The Conservative press are currently doing everything they can to pander to the irrational beliefs of the Brexiters.  This week’s hilarious piece of rose-tinted nonsense is the possibility of bringing back Imperial weights and measures for consumer transactions.  In spite of the fact that we no longer buy all of our food from local shops where they weigh it out in front of us, and that most people don’t even think about pack size in more detail than “big”, “small” or “serves 4”, the desire of the blue-rinse brigade is to take our shopping experience back to the 1950s.  And who can forget those halcyon days when we had polio, an outside loo, and no telly?

Apparently there are also rumblings about restoring pre-decimal currency, and since we’ve already begun devaluing the pound by voting for economic hari-kiri, we might as well go one step further and properly screw things up by taking the economy back to the 1970s.  My dad often claims that imperial weights & measures are simpler to use, and that “old money” is easier to understand.  The argument goes along the lines of:

“Well, when I was younger, that’d cost two-and-six.  You can’t get that in new money, eh?”

“You can, it’s 30p.”

“Well, that’s devalued because there used to be 240d in a pound and now it’s only 100p.”

“The two systems use different base units and you also have to take account of inflation.”

“You’re talking a load of mumbo-jumbo there, it was all a con, old money was worth more, etc, etc.”

and then…

“But how can decimal measures be more accurate?  I used to go to the butcher’s and ask for 2lb of lamb chops and now they sell me 908g, or 902, or 976 – what’s accurate about that?”

“Well, that’s more accurate….”

Anyone who’s grown up with the metric system, or works with it every day in their study or employment, will know that YOU LITERALLY JUST DIVIDE AND MULTIPLY EVERYTHING BY TEN; IT’S THAT SIMPLE.  But apparently it’s easier to work in a combination of base 12, 14 and 16, than base 10 in which you add or remove zeroes.  Well, obviously this isn’t true, but there’s a reason older folk are clinging to pounds, shillings pence, feet, yards, and furlongs.

Well, a few reasons.  But look at how they see the problem.  Up until 1971 (and for a good while after), they were using a familiar system that had “nice” round values, like “roughly 1lb of jam”, or “just over a quarter of humbugs”.  And then they had to change to a system that turned their simple approximations into intimidating not-whole numbers.  Even though the quantity was exactly the same, this new degree of precision came across as an unnecessary complication.

And it was a change foisted upon them.  I don’t know much of the popular public opinion in the early 1970s, because I wasn’t born then – so the fuss may not have been as great as legend makes it out to be.  I know plenty of older people who are quite happy with the metric system and decimal currency, but there’s a sizeable amount of older people who aren’t.  Articles like the one I linked to in the first paragraph serve to garner sentiment that the old ways were better, and so we end up with the situation we have now.  It makes little sense to those of us who think the metric system is so wonderful, but it’s become an emotional argument out of a practical one.  Initially, it was a change that took time getting used to, and was probably met with some resistance.  But now its become a movement to restore things to the way they “should” be, tied up in rhetoric about the The Good Old Days that never really existed.

From a business and scientific perspective a return to Imperial weights & measures, and pre-decimal currency, would be an expensive mistake.  But we know exactly what the British public think of experts (as evidenced by the outcome of the referendum, among other things), and so that argument carries little weight.  While I disagree with their views, I do think it’s important to listen to the Blue Rinsers thoughts on this, and have conversations with them.  Much of the EU referendum campaign was people from both sides yelling into the void and not engaging in discussions with their opponents.  Changing people’s minds is really bloody hard, and ultimately you have to allow them to do it themselves.  But our present tactics failed us, and we’re in a bit of a pickle now, aren’t we?


WAKE THE F**K UP OBAMA AD Samuel L Jackson Voting Ad

This video was for the Obama election campaign in 2012, but I feel the spirit is the same for our referendum today.  If you want a better world, then you need to vote for it.  None of that “but my voice is only one in a sea of many” crap, voter turnout in the UK is so low that an unused vote is a route for bizarro fringe parties to take hold.  Don’t even get me started on “protest voting“.  Demographically, older & richer people are more likely to use their vote, and younger & poorer voters more likely to stay at home on Polling DayThe ones not voting are those who will be most affected by the outcome.  And at the moment, older voters lean more towards Leave, and younger voters towards Remain.  If us young’uns don’t get out there today and participate in the democratic process, then we have no-one to blame but ourselves if we get the wrong result.  People gave their lives for us to have this right, and we sadly lost an MP to political extremism only last week.  What matters more than a human life?  The right to vote is more than just a right, it is an honour.  Use it as you wish, but please use it.


We’ve already seen evidence of what happens if you allow the Great British Public to vote on anything important, with the RRS Sir David Attenborough saga. (Click here for an article taking itself waaaaaay too seriously)

How many spoiled papers are going to be for "Votey McVoteface"? I feel an FOI Request coming on!

So why are we even voting on one of the most politically destabilising issues of our time?  Both sides have made good points and bad, and some downright hilarious ones too.  But if we are to believe the Remain campaign (and our own Prime Minister), then leaving the EU is a terrible idea.  And this question has been put to a population that cares more about a cake contest than who will run the country for the next four years.  Even if you’re politically opposed to the EU and would like the UK to be “independent”, it makes no sense to vote “out”, because we’d still have to obey EU laws and pay the fees, but we’d have no say on those laws.  So we’d be literally choosing taxation with no representation – unless the UK goes totally renegade (and who knows what would happen with This Guy in charge).

But I have heard so many “Brexit” voices, all believing the same untruths, ignoring the facts and complex details of how the EU actually works (who wants to listen to the workings of the Council of the EU, when the Daily Mail’s going on about straight bananas and bent cucumbers?), that I’m scared it’s a genuine possibility, nay, probability.

So, you’ve probably guessed that I, like a lot of other EU scientists, want to remain in the EU. On a purely selfish level, I want to keep my EU citizenship, and I may have to go live abroad and become a citizen of somewhere else if we vote to leave. Mind you, if we become a miniature version of the Empire, with our own tin-pot Trump as leader, it might not be worth staying anyway.

I love to discuss this issue with people I know, both pro- and anti-EU types, but I know that it’s very unlikely that I will change many people’s minds – those who have decided are fixed in their opinions, and for those who are undecided, I am just one voice in a sea of many.  Most ordinary citizens (and even those working in sectors with outcomes affected by the vote) don’t know all of the issues, and I’d be hard pressed to find anyone who can say with confidence that they know what is best for Britain (except for John Major, who is in a better position to advise than pretty much anyone else).

Either way – get out there and vote!  Whether you think the EU is about democracy or dictatorship (again, I bet that 99% of the UK population can’t define these terms), your vote matters.  Do you really want to not even make it on to the losing side, because you were sat about on the substitute’s bench?  At the very least, do your research on the issues and become more politically aware.  There’s no excuse – more information is available to us than ever before.

Take care, All.