60 - Units of measurement are no laughing matter

Unsichtbares Akkordeon

He has put his foot in it, twice


The program "More or Less: Behind the stats" on BBC 4 has been dedicated to the understanding and sometimes debunking of figures circulating in the British media for more than 20 years. On the June 1, 2022 show Tim Harford quipped "Nautical Miles - like ordinary miles only wetter". He did so knowing that nautical miles and miles are indeed defined differently. Listener feedback vehemently pointed this difference in definitions out to him. The following week, a correction was broadcast. Ironically enough, it was from 2014. The joke had already met with criticism at the time.

In the case of supposedly generally valid facts as well as assumptions, one should always critically examine the available literature and, if possible, refer to the original or primary sources.


This shows it is important to clearly define the units of measurement used to ensure the interpretability of the data. The criticism of the joke was therefore quite justified. In addition, the repetition of the slip-up could have been avoided. A good error culture aims to document problems that have occurred and solutions to avoid them in the future.