U.S. Observes 'World Standards Day' on Non-Standard Day

Not everybody celebrates consistency consistently.

Metric units are widely used by American scientists—like in the Hubble Space Telescope, above—but not by the public. (NASA Goddard)

Happy World Standards Day! The International Organization for Standardization has declared today, October 14, to be a celebration of the hundreds of engineering and scientific standards from which we all benefit—everything from the length of a meter to the two-letter country code system.

It is a day, in other words, to commemorate cross-national conformance, connection, and collaboration.

But the U.S. will not be observing World Standards Day today, on World Standards Day. Instead, the U.S. will observe World Standards Day next week, on October 23.

This fact first attracted my notice on Twitter, and I had to investigate more. Did the U.S. really honor scientific sameness this, well, sloppily?

The answer is yes—and no.

“Everybody celebrates [World Standards Day] differently,” said Michael Morrell, the executive director of the Society for Standards Professionals. “It doesn’t always happen on the day that ISO declares. But it always happens around the same time in the month.” Canada, for example, is celebrating the holiday a day after the event itself.

Morrell told me that the American observance of World Standards Day in fact follows an entire week of standards-themed activity. Award ceremonies and meetings in Washington, D.C., will precede the big reception and dinner on October 23, which marks the official U.S. observance of World Standards Day.

I’m being slightly cheeky, but the idea behind the World Standards Day is a good one. Standards are crucial and ubiquitous to our understanding of modern life. The International Organization for Standardization—better known by its French abbreviation as ISO—helps set everything from the ID system for shipping containers to photographic film speeds (ISO 400, 800, etc.).

So why not celebrate them with a gala dinner? Besides, American proponents of international standards may need to embrace the slogan “better late than never," as we are, as of last year, the only country in the world that hasn’t adopted the metric system.