Wikipedia talk:Manual of Style (dates and numbers)/Archive 47

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Olympic units

I know that this topic has been argued time and again, but it has once again come up on WP:OLYMPICS. PLease go there to take part in the discussion on the unit convention. J@redtalk+ ubx  16:38, 26 March 2006 (UTC)

Selecting SI or imperial units based on CSS

There has been lots of discussion on the choice of units to be used in wikipedia, but I haven't seen this solution anywhere yet. Correct me if I'm wrong.

I have created a template that inserts both the SI and the imperial value in the article, both in their own CSS class. This means that you can make either one invisible by using a custom CSS file. For example: {{User:Eugene van der Pijll/unit|10 m|30 ft}} inserts the tekst "User:Eugene van der Pijll/unit". By default, this text renders as "10 m (30 ft)", so that is what you should be seeing here. However, if you add these two lines:

span.units span.parens {display: none}
span.units span.imp {display: none}

to your style sheet (probably located at User:YOURUSERNAME/monobook.css), only the SI value "10 m" is displayed. (Try it! You may have to reload the page a few times or to clear your browser cache to reload the updated style sheet.) Alternatively, if you add

span.units span.parens {display: none}
span.units {display: none}

to your style sheet, only the imperial measurement is shown.

What do you think? Good idea? Bad idea? Personally, I don't see any problems with this: it has a sensible default in browsers where CSS doesn't work properly (it shows both values), and it only works for people who specifically ask for it. Eugene van der Pijll 15:39, 5 April 2006 (UTC)

It seems like a lot of extra bother implementing all that. Simply showing both measurement formats seems OK to me. Talrias (t | e | c) 15:48, 5 April 2006 (UTC)
Looks like a good answer for those who only want to see one system of units, but I'd expect most people to prefer to see both, if only as confirmation that they're consistent, as I certainly do. ...dave souza, talk 16:37, 5 April 2006 (UTC)

Please no. Someone suggested this for American/British spelling differences, too, which is absurd. Is it really that offensive to people to see American spelling and American units? I don't like the American unit system, either, but it's not like my eyes are burning out of my skull. I'd rather see both units on the same page, and, in fact, that's probably necessary in some situations.

Also, the test styles bookmarklet will allow you to view stylesheet changes like this on the fly without editing your user CSS. — Omegatron 17:24, 5 April 2006 (UTC)

Echoing the above comments that this would be an awful solution to recommend here. It's far too much trouble. I can't imagine that anybody would make a half-sane argument against having the small parenthetical reference in the text. It's a few characters, it will confuse nearly NOBODY, and it's common practice of printed encyclopedias to do so where it aids accessibility. -- uberpenguin @ 2006-04-05 23:39Z
Not just no, but hell no. First of all, you piss ever American off by making a dichotomy between "imperial" units and "SI units"; we don't use "imperial" units in the United States. Of course, just as there are many non-imperial English units in use, there are also many non-SI metric units still in use on Wikipedia, and that only scratches the surface of the variation.
Like the suggestions about English/British/Canadian/South African/Australian English spelling preferences, it will also be an editing nightmare, cluttering up the pages much more than they already are.
Is this also based on some silly notion that the "SI" unit will always be first listed, and the "Imperial" unit always second listed? If not, you need to explain how you identify them as one or the other, because there is nothing obvious in the formatting you have. But if so, then it is a really stupid idea. The original measurements should generally come first.
There are also a significant number of measurements expressed in three different units. How would you deal with them?
Even if it were a simply, easily implemented dichotomy, if I were going to use it there would be some articles where I'd want to eliminate one set of measurements, and others where I'd want to eliminate the other set. Gene Nygaard 03:25, 6 April 2006 (UTC)
Firstly, thank you for the suggestion but, on this occasion, I think that it should be left to individual editors to weigh up the pros and cons of inclusion or otherwise. Secondly, please let's have less of this "what about the Americans, won't somebody please think about the Americans" crap. There is, after all, a lot to be said for English as spoken in England by the English... Alias Flood 03:50, 6 April 2006 (UTC)
There should be a policy against sentences like that. — Omegatron 04:03, 6 April 2006 (UTC)

OK, thanks for your opinions. I think the consensus is clear. -- Eugene van der Pijll 07:36, 6 April 2006 (UTC)

My allegedly major changes to time and metric, etc., which were removed.

From Korky Day, 2006 April 8: I made some edits of time style and metric style. I thought they would be considered minor, but apparently Stephen Turner and "Neonumbers" objected and "reverted". But they didn't say which they considered major, so I suppose I have to discuss them all, which seems a lot of unnecessary work for everyone. (But I kind of enjoy it.)

To which of these are there objections?

  1. (1) "o'clock" can be used colloquially.
  2. (2) A space separates the number from a.m. or p.m.
  3. (3) "12 a.m." and "12 p.m." are not only ambiguous, as stated, but illogical. (If we don't say that, people might feel justified in using those always-foolish phrases when the context makes it clear whether it is noon or midnight.)
  4. (4) When to use leading zeroes and not. They can make columns of numbers look nice, but are otherwise usually superfluous.
  5. (5) Minute and second colon-double-zeroes (:00 and :00:00) can be omitted for the 12-hr. clock. They are arithmetically correct, but are usually a waste of space, and thus poor style.
  6. (6) For a full USA-style date in the middle of a sentence, the year must be set off by a pair of commas, not just one comma:
    "May 1, 2005, was an eventful May Day."
  7. (7) Though April 8 is written without a th, it is still pronounced April eighth. Similarly with British style. (If we don't say that, many will disregard our advice, thinking that they must add th to indicate that it should not be pronounced "eight".)
  8. (8) Styles of metric dating: 2006 April 8. 2006 4 8. 2006 04 08. They are happily unambiguous, unlike the problematic 08 04 2006, which is April 8 in Britain, but August 4 in the USA. Using slashes (instead of spaces or hyphens) simply makes dates much harder to read.
  9. (9) 2001-02 could be read as 2001 to 2002 or as 2001 February (in metric).
    Solutions: for 2 years, write 2001-'02 or 2001-2002.
    When it means Feb., write 2001 02 or 2001 February or 2001 Feb.
    This year-range problem occurs not in years ending in 13 or more.
  10. (10) English and USA measurement abbreviations take periods. SI broke with that tradition in the late 1700s and decided to use universal 'symbols', not 'abbreviations' (which would often change when translated). The symbols themselves do not take periods or s for plural. A symbol can, however, be followed by a period to end a sentence. --KD
  • For the record, I only reverted one of them, and I didn't say it was major, just that you should discuss it first. My issue was with the way you did it. But turning to the recommendations specifically, I find that many of them are just your opinion, not widely-accepted conventions. Specifically, I disagree with numbers 5, 8, 9 and 10 (I've taken the liberty of numbering them, I hope you don't mind); and I think that 3 and 7 are true but don't need to be put in the Manual of Style. Stephen Turner (Talk) 11:53, 8 April 2006 (UTC)
    • I would probably oppose 3, 5, 6, 7, and 8 and suggest that 4, 9 and 10 are already covered elsewhere. Rmhermen 13:59, 8 April 2006 (UTC)
      • I wouild disagree at least in part with 6, 7, 8, 9, and 10. Gene Nygaard 14:05, 8 April 2006 (UTC)
  • Number 6: I think there is a difference in opinion in various authorities as to whether the second comma is necessary. (Then, of course, there are publications like the Guinness Book of Records which omit the first comma also.)
  • Futhermore, when you link the dates for preferences, you get:
  • [[May 1]], [[2005]], was an ...: May 1, 2005, was an
  • [[May 1]] [[2005]], was an ...: May 1 2005, was an
  • [[May 1]], [[2005]] was an ...: May 1, 2005 was an
  • [[May 1]] [[2005]] was an ...: May 1 2005 was an
  • All of them skip the first comma in "1 May 2005 was" format and all of them have the first comma in "May 1, 2005, was" format, and the second comma is untouched in either. Sometimes, of course, this ends a phrase which should have a comma in either format, but if you specify it for the May 1 format you will get it in the 1 May format also, even in the cases where you don't want it in that format. If you want to change that, it would partially entail a software change. Gene Nygaard 14:23, 8 April 2006 (UTC)

Nr 9 above is a false representation of metric (SI) dates. 2001-02 cannot mean from 2001 till 2002, because that is written 2001/02. −Woodstone 14:54, 8 April 2006 (UTC)

That has nothing to so with "metric" in general nor with "SI" in particular, and even if it is somebody's convention, it certainly isn't anything we can rely on or prescribe here. Gene Nygaard 17:26, 8 April 2006 (UTC)

My take:

  1. (1) minor
  2. (2) acceptable
  3. (3) oppose
  4. (4) minor, and I might also oppose
  5. (5) acceptable
  6. (6) oppose, although I agree
  7. (7) oppose, although I agree -- we rarely have pronunciation guides
  8. (8) oppose -- 2006-04-08, 2006 04 08, and 2006/04/08 all are acceptable, as far as I can tell.
  9. (9) oppose and disagree -- nonstandard "metric" (by which you mean, ISO 3061, I assume) usage.
  10. (10) oppose and disagree

Arthur Rubin | (talk) 17:48, 8 April 2006 (UTC)

From Korky Day, 2006 4 10: Thank you, Stephen Turner, Rmhermen, Woodstone, Gene Nygaard, and Arthur Rubin! This process is amazing, unfortunately Wikipedia's process seems to be not well enough organized.

What happens if, a year from now (or 5 years from now), some new person comes along and makes the same edits I just made? A different group of Wikipedians responds, some making the same arguments, some making very different ones.

So the process creates contradiction and repetition of effort (re-inventing the wheel, maybe going back and forth over the Maginot Line). The second group could easily over-look the first process, which seems to get buried in the history. Should we do searches with key words to try to find such things buried and scattered throughout the archives?

Despite those serious qualms, I, as a newcomer (and veteran periodical editor), am curious and interested enough to continue. My hunch is that we are basically wasting time and that we should simply adopt an already-existing manual of style printed in a book on paper, or at least start with one and then make exceptions when needed.

Thanks for the numbering, Stephen Turner! Very helpful, in theory, but all I see above is # in place of each number, no actual numerals! For my answering effort now, that's worse than useless. I think I will duplicate the numbering so I can see it here on this edit page, even though it's going to look stupid. There, now I have done that!

Let me quote Stephen Turner (above), " . . . many of them are just your opinion, not widely-accepted conventions." You have certainly spotlighted one of our big problems. What is right or wrong in English is ALWAYS opinion. English has no ultimate authority, as does French. Nevertheless, there are two widely-accepted LEVELS of convention in English: one is rules and the other is mere "style". The latter prescribes, for each situation, which of various allegedly acceptable options under a rule will be the one generally used.

We can adopt a point of style favoured by a minority, if we want, especially if it is inherently superior, as is metric (SI). However, I didn't go that far. I suggested only how metric could be used, if desired.

As far as complaints from all of you, only 3 of the 10 points are argued by any of you. Or are all of you tuckered out from explaining it over and over again to newcomers!? For only # 6, 9, and 10 has anyone made any substantial counter-argument.

Number 6, using two commas to set off the year, says Gene Nygaard (above), is an area of disagreement by the conventions. Not that I've seen, and I've looked at many printed manuals of style from the USA, Canada, etc.! The Canadian Press Stylebook (1999; ISBN 0-920009-20-4) is handy to me at the moment: p. 169, "Times and dates", paragraph 2, supports my position. (Guinness is not an authority, they are drug pushers: alcohol.)

Then Gene goes on about dealing with how Wikipedia computer programmes have been coded to link dates. Surely we don't have to conform the English language to what some coder once keyed in!

My trump card, though, is that omitting the second comma often leads to ambiguity; inserting it never does. Therefore, we should adopt it even if it were a minority convention (which it is NOT).

Example: "On March 28, 927 people climbed into a boat." Now is that 927 people in an unspecified year or an unspecified number of people in the year 927? If the writer is following widespread convention, you know it must be a big boat. I see that sort of sentence frequently--and very often wrong. Of course, an ideal writer would re-write the sentence entirely, but we're dealing with writers good and bad.

Rmhermen and Gene Nygaard, you say that some of what I've written is already somewhere else. Unfortunately, reading style guidelines is not a favourite pastime of people. So they're going to quickly scan for what they want and then not look around for supplementary advice. So we should give them what they need wherever they look, even if it means some repetition.

Woodstone, for # 10, I agree that "2001-02" is not good SI for "2001 to 2002". But it is acceptable SI for "2001 February". It certainly is ambiguous, so should be forgone.

People in N. America are already having a hard time accepting metric, so why make it unnecessarily confusing? 2001 to 2002 is the best. 2001/2002 and 2001/'02 are harder to read, but acceptable. 2001-2002 and 2001-'02 might break some rules, but at least you are sure what they mean. Not so with 2001/02 and 2001-02, which could easily be read (by people not as persnickety as us) either as the range of two years or as 2001 February.

For the above reason, we should forgo hyphens in SI dates, even when permitted. I think they say that spaces are best.

You, Arthur Rubin, express yourself on all 10 points, tentatively, it seems. For 3 of them, you give reasons. Here they are with my responses:

For # 7, "we rarely have pronunciation guides". True, but in this case I think it's particularly relevant because there is a reason people think they must add the "th".

For # 8, "2006-04-08, 2006 04 08, and 2006/04/08 all are acceptable, as far as I can tell." No, in SI, slashes mean a range of time. Obviously, though, many don't know that, which is part of our problem.

For # 9, you say: nonstandard "metric" (by which you mean, ISO 3061, I assume) usage.

I've read three books about metric, but I don't know what "ISO 3061" is.

--Korky Day

First off, ISO 8601 dates are not “metric”. They are not “SI” either, although they are the international standard, but maintained by a very different organisation. Human readability is not the primary goal of that standard, but it achieves it quite well nevertheless, at least when the full year and the optional hyphens and colons are being used and “T” is replaced by a space (or underscore). All elements are required to be zero-padded, by the way. Durations and intervals are harder to read and understand by intuition, due to the unfamiliar use of the solidus (/); and periods (starting with “P”) are even English-centric despite the standard’s goal of language independence. (A more metric standard would have used PnanmonnwndTnhnminns instead of PnYnMnWnDTnHnMnS.)
Secondly, I agree with you r tenth item, the issue of abbreviations versus symbols, i.e. shortened non-metric units should have a dot—period?—following them. Sadly NIST, probably the most normative body you can find on the issue today, doesn’t use this convention (any more). In return adhoc and arbitrary abbreviations should be dumped in favor of the SI/ISO 31 way, e.g. “mi/h” instead of “mph” and “in²” instead of “sq. in”.
IMVHO colloquial representations of time (esp. 12-hour clock with ante/post meridiem or “o’clock”) should be banned altogether (except for quotations of course) in favor of ISO 8601 and dates should be 11 April 2006 in prose and any appropriate variant of ISO 8601 in lists and tables. Time spans should be refrained from ISO 8601, except maybe for the start date/end date format in tables; use words like “to”, “through”, “for” instead. Alas, I know my opinion won’t reach consensus (yet).
Finally, you can sign your Talk contributions with four tildes, which results in something like this: Christoph Päper 09:55, 11 April 2006 (UTC)
Here are my thoughts on what has been said by Korky Day: Firstly, thank you for some well thought out contributions. Secondly, welcome to the community of those that care about such things on Wikipedia. There are lots of good style ideas that can be documented. But the Manual of style is getting too big for its intended audience. This is reducing its value. I think the following constraint should apply:
Guidance should not exist unless it:
  • Addresses a significant problem in Wikipedia articles that cannot be solved by other means.
  • Will lead to a useful change in what editors do.
For example, I had not considered the issue of 'April 8th' versus 'April 8' and find it interesting. But I think it fails those two criteria. I have not tested the other issues against those two criteria but feel free. bobblewik 14:56, 11 April 2006 (UTC)

Comments on the issues.

1 "o'clock" can be used colloquially.
We are not colloquial, we use an "encyclopaedic tone".
2 A space separates the numbers from a.m. or p.m.
Agree. Already in MoS
3 "12 a.m." and "12 p.m." is illogical
I suspect we don't say "illogical, Captain" because it would result in people trying to defend the usage, and we have enough to discuss without that.
4 When to use leading zeroes and not.
Leading zero before the decimal point in numbers. Avoid for dates "07 February" etc, please! For 24 hour clock it helps emphasize that it is 24 hour.
5 ..colon-double-zeroes (:00 and :00:00) can be omitted
For 12 hour as well. However trailing zeros sometimes show (or imply) precision - e.g. the bomb went off at 13:12:00 - not a few seconds earlier or later.
6 Parenthetical commas
Already in MoS
7 "th"
That it is nor required (or wanted) already in MoS. We don't mention "of".
8 Year first dates.
Attractive in principle, but not how English speakers use dates. We are en.wikipedia not iso.wikipedia.
9 2001-02
Prefer years in ranges in full. Also prefer a space around the dash or hyphen most of the time. Never indicate months by numbers except in massive tables - again it's not English.
10 periods after symbols
Covered in MoS (I think). I would support the use of mph for miles per hour, because it's standard usage even if it's not ISO standard.

Rich Farmbrough 18:10 11 April 2006 (UTC).

I can see now that as a newcomer I made a bad error in trying to discuss too much in one section. It's difficult to scan up and down and thus try to find concensus on any of my 10 points. One of you veterans should have told me or boldly separated it yourself into 10 sections. I'll try to do that when I get the time. I agree with bobblewik that some of what I said to add would contribute to making this section too long, and thus discouraging quick reference. The solution might be to have a short guide which allows the reader to click on various words for further information and explanation, sort of like footnotes. Korky Day 01:59, 18 April 2006 (UTC)

Ancient Greek dating

So on the Athenian calendar, conventionally used to date most events in ancient Greece, years began and ended with first new moon after the summer solstice. Thus, when historians refer to events in Ancient Greece by year, they say things like "In 379/8 BC...", referring to the Athenian calendrical year in which the event occurred. I've been avoiding this so far by giving month or rough time of year for events, and when that isn't possible saying, for example "in late 379 or early 378 BC." This is a little awkward, though, and I was wondering if anyone could think of a way around it that would remain comprehensible to readers unfamiliar with this system but retain the sense of the 379/8 method, without saying "sometime between July 379 and July 378." Thoughts? RobthTalk 06:07, 9 April 2006 (UTC)

The same problem occurs with Old Style and New Style dates. I've used the following phrasing to deal with it in an article: On March 18 1696 (Old Style, the year number not changing until March 25).... Linking to Hellenic calendar would provide the background explanantion. -- Donald Albury(Talk) 11:29, 9 April 2006 (UTC)


Please contribute to interesting discussion about hectolitres at Wikipedia talk:WikiProject Beer. bobblewik 17:54, 9 April 2006 (UTC)

Square km

Many geographic articles contain piped links to "square kilometer" from "km²". This currently redirects to "square metre". An alternative possibility would be to pipe to "square kilometre", which used to be an article and is now also a redirect to "square metre" (and, since I made it so, a "redirect with possibilities"). A third possibility is to simply link to "km²" - which currently redirects to "1 E6 m²". This ("km²") could be left as is or made a redirect to "square metre" (fourth option), or the contents of one of the articles could be moved there (fifth and sixth options), or to "square kilometre" (seventh option!).

List of articles/redirects

Effectively two interrelated questions,

  1. What articles should be/redirect where?
  2. Where should geographic km² entities link?

Comments welcome. Rich Farmbrough 11:29 11 April 2006 (UTC).

Since I write I've re-created "square kilometre" as an article to which "square kilometer" and "km²" redirect. Rich Farmbrough 20:09 11 April 2006 (UTC).


From the archived discussion at Wikipedia talk:Manual of Style (dates and numbers)/archive40#Must we abbreviate imperial units and spell out SI? there is some agreement that the Units subsection needs revision. Looking through the points discussed, the first three bullet points should be replaced by something along the following lines:

  • Conversions should be shown unless there is good reason otherwise.
  • Generally put the source value first and the converted value second. If editors agree, the sequence of units can follow normal usage in the area relevant to the article. Keep the sequence consistent within an article.
  • When a unit is used in an article for the first time provide a link, and if appropriate spell out the unit in text, though this is not needed for the commonest metric units. Where appropriate use digits and unit symbols for subsequent uses and for measurements in tables, though shorter unit names such as inches and miles can be used in full throughout the article.. For example, on first use "a pressure of 10 000 Pascals (1.45 Pounds-force per square inch on a pipe 100 mm (4 inches) in diameter and 16 km (10 miles) long", and on subsequent uses "10 000 Pa (1.45 lbf/in²) on a pipe 100 mm (4 in) in diameter and 16 km (10 mi) long". The symbol mi should be used for statute miles, for nautical miles use nmi or n mi.
  • Metric units should conform to SI standards. In scientific or engineering notation centimetres (centimeters) should not be used, and in general mm should be used instead of cm unless centimetres are normally used, as in hat sizes and ski lengths.

The link mm redirects to 1 E-3 m which isn't terribly helpful: metre is more useful. In addition, the following section Magnitude prefixes could usefully mention SI prefixes in general before getting into computing usage. ..dave souza, talk 13:17, 26 March 2006 (UTC)

I don't agree. In my opinion this may enable backdoor for vandalism. Namely, malicious user might change one of the values and personally I'm as an editor will not be able verify this change. It'll be obviously more safisticated kind of vandalism, than say simple blanking (though i've recently discovered one article in wikiquote, which was blanked more than 2 month!).
  1. Conversions should not be shown unless there is good reason otherwise.
  2. Put SI value first and non-metric value second (in brackets). - How can you combine source value and sequence consistent? Different sources may give different units. Isn't it easier to follow one pattern?
  3. I don't see any needs to spell units in article neither on first use nor on other - link them to appropriate article and don't clutter the given one.
--tasc 14:26, 26 March 2006 (UTC)
Putting originals first makes good sense. It operates at two levels; first, from the source used by the editor making the addition to a Wikipedia article, but often ultimately to the units used by the person or organization making the original measurement and the actual number used.
The first-listed measurement should be:
  • The best indicator of the precision of the original measurement, useful in cases where the numbers seem over-precise or under-precise.
  • The one most likely to be correct, in case of an obvious conversion error.
  • In the case of definitions, the one which is exact.
  • In the case of designed dimensions, the one in which it is designed.
For rough approximations, or for measurements frequently made, it often doesn't matter which is first, as long as both are about the same precision. In those cases, we can fall back to consistency within an article.
For a specific example, see Talk:Chetwynd, British Columbia where some of the numbers were first listed in that article in litres, with a converted value in gallons in parentheses. Now, especially since this is in Canada, it wouldn't be unreasonable at all for the litres to be the original measurement (in fact, for the particular measurements involved, it would be no surprise for them to originally have been done in "liters" even if it were in the United States, because it is a scientific context).
However, it turned out that this was not the case. The original contributor had taken numbers originally expressed in gallons, and converted them to litres as if those gallons had been U.S. gallons. Problem is, they weren't.
  • Had the original measurements been listed as x gallons (y litres), it is more likely that someone would have questioned earlier the appropriateness of these being converted as if they were U.S. gallons rather than as Canadian gallons.
  • On the other hand, even people who noticed that the litres (as the apparent original figure) had apparently been converted to U.S. gallons might shrug that off as simply something slapped on later catering to the Americans in the audience. This ties in with the notion that we don't really need to mention imperial gallons, since imperial gallons aren't used any more (even though isn't completely true now, and certainly isn't true of usage in sources used for our articles, many Wikipedians might make that argument). The red flag wasn't be raised, as it would have been had the gallons been listed first. Gene Nygaard 16:16, 26 March 2006 (UTC)

I would agree more with dave than with tasc, but I'd prefer something more like this:

  • Conversions should always be given in some fashion unless that wouldn't allow any readers to better understand them (e.g., converting electron volts to foot-pounds, or expressing the Planck temperature in Fahrenheit).
  • Where applicable, always put the source value first and the converted value second. If editors agree, the sequence of units can follow normal usage in the area relevant to the article. Keep the sequence consistent within an article.
  • When a unit is used in an article for the first time, provide a wikilink. Links may be provided occasionally thereafter in case the reader missed the first one.
  • Don't write out unit names. The link is sufficient for a puzzled reader to figure out what the abbreviation means, and writing out units wastes space.
  • Metric units should conform to SI standards. In scientific or engineering notation centimetres (centimeters) should not be used, and in general mm should be used instead of cm unless centimetres are normally used, as in hat sizes and ski lengths.

As for generally not providing conversions, what are the benefits? In very measurement-heavy tables I could see an argument, but it's still just not acceptable to leave probably half our readers in the dark, certainly at least a third. If someone would like to write some Javascript that would toggle between metric and imperial units in a given table, that would be ideal. —Simetrical (talk • contribs) 05:41, 28 March 2006 (UTC)

I would argue that we want to be as consistant as possible about unit types over the whole of Wikipedia. I also don't agree that the order of the units is important in detecting incorrect conversions - if I notice that one value is wrong I will not trust either value and look for another source. Source/justification for values can, if required, be listed on the edit summary or discussion pages, it is not really relevant to the article itself. I therefore suggest, that the second bullet point regarding unit order read:

  • In locality specific articles, local units should be used first (e.g. measure distance between U.S. cities in miles). In all other cases metric units should come first.

Thelem 18:40, 3 April 2006 (UTC)

Thelem, in over half a year as a registered Wikipedia user, you have made one edit to an article (linking a single word to an inappropriate article), and four edits to talk pages including this one. I really don't think you know much about Wikipedia usage at all.
"Locality-specific articles", no matter how you might define them, are not the only ones which have original measurements in other than SI units. There are even other articles which have only non-metric units; if someone adds a metric conversion to these units, that conversion is what should come second, unless it is clear that the measurement already there was an unstated conversion from a metric original. Gene Nygaard 13:02, 9 April 2006 (UTC)
I'll freely admit I am not an experienced Wikipedia editor, however I don't think that is relevant. This is a discussion about what we want the experience of a Wikipedia reader to be, and I am experienced at reading Wikipedia and other sources of information. My argument is that we should use SI units first, except when there is a valid reason not to. I do not consider the original measurement being in a non-SI unit to be a valid reason to put the non-metric unit first. You do, but you do not give a reason for that opinion, nor do you counter my argument at all, just my wording. Articles that only have non-SI units are not really relevant, since this is a discussion about how we think they should be written, and how/if those articles should be changed.
For the record, my editing has been limited because I have not wanted to step on other editors' toes. Hence edits to talk pages to gague editor opinion rather than just running in and editing the page to what I think is correct. Regarding the link, all I did was change an existing link from a disambiguation page to a direct link, which left the page in a better state than when I found it. I could have removed the link, but again I did not feel it was my place to do that. Would you rather I just went ahead and changed what I wanted to without consideration? The page I linked to was not perfect, but I felt it was useful and the most relevant article in Wikipedia. Thelem 08:15, 18 April 2006 (UTC)
Actually, he gave a rather extensive argument above.
For a specific example, see Talk:Chetwynd, British Columbia where some of the numbers were first listed in that article in litres, with a converted value in gallons in parentheses. Now, especially since this is in Canada, it wouldn't be unreasonable at all for the litres to be the original measurement (in fact, for the particular measurements involved, it would be no surprise for them to originally have been done in "liters" even if it were in the United States, because it is a scientific context).

However, it turned out that this was not the case. The original contributor had taken numbers originally expressed in gallons, and converted them to litres as if those gallons had been U.S. gallons. Problem is, they weren't.

  • Had the original measurements been listed as x gallons (y litres), it is more likely that someone would have questioned earlier the appropriateness of these being converted as if they were U.S. gallons rather than as Canadian gallons.
  • On the other hand, even people who noticed that the litres (as the apparent original figure) had apparently been converted to U.S. gallons might shrug that off as simply something slapped on later catering to the Americans in the audience. This ties in with the notion that we don't really need to mention imperial gallons, since imperial gallons aren't used any more (even though isn't completely true now, and certainly isn't true of usage in sources used for our articles, many Wikipedians might make that argument). The red flag wasn't be raised, as it would have been had the gallons been listed first. Gene Nygaard 16:16, 26 March 2006 (UTC)
Simetrical (talk • contribs) 13:56, 18 April 2006 (UTC)
Yes, but I countered that argument in my original comment. The red flag was not raised about the aparently incorrect conversion to gallons, so why is it any more likely for a red flag to be raised for an incorrect conversion to litres? If we are going to list measurements in two formats, then we must make sure that both are correct since people will use the format most familier to them, whichever is listed first.
Thelem 15:16, 19 April 2006 (UTC)
I addressed that, both ways, in the last two bulleted points. You haven't addressed the points I made there at all.
There are many more examples. That red flag is, for example, less likely to be raised if Ernest Shackleton's closest approach to the South Pole is listed as "156 km (97 mi)" (Google 156 km "Ernest Shackleton" 562 hits[1]) than it is if it is listed as "97 miles (156 km)".
The red flag is even less likely to be raised if the "97 miles" is simply replaced with "156 km", throwing away the miles.
In fact, that "156 km" figure stood on Wikipedia for 1 year 6 months before being corrected:
  • 30 Jun 2002: original, 97 miles
  • 10 Jun 2003: 97 miles → 156 km
  • 24 Nov 2004: 156 km → 156 km (98 miles)
  • 10 Dec 2004: 156 km (98 miles) → 180 km [by me, a newbie four days after my very first edit]
  • 24 Apr 2004: 180 km → 156 km (97 miles)
  • 24 Apr 2004: 156 km (97 miles) → 180 km (97 miles)
  • 24 Apr 2004: 180 km (97 miles) → 180 km (112 statute miles)
  • 24 Apr 2004: 180 km (112 statute miles) → 180 km (97 nautical miles)
BTW, it is very easy to figure out exactly what those "97 miles" are, when the very same sentence tells you that this closest approach was at latitude 88°23' S. At least if you can handle sexagesimal arithmetic: 90°0' - 88°23' = 1°37' = 97 minutes of arc, and if you know what a nautical mile is. Gene Nygaard 07:54, 25 April 2006 (UTC)
Our disagreement is over which is more likely to be spotted and fixed by an editor
  • A: incorrect conversion (original unit)
  • B: original unit (incorrect conversion)
  • C: incorrect conversion
I agree C is hard to spot and therefore not advisable.. The example you have given shows that the unit listed first was "corrected" twice. It stood as "156 km (98 miles)" for just 17 days before you spotted and corrected it. Then it was 4 months later that a different editor noticed what they thought was a mistake, and changed the unit listed first - not very long when you consider that editors more knowledgeable about the subject will have realised it was not a mistake.
If an editor sees a figure that they know the correct value of and it is listed incorrectly, then they are equally likely to spot that mistake whether the figure is listed in brackets or not. If an editor sees two figures listed and does the maths to convert one to the other, then they will realise there is a mistake and research what the correct figure is. Why do you think an editor is more likely to spoke 156 km (97 mi) as a mistake than 97 mi (156 km)? In my opinion, the mistakes in this article were the original writer not realising that many people would assume miles to be statue miles, and the editor who made the conversion not checking their facts properly.
Thelem 12:48, 26 April 2006 (UTC)
The other problem is repeated conversions giving ever decreasing accuracy. This can be seen in Gene's example where 97 becomes 98, but with more complex sets of units - pressure for example, over a period of time considerable drift might occur. Rich Farmbrough 22:51 29 April 2006 (UTC).

Style guideline in article space contradicts the Wikipedia MoS

I see that the article Abbreviation gives the following guidance:

  • When abbreviating scientific units, no space is added between the number and unit (e.g., 100mph, 100m, 10cm, 10ºC). Although many publications do this it is, in fact, quite wrong to do this for SI units, so while 100mph may be correct 10m is incorrect and should be 10 m. See below.

It contradicts itself by saying no space for scientific units (the ambiguous term 'scientific units' is not defined) and then saying this is quite wrong for SI units. It also contradicts the MoS that says a space should be used. Does anyone want to see if they can resolve the inconsistencies? bobblewik 18:01, 12 April 2006 (UTC)

It is in a section referring to "Many British publications do this" Rich Farmbrough 10:18 13 April 2006 (UTC).

The omission of such spaces is a modern fad and sloppiness caused by computers with little memory (in the early days) and the flood of people using keyboards who never learned to type properly. When I was a child in the 1950s, only things like 10ºC and $100 omitted the space. "Scientific" is no reason to omit the space. In fact, scientists should be more correct than others. 100mph, 10m, and 9pm have never been right, SI or non-SI. Besides, an encyclopedia doesn't give advice, it states facts, in this case the reader wants to know the standards and rules. What's there to resolve? Just fix it, or I will. Korky Day 02:13, 18 April 2006 (UTC)

Interesting. My understanding of the SI manual is that there is always a space with the exception of degrees Celsius/Fahrenheit.
That article also says that a period is used for multiplication, which as I'm sure we're all aware, is incorrect; we use a middle-dot-thingy (dont' know what it's called). You know, that thing "·" . Probably the wrong place to post this comment, I know, but I'm a bit lazy right now... Neonumbers 06:29, 20 April 2006 (UTC)
No. Degree is only an exception when expressing an angle (which isn't prefered usage anyway). "25 degrees Celsius" should always be written as "25 °C". -- uberpenguin @ 2006-04-20 12:36Z
Oooh really? I have to check this out... (goes and checks it out)... hmm... I can't even find anything explicit in the SI manual about spaces between numbers and units at all, but it seems to be implied because everywhere in the manual there is a space. Except for degrees for angles. Found occurance of "15 °C", has space! Thanks for clearing that up for me, now I can go back and fix that in my chemistry report... :D Neonumbers 08:38, 22 April 2006 (UTC)
Look at ISO 31-0, which is explicit about that there should be a space between number and unit symbol (except for angles). Markus Kuhn 11:32, 30 April 2006 (UTC)


For a discussion on this subject on 19 April 2006 see: Wikipedia talk:WikiProject Countering systemic bias#Autumn

Re: this addition (now proposal, in a way, I guess) by User:Lemuel Gulliver:

Since most Wikipedians live north of the tropic of Capricorn, it is tempting to use the names of seasons Spring, Summer, Autumn and Winter to refer to the periods of the years covered by those seasons in this region. However, please bear in mind that the seasons are reversed in south of the tropic of Cancer, whilst areas near the equator have the wet season and the dry season.
Please therefore prefer wording such as "in early 1990", "in the second quarter of 2003", "around September" or an exact date, rather than references to seasons, unless there is some particular need to mention the season (e.g. due to the Autumn harvest). This is particularly important with topics that concern the Southern hemisphere, the whole world, or outer space (for example, it is nonsensical to say that Apollo 13 landed on the Moon in the summer of 1969).

This is a fairly significant addition, and while it seems common sense, we always seem to argue over what common sense is ;-), so, just in case...

I agree with this, but a couple of pointers:

  • With topics that concern a particular area, it might be okay, but this is arguable as it can of course lead to confusion. Like, if we were talking about New Zealand, "during the summer, New Zealanders often go to the beach..." or about some northern European area, "it often snows during the winter..." or something like that (not from an actual article). Dunno if these examples are realistic (in concept, not specifically those examples), i.e. if it will ever happen, but something to think about... views welcome.
  • Quotations always stay as quoted. Square brackets, e.g. "... Spring last year [late last year] ..." might help... Does this need to be explicit? Might be implied...

The first paragraph of the proposal is quite safe, in my opinion.

I think it's fair to say that if this goes without controversy for five days, i.e. no controversy before 08:30, 27 April 2006 UTC, it can be permanently added. Neonumbers 08:20, 22 April 2006 (UTC)

I've restored it with the suggestions you made, Neonumbers, i.e. it's fine to say "it snows in winter in the United States" and words inside quotation marks shouldn't be changed. Otherwise, it seems fine, and basically a matter of common sense, though perhaps not something you'd think of until you read it, which is why it's a valuable section. SlimVirgin (talk) 08:41, 22 April 2006 (UTC)
Fully agree with all. --Quiddity 09:37, 22 April 2006 (UTC)

Support, but far too many words—it should be one para; some of the first para is redundant. Tony 10:02, 22 April 2006 (UTC)

We all agree in principle then :D. No point fussing too much over wording, I guess... My first point (to clarify) was to do with articles on a region, but on second thought, that's essentially the same thing as "the autumn harvest" (or similar, anyway). It'll work out, not too tricky a topic. Thanks all. Neonumbers 02:24, 23 April 2006 (UTC)

SI or imperial units?

(Discussion moved from village pump)

If an article specify an unit in imperial unit it should then be converted to SI-unit, if an unit then is specified in SI-unit, should it then be converted to imperial? I would say that all unit on wikipedia should be SI unless the source data is using imperial units, then both should be specified. AzaToth 22:13, 21 April 2006 (UTC)

Both should be displayed where possible using conversion templates. The order they are displayed in should probably be on a per-article basis (articles that start using SI units should display those first with Imperial in parens, and vice versa for articles that begin using Imperial units). —Locke Coletc 22:16, 21 April 2006 (UTC)
See the WP:MOSNUM, which specifically allows conversion and asks for things to be readable to as many people as possible. I understand that as usually converting imperial or US customary units to SI and vice versa. While I think the US should really start using metric in everyday life, this is not a reason for Wikipedia to inconvenience our readers from the USA or other non-metric countries by not including the units they are familiar with. Kusma (討論) 22:23, 21 April 2006 (UTC)
Locke cole, your suggestion may be ok for guestimates or multi-source averages but for externally sourced figures the original figure shuold definately be shown first. Plugwash 23:54, 21 April 2006 (UTC)
Plugwash, sorry, we're talking about using m:ParserFunctions to calculate these so there's no "guestimates" or conversion errors. See, for example, {{InchToCentimetre}} or {{FahrenheitToCelsius}}. At least I believe this was the context of AzaToth's question. —Locke Coletc 02:37, 22 April 2006 (UTC)
"We" haven't been discussing any such thing here. No "guestimates" and no "conversion errors? Get real. If you think that wouldn't be a terrible mess, you've got another guess coming. Gene Nygaard 02:49, 22 April 2006 (UTC)
Yes, "we" here on this page. I'm sorry you feel that's worth putting in quotes. And yes, no guestimates or conversion errors, there's nothing to "get real" about there. The conversions are staight forward math, and as long as they're isolated to templates such as {{InchToCentimetre}} or {{FahrenheitToCelsius}} they're nearly impossible to get wrong (the only way to get them wrong is to provide the wrong input, and then that has more to do with Wikipedia:Verifiability or Wikipedia:Reliable sources than the template). —Locke Coletc 03:14, 22 April 2006 (UTC)
I have no idea how many of these templates there are, or if they are all the same, or how I would find out which ones exist. Nonetheless, some of the problems you will run into include:
  1. The editor needs to enter the "round" parameter. That's where many will go astray.
  2. Can that parameter be negative? Will it work the way it does in some spreadsheets if it is negative? Do you even know the answer, or understand the question? Even if it can be, will users of the template know that it can be?
  3. People will sometimes transpose digits putting them into this template, just as they do putting them into a calculator.
  4. Someone still has to make the choice not only of what units to convert to, but which prefix to include on units used with prefixes.
  5. Someone still needs to properly identify the units being converted in the first place, and that isn't always easy to do with ambiguous units such as miles, calories, or tons.
  6. Somebody needs to enter a conversion factor into these templates.
  7. Most users won't have any idea to check to see how good that conversion factor is.
How's that for starters? Gene Nygaard 04:07, 22 April 2006 (UTC)
A prime example of the problem with ambiguous units would be {{Fluid ounce}}.
Can you even figure out what that problem is? Gene Nygaard 04:14, 22 April 2006 (UTC)
No idea, but it obviously mustn't be important if you won't explain what it is. m:Don't be a dick. —Locke Coletc 05:23, 22 April 2006 (UTC)
  1. The round parameter is optional.
  2. I have no idea, and don't really care.
  3. That's a problem regardless of the template: IOW, it's an editorial concern. We can't stop people from mis-typing figures or facts either.
  4. If we move forward with these, I suspect a help page would be created to guide editors on these choices.
  5. If there's doubt or concern, the obvious course of action would be not to provide a conversion.
  6. Which specific template are you referring to? The two I provided as examples only have two parameters: the value to be converted and an optional round.
  7. Significance?
None of these really dissuade me from the idea that conversion templates are an excellent idea. They'll help reduce the number of errors from people performing conversions improperly, and they'll make articles more accessible by providing units in both forms per WP:MOSNUM. —Locke Coletc 05:23, 22 April 2006 (UTC)
If you can't figure out what's wrong with the "Fluid ounce" template even after it has been specifically pointed out to you that there is a serious problem with it, then the average user who has no reason to suspect that there might be a problem is highly unlikely to discover that problem, and will likely blithely misconvert some of the values given in fluid ounces. Don't you agree? Gene Nygaard 06:13, 22 April 2006 (UTC)
I've had no serious problem pointed out to me. OTOH, I've had an allegation of a serious problem pointed out to me, but until it's explained to me, I have no reason to believe it's significant. As I'm as yet unaware of any signifcant problem with the template, I'm afraid I can't comment on the issue of whether or not a normal editor should be concerned with the "problem". —Locke Coletc 06:20, 22 April 2006 (UTC)
Fortunately, there are several Wikipedia editors who are not so innumerate. Why don't you just leave the conversions to them? Gene Nygaard 06:23, 22 April 2006 (UTC)
Nice, maybe you could, I don't know, try to be a little more civil? I do quite well at conversions, thank you, but I still don't see the problem with the template. Maybe instead of talking down to people from your high pedestal of mathematical perfection you could, I dunno, step down and explain what's wrong instead of assuming that everyone must implicitly know (and that those who don't must not be worthy of having it explained to them). Oh, and again, don't be a dick. Thanks. —Locke Coletc 06:39, 22 April 2006 (UTC)
According to my Pocket Ref, it's using the British fluid ounces to milliliters conversion factor of 28.41, rather than the US fluid ounces to milliliters conversion factor of 29.57. --Carnildo 07:16, 22 April 2006 (UTC)
If that's the issue Gene was referring to, surely it could be handled by specifying which fluid ounce is being used (and the template could probably be updated to handle both British and US units). I still don't see how this is a show stopper (not saying you're claiming it is Carnildo). —Locke Coletc 17:03, 22 April 2006 (UTC)
It certainly disproves your claim that there will be "no conversion errors" if we use the templates, doesn't it? Fix this one, and next week or some time later down the road there will be another one with a similar problem. Gene Nygaard 17:36, 22 April 2006 (UTC)
I appreciate what you're saying, but this is not an impossible problem. Specifying (in this case) whether you're displaying British or US units shouldn't be too hard. What you've found is an ambiguity ("which fluid ounce are you referring to?"), not an error in the formula itself. —Locke Coletc 17:47, 22 April 2006 (UTC)
Nonsense. Using that template would result in many conversion errors.
BTW, there are at least two of the templates (a matched pair, involving the same two units) of the 24 templates in Category:Conversion templates which have significant errors in their conversion factors. Can you find them? I'm not talking about the many which could probably be expressed a little more precisely, but rather ones where at least one of the digits as stated is incorrect. Gene Nygaard 18:07, 22 April 2006 (UTC)
I agree it is nonsense, but I don't think we see eye to eye on what exactly the nonsense is. Wikipedia is not a contest to see who is smarter: are you here to help write an encyclopedia, or are you here to play games such as "OoooOOooOOo, I found an error in a template, can you find it?". Don't play games. Don't be a dick.
The whole point of using templates is so we can avoid conversion factor errors: if an error is found in the template, then the template is updated (and every article which transcludes the template is "fixed" along with it). I'd much rather take my chances with templates having errors like this than take my chance with individual editors cracking open a calculator and getting the conversion wrong themselves (and ending up having to fix each one individually rather than just at a template). —Locke Coletc 19:03, 22 April 2006 (UTC)
However, if these are used, they are usually subst'ed, and a couple of them will give error messages if they aren't done that way. Right now, changing the templates, as near as I can see, would fix two articles (one of them using only one template once) plus one other template using some of them.
Conversion factor errors aren't the biggest problem as far as improper conversions go. Improper rounding is one thing that is a much bigger problem, and you'll never be able to fix those errors by updating the template. And my list above only scratched the surface of all the other problems that would be associated with widespread use of these templates.
The one thing they would be good for is consistently getting a space before the unit symbol, and getting temperature degree signs to butt to the letter and not to the number. Gene Nygaard 04:36, 23 April 2006 (UTC)
Actually they absolutely should not be subst'd. If they're substituted in place, then any errors fixed in (or formatting changes made to) the templates would never propogate out to articles. Their current use is irrelevant: the idea of discussing this is to inform people of them and suggest moving away from performing conversions manually and allow the software to do them for you (reducing several points of failure: conversion errors, formatting errors, and so forth).
Improper rounding is as much (if not more) of a problem in manual conversions as it would be with these templates. And at least with the templates you can run a bot using Special:Whatlinkshere to find all instances and check them for correctness (or go over the list manually if such corrections can't be automated).
Again, beating your chest and saying there's problems (without defining them and explaining them) is unhelpful. Stop doing that and start helping if you think there's a real problem here. At least you seem to recognize that the formatting applied could be useful, it'd be nice if you'd recognize that having consistant conversions would be useful as well. —Locke Coletc 00:41, 25 April 2006 (UTC)
Even though the "round" parameter is optional, it often becomes very important in the concept of significant figures. Ardric47 16:05, 22 April 2006 (UTC)

Do we need to be rigorously SI? I'd hate to see a ban on centimetres, grammes, litres and millilitres (or even centimeters, grams, liters and millileters for US editors). What about technical units, like Angstroms and light years? - Runcorn 05:56, 22 April 2006 (UTC)

We aren't rigorously SI, but grams most certainly are SI units, and liters are acceptable for use with SI (or even those dinky little litres, where it takes 4.546 of them to make a gallon rather than only 3.785 American liters to make a gallon!).
If I had my druthers, I would gladly throw out all the units which are neither SI nor among those listed as acceptable for use with SI. Especially angstroms and light years and calories and the like, and tons of any sort despite the fact the metric ton is listed as acceptable for use with SI (note, however, that it is only the mass unit which is on that list, not the force or energy or whatever else which are still used far too often, in Wikipedia as well as outside it). Gene Nygaard 06:10, 22 April 2006 (UTC)
  • Unit sequence. The guidance at: Wikipedia:Manual of Style (dates and numbers) says If editors cannot agree about the sequence of units, put the source value first and the converted value second.
  • Mandatory conversions. The guidance at: Wikipedia:Manual of Style (dates and numbers) does not mandate conversions. It says Wikipedia articles are intended for people anywhere in the world. Try to make articles simple to read and translate. Conversions should generally not be removed.
  • Automation. I don't believe that *full* automation is possible, desirable or worth the effort. It often can't deal with rounding or cultural issues. If somebody thinks they can do it, feel free to try. However, software support for limited tasks is useful. For example, I think fuel economy conversion could be benefit from some automation: USmpg -> L/100 km. Several editors have software support tools to fix the many unit format errors. One example is my own humble: User:Bobblewik/monobook.js/unitformatter.js
  • Units that are part of SI. As Gene says, centimetres, grams, millilitres, are part of SI. See the official SI website:
bobblewik 12:42, 22 April 2006 (UTC)

Interesting to note the guidance "Spell out source units in text." I look forward to seeing articles where every reference to acceleration is spelled out as metres per second per second, to give a simple example. Regarding fuel economy, it would be helpful to people anywhere in the world (at least some places) to convert USmpg to imperial mpg as well as to L/100 km. Also, I'd love to see centimetres kept for restricted to hat sizes and ski lengths: is there any guidance about avoiding mixing centimetres and millimetres in an article? ...dave souza, talk 19:18, 22 April 2006 (UTC) amended dave souza, talk 23:00, 22 April 2006 (UTC)

No, grammes are not SI units. The SI unit of mass is the kilogramme. - Runcorn 19:50, 22 April 2006 (UTC)

Yes, grams are SI units, even if you stick in an extra "-me" which most people have stopped doing. Kilograms, of course, are the SI base unit, but the SI prefixes, and their use as applied to the root word (not to the base unit) in the case of grams, including unprefixed versions, are very much a part of SI. Gene Nygaard 20:59, 22 April 2006 (UTC)
bobblewik 12:02, 23 April 2006 (UTC)