‘The metre’ is a verb

30/11/2012 § Leave a comment

The Asia Pacific Metrology Programme has been meeting (pdf) in Wellington this week. They had a symposium on Wednesday about ‘Measuring the Measurers’. I was invited along to present an economics perspective. The presentations are supposed to be posted on the Web at some point, perhaps on the APMP or Industrial Research Limited websites.

For background, here is a description of the APMP:

The APMP is a regional scientific organisation with 43 member laboratories, including MSL (seehttp://www.apmpweb.org/ ), and is committed to improving measurement capability within the region and gaining international recognition of its members’ capabilities.  It achieves this through activities such as inter-laboratory measurement comparisons, science workshops and being one of the APEC specialist regional bodies.

The various metrology groups are facing funding problems. In many ways, they have problems in common with other areas of fundamental science. The value of fundamental science is embedded in technology and products, so it can be difficult to understand its value. Also, fundamental science takes time to show an economic result. In times of tight public budgets, cutting science programmes, including metrology, is easy.

I was asked what government departments were thinking when they cut these budgets. There is economic research (believable research) demonstrating positive benefits and good benefit-cost ratios. Why cut funding that is creating growth?

My answer was that short-term pressures made it easier to cut programmes with longer-term impacts. If we reduce the metrology budget, the metre and the kilogram will still be there.

Another speaker pointed out that — regardless of the government’s view — it isn’t about whether the metre will still be there. It is about the ability to measure a metre and the ability to calibrate instruments that can reliably measure metres (and to calibrate the calibration instruments). Maintaining that ability requires resources.

The metre doesn’t really exist outside our ability to measure it and agree on its measurement. The metre isn’t a noun — it’s a verb.

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