By Autumn Gray
Give Linda Anderman an inch and she’ll take a kilometer.
The Los Alamos National Laboratory retiree has spent 10 years and $25,000 trying to kickstart a serious federal conversation about replacing the U.S. measurement system with the metric system. She had decided to drop the crusade come 2023 due to lack of interest, when suddenly toward the end of 2022, people began to take notice.
It was October 10 when Anderman sent a report to the House Subcommittee on Science, Space, & Technology regarding the costs that America incurs due to its lack of international measurement standards. In the document, she outlines research and rationale for why U.S. reluctance to adopt the metric system is a national concern of education (e.g., poor U.S. math scores) economics/commerce (e.g., taxpayer waste), and public health and safety (medicine dosing errors and even fatalities). She also requests a congressional hearing on the matter.
Anderman intentionally timed the report’s delivery for October 10 in honor of National Metric Week. The recognition is supposed to encourage U.S. schools to review the metric system, which is based on increments of 10 and, according to the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency, is used by every nation in the world except three: Myanmar, Liberia, and the United States. Anderman’s report also just happened to be 10 pages.
As of mid-December, Anderman had not received a reply from Congress. However, she said her report did receive 200 downloads in its first and second months online and another 50 by deadline for this story. She also said she had received about 1,000 “contacts” from interested individuals, including about 600 from members of a Florida medical community that visited her blog, “More Than a Mile Behind” (https://milebehind.wordpress.com/). The report to Congress can be viewed there.
“I had to figure out if people cared about this (subject) or not, and I think my preliminary answer is yes,” Anderman said. “So far, my 250 downloads are my biggest success, and I’m not driving downloads.”
Until this point, Anderman had been consistently posting metric-related articles on her blog since July 24, 2012. The writings document her research and activities, arguments for adopting the metric system, the system’s history, reasons she prefers the system, etc. Her posts average a handful of replies each, most of them cordial.
“Only one person has called me a b— in that time,” Anderman said.
While the blog has received more than 430,000 hits since inception, the bulk of visitors are not necessarily seeking Anderman. “People get to my blog by typing ‘metric system’ into Google,” she said.
However, the blog has been archived by the Library of Congress since 2015. Proof of that is at https://www.loc.gov/item/lcwaN0009077/.
“My blog is part of American history now,” Anderman said. “As long as the Library of Congress exists, my blog will remain in there.”
In addition to developing a robust blogosphere presence, Anderman created her own one-time national metrics awards. There were two recipients – Stephen Colbert and the staff of The Late Show with Stephen Colbert, and the production staff of the long-standing animated series The Simpsons. Anderman mailed to both groups plaques titled “More Than 1.6 kilometers Ahead” in recognition of acts that she viewed as championing the metric system. Colbert tends to mention the metric system in his comedy stints, and The Simpsons’ Season 6, Episode 12, titled “Homer the Great” included a song with the following lyrics:
Who controls the British Crown?
Who keeps the metric system down?
We do, we do…
Anderman said she did not receive any kind of acknowledgment from either recipient, but photos of the $100 plaques can be seen on her blog.
Anderman has also done some preliminary work on a book, America’s Biggest Miscalculation.
She never intended for her metrics project to include so much, for so long, at such personal cost. She said that the $25,000 estimate for her work is conservative and includes computer purchases, blog site protection, trips to D.C., and rare resource materials.
The original intent when the journey began, she said, was to simply produce a film documentary on the subject. Anderman grew up in Detroit and graduated from the city’s Wayne State University with a mass communications degree and a specialization in film. She worked at General Motors and most recently at Los Alamos National Lab in the communications department, from which she retired four years ago. She raised $2,000 through a crowdfunding campaign to help her produce the film, but the project never got off the ground.
Her metrics obsession, she said, “started with a conversation with one of (the Los Alamos) IT people and recognition of the parts going into computers.” (The electronics industry uses the metric system.)
“I wondered what happened to (the metrics system in the U.S.) and began doing research, and I felt embarrassed as an American about how far behind the 8-ball we had put ourselves … and how this nation ended up keeping a system in which 16 ounces make a pound, 12 inches make a foot and 3 feet make a yard.
“We have to look things up because we don’t even understand the system we use,” she said, referring to Americans’ common need to research the internet for conversions, such as how many teaspoons are in a tablespoon.
Unbeknownst to many, much of America is already metric. In science and medicine, its use is standard. Sodas are sold in liters, and many food items are marketed in grams. The only consistency is the lack of consistency.
From Day One, Anderman said, her goal has merely been to get discussion of the metric system back on the table.
“Do I want the U.S. to switch to the metric system? My answer is, ‘Of course.’ But I live in a democracy, and I don’t get the sole choice.
“I made a conscious decision this year that after 10 years if I didn’t get some traction on this thing, I’d close it down and do something else. … I had an exit plan. But now I need to reevaluate where I want to take this thing. … I’m making American history here!”