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Article Summary: "Whatever the measurable property, be it mass, length or time, the underlying fundamentals remain the same. Throughout history various systems of measurement have been used, without a need for standardization."

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Why are there Different Systems of Measurement?

Measurement seems like a simple concept and on the surface it is just a representation of numbers and their quantifying units. People use the different units of measure so frequently in daily life that their significance sometimes takes backstage. Right from exchange of currency to filling up gas and measuring time, units are practically everywhere! Whatever the measurable property, be it mass, length or time, the underlying fundamentals remain the same. Throughout history various systems of measurement have been used, without a need for standardization.

The fundamental theory of measurement of any given quantity helps in determining and assigning a numerical value to it. The need for various systems of measuring values has come from the nature of the property to be measured and the objectivity in quantifying it. This means that the same quantity can be represented by different scales based on several factors. Interpreting the goal of each measurement, the utility and the practicality of showing a value in a particular system are all part of the picture that guide in the choice of the scale to measuring quantities. This is evident from the more ancient systems of measuring time and the manner in which early calendars represented days by distinguishing on the basis of planetary phenomena. In those times adopting a universal system would have been impossible unless there was some trade or economic exchange between the various societies. Thus there existed the Julian calendar as also the Gregorian calendar, and each civilization stuck to its accepted norm of calculations.

In today's world however there is a strong necessity for uniformity in measuring data. There are primarily two internationally accepted standards of weights and measurements. The English system is based on yards/feet/inches whereas the metric system includes the meter/centimeter/millimeter. At a basic level the metric system is apparently broken down in ratios of 10 units while the English system is based on a system of 12 units. Although both systems have gained widespread acceptance and application, when it comes to converting values from one of the systems to another, that is an entirely different story altogether! Seemingly unrelated in numerical terms, the metric and English systems are still very useful measurements and it is relatively simple to represent a figure in meter as it is in yards, just by tweaking numbers here and there. And this is where the need for consistency in measuring values comes.

As such, whether it is the SI system or scientific notation, or the complex English system, whatever the favored method of representing values, it is imperative that one understands the need to show data with a level of uniformity. Associating a value of a physical quantity and measuring it in terms of natural characteristics has been an accepted norm in the past. For instance many units were measured based on the dimensions of the human body, including the unit termed 'cubit'. However, it is only when one realizes the significant scope for error in such measures that one understands the need for a more systematic approach to measuring anything.

Thus, the value of standardization in measurement is undeniable. Consistent representation of values is necessary in all areas be it in medicine where a nurse administers a particular drug or in technology where scientists constantly strive to research and reveal experimental data, which again must be depicted with a degree of regularity. It is as important to measure a quantity right as it is to show the value in an accepted and practical system of measurement. Each system has its advantages and the best option is decided based on who the data is intended for - the audience. This is crucial since the accepted and well-known systems are different in the various parts of the world, and it is as important to show correct information as it is to explain it in a manner than can be comprehended easily.