Feature In 1793, French scientist Joseph Dombey sailed for the newly formed United States at the request of Thomas Jefferson carrying two objects that could have changed America. He never made it, and now the US is stuck with a retro version of measurement that is unique in the modern world.
The first, a metal cylinder, was exactly one kilogram in mass. The second was a copper rod the length of a newly proposed distance measurement, the meter.
Jefferson was keen on the rationality of the metric system in the US and a keen Francophile. But Dombey’s ship was blown off course, captured by English privateers (pirates with government sanction), and the scientist died on the island of Montserrat while waiting to be ransomed.
And so America is one of a handful of countries that maintains its own unique forms of weights and measures.
The reason for this history lesson? Over the last holiday period this hack has been cooking and is sick of this pounds/ounces/odd pints business – and don’t even get me started on using cups as a unit of measurement.
It’s time for America to get out of the Stone Age and get on board with the International System of Units (SI), as the metric system used to be known.
There’s a certain amount of hypocrisy here – I’m British and we still cling to our pints, miles per hour, and I’m told drug dealers still deal in eighths and ‘teenths in the land of my birth. But the American system is bonkers, has cost the country many millions of dollars, an increasing amount of influence, and needs to be changed.
Brits and Americans…
The cylinder and rod Dombey was carrying, the former now owned by the US National Institute of Standards and Technology, was requested by Jefferson because the British system in place was utterly irrational.
When the UK settled in the Americas they brought with them a bastardized version of weights, measures and currencies. A Scottish pint, for example, was almost double the size of an English equivalent until 1824, which speaks volumes about the drinking culture north of the border.
British measurements were initially standardized in the UK’s colonies, but it was a curious system, taking in Roman, Frankish, and frankly bizarre additions. Until 1971, in the UK a pound consisted of 240 pence, with 12 pence to the shilling and 20 shillings to the pound.
To make things even more confusing, individual settlements adopted their own local weights and measures. From 1700, Pennsylvania took control of its own measurements and other areas soon followed. But this mishmash of coins, distances and weights held the country back and Jefferson scored his first success in the foundation of a decimal system for the dollar.
“I question if a common measure of more convenient size than the Dollar could be proposed. The value of 100, 1,000, 10,000 dollars is well estimated by the mind; so is that of a tenth or hundredth of a dollar. Few transactions are above or below these limits,” he said [PDF].
Jefferson wanted something new, more rational, and he was not alone. In the first ever State of the Union address in 1790, George Washington observed: “Uniformity in the Currency, Weights and Measures of the United States is an object of great importance, and will, I am persuaded, be duly attended to.”
America was a new country, and owed a large part of the success of the Revolutionary War to France, in particular the French navy. The two countries were close, and the metric system appealed to Jefferson’s mindset, and to many in the new nation.
And this desire for change wasn’t just limited to weights and measures. Also in 1793, Alexander Hamilton hired Noah Webster, who as a lexicographer and ardent revolutionary wanted America to cast off the remnants of the old colonial power. Webster wrote a dictionary, current versions of which can be found in almost every classroom in the US, which includes, color, center, aluminum and other new versions of old words.
And then politics and Napoleon happened
Jefferson asked the French for other samples including a copper meter and a copy of the kilogram, which was sent in 1775, but by then things had changed somewhat since he was no longer running the show. On January 2, 1794, he was replaced as US Secretary of State by fellow Founding Father Edmund Randolph, who was much less keen on the government getting involved in such things.
To make matters worse, relations between America and France were deteriorating sharply. The French government felt that the newly formed nation wasn’t being supportive enough in helping Gallic forces fight the British in the largely European War of the First Coalition. In something of a hissy fit, the French government declined to invite representatives from the US to the international gathering at Paris in 1798-99 that set the initial standards for the metric system.
Jefferson’s plans were kicked into committee and while a form of standardization based on pounds and ounces was approved by the House, the Senate declined to rule on the matter.
Not that it mattered much longer. In 1812, Napoleon effectively abolished the enforcement of the metric system in France. Napoleon was known as Le Petit Caporal, with multiple reports he was five foot two. This was a possibly deliberate misunderstanding since the French inch was then shorter than the British standard and Napoleon was around average height for the time.
After the French dictator was defeated, the case for the metric system in France sank into near-limbo at first, as it did in the US. But it gradually spread across Europe because you can’t keep a good idea down and science and industrialization were demanding it.
Welcome to the rational world
What has kept the metric system going is its inherent rationality. Rather than use a hodgepodge of local systems, why not build one based on measurements everyone could agree on configured around the number 10, which neatly matches the number of digits on most people’s hands?
Above all it’s universal, a gram means a gram in any culture. Meanwhile, buy a pint in the UK and you’ll get 20oz of beer, do the same in America and pints are only 16oz – a fact that still shocks British drinkers. The differences are also there with tons, and the odd concept of stones as a weight measurement.
Metric is by no means perfect. For example, in the initial French system, a gram, or grave as it was initially known, was the mass of one cubic centimeter of water. A meter was a 10 millionth of the distance between the pole and the equator – although the French weren’t exactly sure how far that was at the time.
Since then the system has been revised a lot with discoveries of more natural constants. For example, a meter is now 1/299,792,458 of the distance light travels at during a second. As of 1967, the second itself has been defined as “the duration of 9,192,631,770 periods of the radiation corresponding to the transition between the two hyperfine levels of the ground state of the caesium-133 atom,” but better measurement by atomic clocks may change this.
The chief adherents to the metric system initially were scientists who desperately needed universal sources of measurement to compare notes and replicate experiments without the errors common when converting from one measuring system to another.
This is down to convoluted systems like 12 inches in a foot, three feet in a yard, 1,760 yards in a mile, compared to 100 centimeters in a meter and 1,000 meters to a kilometer. A US pound is 0.453592 kilograms, to six figures at least, these are the kind of numbers that cause mistakes to be made.
Most famously in recent memory was the Mars Climate Orbiter in 1999. The $125 million space probe broke up in the Martian atmosphere after engineers at Lockheed Martin, who built the instrument, used the US Customary System of measurement rather than metric measurements. The probe descended too close to the surface and was lost.
A more down-to-earth example came in 1983 with the Air Canada “Gimli Glider” incident, where pilots of a Boeing 767 underestimated the amount of fuel they needed because the navigational computer was measuring fuel in kilograms rather than points. With roughly 2.2 pounds to the kilogram, the aircraft took on less than half the fuel is needed and the engines failed at 41,000 feet (12,500m).
The two pilots were forced to glide the aircraft, containing 69 souls, to an old air force base in Gimli that luckily one of the pilots had served at. It was now being used as a drag strip but thankfully there were only a few minor injuries.
And don’t even get me started on Celsius and Fahrenheit. With Celsius water freezes at 0 degrees and boils at 100 at ground level, compared to 32 and 212 for Fahrenheit. It’s a nonsensical system and the US is now the only nation in the world to use Fahrenheit to measure regular temperatures.
The slow and winding road
Back in 1821, Secretary of State John Quincy Adams reported to Congress on the measurements issue. In his seminal study on the topic he concluded that while a metric system based on natural constants was preferable, the amount of kerfuffle needed to change from the current regime would be highly disruptive and he wasn’t sure Congress had the right to overrule the systems used by individual states.
The disruption would have been large. The vast majority of America’s high value trade was with the UK and Canada, neither of which were metric.
In addition, American and British manufacturers rather liked the old ways. With the existing system, companies manufactured parts to their own specifications, meaning if you wanted spares you had to go buy them from the original manufacturer. This proved highly lucrative.
By the middle of the 19th century, things were changing… slightly. The US government scientists did start using some metric measurements for things like mapping out territory, even though its domestic system was more common for day-to-day use. The Civil War also spurred a push towards standardization, with some states like Utah briefly mandating the system.
Two big changes came around in the 20th century following two World Wars. Interchangeability of parts, particularly bolt threading, seriously hampered the Allied forces. In 1947, America joined the International Organization for Standardization and bolt threads went metric. Today the US Army uses metric to better integrate with NATO allies.
This has continued ever since American manufacturers realized they would have to accommodate the new systems if it wanted to sell more kit abroad. Today there are technically US measurement parts still being manufactured, particularly in some industries, but there is at least a standardized system for converting these to metric measurements.
In the 1960s, metric was renamed as the Le Système international d’unités (International System of Units) or SI and things started moving again in America. After Congressional study, President Gerald Ford signed the Metric Conversion Act in 1975, setting a plan for America to finally go metric as “the preferred system of weights and measures for United States trade and commerce.”
But it suffered some drawbacks. Firstly, the system was voluntary, which massively slowed down adoption. Secondly, a year later, the new US president Jimmy Carter was a strong proponent of the system, and this caused the opposition in Congress to largely oppose the plan.
President Reagan closed most of the moves to metric in 1982, but his successor, Bush, revived some of the plans in 1991, ordering US government departments to move over to metric as far as possible. The issue has been kicked down the road ever since.
Different cultures, different customs
These days the arguments over metric versus American measurements are more fraught, becoming a political issue between left and right. Witness Tucker Carlson’s cringe-worthy rant in which he describes metric as “the yoke of tyranny,” hilariously mispronouncing “kailograms.”
What in the world is he even talking about? pic.twitter.com/KhL8eS7mO1
— George Takei (@GeorgeTakei) July 25, 2019
Given that trust-fund kid Carlson was educated in a Swiss boarding school, he knows how it’s pronounced, but never let the facts get in the way of invective.
As such, it seems unlikely that we’ll see anything change soon. But that day is coming – America is no longer the manufacturing giant it was and China is perfectly happy with the metric system, although it maintains other measurement for domestic societal use like Britain does with pints and miles.
There’s really no logical reason to not go metric – it’s a simple, universal system used by every nation in the world except for the US, Liberia and Myanmar. That’s hardly august company for the Land of the Free.
It will be a long, slow process. No country has managed a full shift to metric in less than a generation,mith most it took two or more, and the UK seems to be going backwards. Former prime minister Boris Johnson suggested Britain should go it alone with the old UK Imperial measurements, which make the current American system look positively rational.
It may take generations before the issue is resolved in the UK, and longer still for the US. It may, in fact, never happen in America, but the SI system makes sense, is logically sound, and will remain the language of science, medicine and engineering for the vast majority of the world.
If the US doesn’t want to play catch-up with the rest of the world it will have to take rational measurements seriously. But that day isn’t coming soon, so in the meantime this hack will have to remain using old cookbooks and we’ll face more measurement mistakes together. ®
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The Voice Of EU | In the heart of technological innovation, the collision between intellectual property rights and the development of cutting-edge AI technologies has sparked a significant legal battle. The New York Times has taken legal action against OpenAI and Microsoft, filing a lawsuit in Manhattan federal court. This legal maneuver aims to address concerns surrounding the unauthorized use of the Times’ content for the training of AI models, alleging copyright infringements that could potentially result in billions of dollars in damages.
This legal tussle underlines the escalating tension between technological advancements and the protection of intellectual property. The crux of the lawsuit revolves around OpenAI and Microsoft allegedly utilizing the Times’ proprietary content to advance their own AI technology, directly competing with the publication’s services. The lawsuit suggests that this unauthorized utilization threatens the Times’ ability to offer its distinctive service and impacts its AI innovation, creating a competitive landscape that challenges the publication’s proprietary content.
Amidst the growing digital landscape, media organizations like the Times are confronting a myriad of challenges. The migration of readers to online platforms has significantly impacted traditional media, and the advent of artificial intelligence technology has added another layer of complexity. The legal dispute brings to the forefront the contentious practice of AI companies scraping copyrighted information from online sources, including articles from media organizations, to train their generative AI chatbots. This strategy has attracted substantial investments, rapidly transforming the AI landscape.
The lawsuit highlights instances where OpenAI’s technology, specifically GPT-4, replicated significant portions of Times articles, including in-depth investigative reports. These outputs, alleged by the Times to contain verbatim excerpts from their content, raise concerns about the ethical and legal boundaries of using copyrighted material for AI model training without proper authorization or compensation.
The legal action taken by the Times follows attempts to engage in discussions with Microsoft and OpenAI, aiming to address concerns about the use of its intellectual property. Despite these efforts, negotiations failed to reach a resolution that would ensure fair compensation for the use of the Times’ content while promoting responsible AI development that benefits society.
In the midst of this legal battle, the broader questions surrounding the responsible and ethical utilization of copyrighted material in advancing technological innovations come to the forefront.
The dispute between the Times, OpenAI, and Microsoft serves as a significant case study in navigating the intricate intersection of technological progress and safeguarding intellectual property rights in the digital age.
Conflicted History: ‘Oppenheimer’ And Its Impact On Los Alamos And New Mexico Downwinders
‘Oppenheimer’ And Its Impact On Los Alamos And New Mexico Downwinders
The Voice Of EU | In the highly anticipated blockbuster movie, “Oppenheimer,” the life of J. Robert Oppenheimer, the man behind the first atomic bomb, is portrayed as a riveting tale of triumph and tragedy.
As the film takes center stage, it also brings to light the often-overlooked impacts on a community living downwind from the top-secret Manhattan Project testing site in southern New Mexico.
A Forgotten Legacy
While the film industry and critics praise “Oppenheimer,” a sense of frustration prevails among the residents of New Mexico’s Tularosa Basin, who continue to grapple with the consequences of the Manhattan Project. Tina Cordova, a cancer survivor and founder of the Tularosa Basin Downwinders Consortium, expresses their feelings, stating, “They invaded our lives and our lands and then they left,” referring to the scientists and military personnel who conducted secret experiments over 200 miles away from their community.
The Consortium, alongside organizations like the Union of Concerned Scientists, has been striving to raise awareness about the impact of the Manhattan Project on New Mexico’s population. Advocates emphasize the necessity of acknowledging the human cost of the Trinity Test, the first atomic blast, and other nuclear weapons activities that have affected countless lives in the state.
The Ongoing Struggle for Recognition
As film enthusiasts celebrate the drama and brilliance of “Oppenheimer,” New Mexico downwinders feel overlooked by both the U.S. government and movie producers. The federal government’s compensation program for radiation exposure still does not include these affected individuals. The government’s selection of the remote and flat Trinity Test Site, without warning residents in the surrounding areas, further added to the controversy.
Living off the land, the rural population in the Tularosa Basin had no idea that the fine ash settling on their homes and fields was a result of the world’s first atomic explosion.
The government initially attempted to cover up the incident, attributing the bright light and rumble to an explosion at a munitions dump. It was only after the U.S. dropped atomic bombs on Japan weeks later that New Mexico residents realized the magnitude of what they had witnessed.
Tracing the Fallout
According to the Manhattan Project National Historical Park, large amounts of radiation were released into the atmosphere during the Trinity Test, with fallout descending over a vast area. Some of the fallout reached as far as the Atlantic Ocean, but the greatest concentration settled approximately 30 miles from the test site.
“Now I Am Become Death, the Destroyer of Worlds.”
J. Robert Oppenheimer
The consequences of this catastrophic event have affected generations of New Mexicans, who still await recognition and justice for the harm caused by nuclear weapons.
A Tale of Contrasts: Los Alamos and the Legacy of Oppenheimer
As the film’s spotlight shines on the life of J. Robert Oppenheimer, a contrasting narrative unfolds in Los Alamos, more than 200 miles north of the Tularosa Basin. Los Alamos stands as a symbol of Oppenheimer’s legacy, housing one of the nation’s premier national laboratories and boasting the highest percentage of people with doctorate degrees in the U.S.
Oppenheimer’s influence is evident throughout Los Alamos, with a street bearing his name and an IPA named in his honor at a local brewery. The city embraces its scientific legacy, showcasing his handwritten notes and ID card in a museum exhibit. Los Alamos National Laboratory employees played a significant role in the film, contributing as extras and engaging in enlightening discussions during breaks.
The “Oppenheimer” Movie
Director Christopher Nolan’s perspective on the Trinity Test and its profound impact is evident in his approach to “Oppenheimer.” He has described the event as an extraordinary moment in human history and expressed his desire to immerse the audience in the pivotal moment when the button was pushed. Nolan’s dedication to bringing historical accuracy and emotional depth to the screen is evident as he draws inspiration from Kai Bird and Martin J. Sherwin’s Pulitzer Prize-winning book, “American Prometheus: The Triumph and Tragedy of J. Robert Oppenheimer.”
For Nolan, Oppenheimer’s story is a potent blend of dreams and nightmares, capturing the complexity and consequences of the Manhattan Project. As the film reaches global audiences, it also offers a unique opportunity to raise awareness about the downwinders in New Mexico, whose lives were forever altered by the legacy of nuclear weapons testing.
The Oppenheimer Festival and Beyond
Los Alamos is determined to use the Oppenheimer Festival as an opportunity to educate visitors about the true stories behind the film’s events. The county’s “Project Oppenheimer” initiative, launched in early 2023, encompasses forums, documentaries, art installations, and exhibits that delve into the scientific contributions of the laboratory and the social implications of the Manhattan Project.
A special area during the festival will facilitate discussions about the movie, fostering a deeper understanding of the community’s history. The county aims to continue revisiting and discussing the legacy of the Manhattan Project, ensuring that the impact of this pivotal moment in history is never forgotten.
As “Oppenheimer” takes audiences on an emotional journey, it serves as a reminder that every historical event carries with it complex and multifaceted implications. The movie may celebrate the scientific achievements of the past, but it also illuminates the urgent need to recognize and address the human cost that persists to this day.
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GSK’s Mosquirix Is Revolutionizing The Fight Against Malaria
GSK’s Mosquirix And The Fight Against Malaria
Advancements in Malaria Prevention:
Researchers have made remarkable progress in both prevention and treatment strategies for malaria. The World Health Organization’s recommendation of dual-ingredient insecticide-treated bed nets in March 2023 marks a significant milestone in preventing malaria transmission by Anopheles mosquitoes. These nets, including those with more lethal insecticide combinations and those disrupting mosquito growth, are key tools in malaria prevention efforts.
LEARN MORE: ALL ABOUT HEALTHCARE
The Importance of Cost-Effective Antimalarial Medicines:
Cost-effective antimalarial medicines play a crucial role in combating malaria. In 2021, approximately 45 million children between the ages of three months and five years received seasonal malaria chemoprevention, which involved monthly doses of therapeutic drugs at a cost of less than $4 per person. While this approach has shown promising results, the development of a groundbreaking vaccine brings renewed hope.
GSK’s Mosquirix (RTS,S) Vaccine:
GSK’s Mosquirix, also known as RTS,S, is an innovative vaccine that has the potential to transform the fight against malaria. This vaccine offers hope in preventing the disease, particularly among children in malaria-endemic regions. Although the current cost is relatively high, around $40 per child for the first year, it presents an essential step forward in malaria prevention efforts.
The Persistent Threat of Malaria:
Despite substantial investments of $26 billion to combat malaria in Sub-Saharan Africa, the number of cases has seen a slight increase between 2000 and 2019, although the number of deaths has decreased. This highlights the need for new prevention measures tailored to vulnerable populations, especially children. Taking inspiration from the Covid-19 pandemic, where monoclonal antibodies have demonstrated their potential, similar approaches could be explored in the fight against malaria.
The Potential of Monoclonal Antibodies:
Monoclonal antibodies, laboratory-made copies of immune system proteins, have shown immense potential in combating various diseases, including cancer and autoimmune disorders. Their remarkable selectivity and ability to target specific molecular markers make them an attractive option for preventive interventions. Researchers at the United States National Institutes of Health, led by Robert Seder, have identified two antibodies that target CSP-1, a protein used by the malaria parasite to invade liver cells. Clinical trials are currently underway in Mali and Kenya to assess their safety and efficacy, focusing on seasonal and year-round malaria transmission settings.
Monoclonal antibodies have the potential to be a game-changer in malaria prevention, advancing the long-sought goal of eradication. The latest generation of antimalarial antibodies offers extended protection, with a single dose potentially safeguarding a child for at least three months, if not longer. Clinical trials will determine the extent and duration of this protection and guide future improvements to achieve a once-a-year injection.
Making Monoclonal Antibodies Accessible:
While monoclonal antibodies are often associated with high costs, efforts to increase their potency could significantly reduce expenses. It is estimated that an injection as small as one milliliter of the antibody drug being trialed in Mali and Kenya could protect children at a cost of only $5-10 per person. To ensure accessibility, it is crucial to engage national regulatory agencies and involve affected countries in the production of these biologics. While manufacturing antibodies is a complex and regulated process, investing in the necessary technology now would greatly benefit developing economies burdened by endemic malaria.
Addressing Disparities and Raising Awareness:
Currently, demand for monoclonal antibodies primarily comes from high-income countries, with Africa accounting for only 1% of global sales. This disparity underscores the importance of working with national regulatory agencies to address public health concerns and involve affected countries in the production and distribution of these life-saving biologics. Collaboration among government, academia, and industry is crucial to coordinate advocacy efforts and raise awareness about the potential of monoclonal antibodies in malaria prevention.
Preparing for Success:
While the deployment of the first generation of antimalarial antibodies is expected to occur no earlier than 2027, it is essential to start preparing for their potential success now. These antibodies hold tremendous promise as a powerful weapon in the fight against malaria, alongside bed nets, medicines, and emerging vaccines. Clinical trials will provide vital information on the extent of their efficacy, duration of protection, and dosage requirements. It is imperative to remain proactive and ensure that the necessary infrastructure and policies are in place to facilitate the widespread adoption of these breakthrough treatments.
Combining Science & Research:
As the world continues to battle the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic, it is crucial not to overlook the persistent threat of malaria, especially in regions heavily impacted by poverty. While significant progress has been made in malaria prevention and treatment, the development of innovative solutions like GSK’s Mosquirix vaccine and the potential of monoclonal antibodies offer renewed hope in the fight against this deadly disease. By harnessing the lessons learned from Covid-19 research and engaging in collaborative efforts, we can work towards a future where malaria is no longer a major public health concern. Together, we can strive for the eradication of malaria and ensure a healthier future for vulnerable populations worldwide.
By Laura Richardson | Independent Contributor “The Voice Of EU“
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