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Letters to the Editor

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Sound Waves Editor:

Regarding the recent reported mishap over depth units (March Sound Waves, "English and Metric Units and the Press,"), in which reporters substituted feet for meters and fathoms (in bathymetric contour labels), I disagree with the authors' moral of the story. I think the moral of the story is to always tell reporters in capital letters, in bold, METERS. And then mention it again separately for good measure. As supposed leaders of our Nation in the marine realm, we should always promote meters as units of measure of ocean depth. Somehow the public seems to have been backsliding these last couple of decades, putting us behind other nations in the metric world. Even way back in my graduate school days in the '60s, I was told that feet were absolutely forbidden in the ocean, an international realm. The oil industry seems to be mired in the use of feet for some reason that I can't understand. It has been the oil industry that has been the biggest investor in ocean equipment in recent decades, and perhaps that has been an influence, at least in the United States marine industry. But we in the USGS should be leaders, not followers in this issue.

Feet, no; meters, yes!

Steve Eittreim

The authors respond:


We're with you, in that we agree that the USGS should promote the metric system. But IF a newspaper insists on using English units, such as feet, we think we should promote accuracy by giving requesters the correct numbers in both metric and English units. Fact-sheet editors in USGS's Western Publications Group continue to use English units (often with metric conversions) in fact sheets intended for the general public, arguing that clear communication is more important than pushing the metric system. They point out that most members of the general public (including policy makers) in the United States do not think in metric units. Undoubtedly newspapers use English units for the same reason.

We bet that if gasoline were sold in liters and football were played in meters, the general public would quickly adjust to thinking metric.

Helen Gibbons and Carolyn Degnan

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