I am an expert in metrology. It was something that featured largely in my PhD. Maybe this was a reaction against the stupidity of my parents, who should have known better.
When I was about ten or eleven, a discussion arose about the conversion factor between millilitres and cubic centimetres. Even at that age, I had read several books on the subject.
‘1 millilitre equals 1 cubic centimetre,’ I stated.
To cut a long, repetitive, rambling story short, I will say that my mother had used a plastic spoon, graduated in millilitres, and had measured the capacity of the teaspoons in our cutlery drawer, and found that they were all 5 millilitres. This, at least, was not in dispute.
I attempted to explain to my parents that “millilitre” meant “one thousandth of a litre”, and a litre was equivalent to a “cubic decimetre”, i.e. a litre was a cube 10cm × 10cm × 10cm. Hence, 1 millilitre was a cube 1cm × 1cm × 1cm: a cubic centimetre. That was when the trouble started.
My father presented the disintegrating element. He protested that a 1cm × 1cm × 1cm cube was a “dice”. You could not fit five dice into a teaspoon. My mother agreed.
I said, and please bear in mind that I was ten or eleven at the time, that that was true as far as it went, but the assertion was irrelevant. If you insist on an equivalence between “dice” and teaspoons, what you should do is to make five containers, 1cm × 1cm × 1cm, but open at the top, fill them with water from a pipette, and then transfer the water into a teaspoon. You would then find that five 1cm × 1cm × 1cm cubes are equivalent to a teaspoonful.
The argument raged on. I cannot deny that I became somewhat riled.
My father said he would check in various reference books (as if two authoritative reference books might say something different about this vexed and ambiguous question).
While he was faffing about, I exclaimed that I didn’t care what he looked up, 1 cc equalled 1 ml. As soon as I had uttered the words, I knew I had made a mistake. Not metrologically, but morally.
There then followed a joint lecture about keeping an open mind which went on for several years.
This was useful in one respect, because it demonstrated to me, with absolute clarity, that my parents were stupid. They weren’t “having an off day”: they were STUPID. They were both educated people, which proves that educated people can be stupid. It has made me wonder about the extent of my own stupidity. I do not claim to be able to avoid stupidity, but I do hope to know where it lies. The First Battle of the Somme was caused by educated people who, while taking great pains, were being stupid.