc.). The real issue is that essentially nothing endorses the way {{val}} works now—it's a compromise between readability and U.S. convention, and judging by the discussions, that formatting scheme (as distinct from the rest of the issues) never really achieved any sort of consensus—it was just along for the ride as part of the overall project to improve formatting of numbers. (The comments about formatting in that manner were overshadowed by other details, most notably CSS gap widths, but were generally slightly negative.)
Also, I've looked into the code of {{val}}, and it's straightforward to change; the necessary formatting already occurs on the RHS. SkyLined has suggested creating separate versions of the template for internationalization, but because of the difficulties inherent in supporting multiple sets of code—look at the discrepancies in the {{cite $thing}} templates, for example—we would want to do this in the backend of {{val}}, and make sure users get to see the template documentation as a family. (That discussion can continue at Template talk:Val; for MOSNUM's purposes, I think that's a fair resolution.) I don't know if it's necessary to require a particular template in MOSNUM (too many exceptions would apply), but it would be fine to recommend it (after the changes are made).
Are there any other aspects of this discussion that I haven't addressed? TheFeds 21:23, 29 June 2009 (UTC)
Excellent. I would have never spent all that time to dig through all those discussions. Thank you. I think the parentheses in the last sentence was supposed to say "e.g. both 9876 and 9,876 are acceptable", right? While we are at it, we might add "although four-digit serial numbers such as years and page numbers are written without spaces or commas". --A. di M. (formerly Army1987) — Deeds, not words. 23:01, 29 June 2009 (UTC)
I concur with the change. Please consider this case: an article had some integers with five digits on the LHS, and used commas to group digits. A new number is added: 0.12345. Should the revised MOSNUM be read to mean that the article should be revised to use (the appearance of) thin spaces in the integers with five digits on the LHS? —Preceding unsigned comment added by Jc3s5h (talkcontribs) 03:38, 30 June 2009 (UTC)
Jc3s5h, if I understand correctly, you're thinking about maintaining consistency, which is definitely an objective from the general WP:MOS. We probably wouldn't need to repeat that instruction here. A. di M., the example of 9876 and 0.9876 was intended to show that we could group four digits on either side of the decimal point. But 9,876 works too (as does 9876). TheFeds 04:33, 1 July 2009 (UTC)