Standards: Who Needs Them

Standards: Who Needs Them

I was listening to the news this morning and was reminded of something I learned in the early days of my engineering education.  I recall being told that somewhere in the world there is a physical bar that is 1 meter long.  The purpose of this sample is to establish the standard length of a meter.  A little searching on the internet corrected my memory.  In actuality, in 1889 the Internation Bureau of Weights and Measures established the International Prototype Meter.  It was defined as the distance between two lines on a bar composed of 90% platinum and 10% iridium when measured at the melting point of ice.

The purpose of a standard is to ensure that the definition does not deviate over time.  Try this little experiment sometime.  Using a tape measure, mark and cut a 10cm piece off a length of wood.  Now, use that piece to mark and cut another “10cm” piece.  Using this new “10cm” piece, mark and cut again.  Repeat this process until you have nothing left to cut.  Measure that last block of wood using the tape measure and you can see how the definition of “10cm” has evolved over time.  Of course the best way to get a pile of 10cm blocks of wood is to measure, mark, and cut each one using the tape measure.

Now back to what prompted this thought process.  I was listening to the news and heard of an athiest group that was threatening a lawsuit against a school district over the display of scriptural references on signs made by some students.  As I began to think about this, I realized how we have deviated so far from the standard.  We allow lawyers and judges to look at past cases and decisions to determine how they should decide new cases.  Then they repeat this process over and over, continually getting further and further from the standard, when what they really need to do is ignore all of those previous decisions and consult the standard which, in the case of the United States, is the U.S. Constitution.

Source: Wikipedia | Amarillo Globe-News

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