August 25, 2015

Horse 1967 - Feeling Foul, Fever & Fahrenheit

Romeo loved Juliet, Juliet she felt the same
When he put his arms around her
He said, "Julie baby you're my flame"
Thou giveth fever...
- "Fever" Eddie Cooley and Otis Blackwell (1956)

Dear Romeo,
Either Juliet is a perpetual carrier of some virus, bacteria or other pathogen which your body is reacting badly to or Juliet is the name of a very hot object like an oil heater or blast furnace. Juliet might even be the name of a radioactive source like a piece of fissile material or at worst, an exposed nuclear reactor core.
My suggestion is that you evacuate yourself immediately and find a nice warm bed in a darkened room until this fever passes. I don't care how much you love this "Juliet", she is obviously hazardous to your health and should be avoided post haste.

Yours deliriously,

Owing to the fact that I am a metric man every inch of the way, our thermometer reads off in degrees Fahrenheit. The fever that I'm currently experiencing, peaked at 105°F at the weekend and Mrs Rollo politely reminded me that extended periods of hyperthemia can cause brain damage and so I ought to take some paracetamol to diffuse it. I duly obeyed and took myself off to that darkened room, wherein I was driven to anger by the continuous hammer drop of the ticking clock on the wall but was unable to do anything about it as reason, language, logic and desire all got on a plane and flew away, leaving me with cyclical chills and a pair of hands that felt as though they had been resting in the caldera of Eyjafjallaj√∂kull.

I say all of this by way of introduction as an illustration of the only acceptable and sensible use of the Fahrenheit scale of temperature. Measuring fever is, in my self aggrandised opinion, a perfect use of the scale but it serves no real other purpose.

The German physicist Daniel Gabriel Fahrenheit who developed his eponymous scale, took the rather strange approach of setting the limits of his scale at points that make not much sense. 0°F was taken to be the point at which brine froze. He then set 96°F at so called "blood heat"; which ended up being wrong anyway.
From the outset, Fahrenheit set up his scale from one point which was based on an ill defined standard, to another point which was incorrect. I suppose that if there literally is no other scale or standard to set measurements against then it would have to do but just like barracking for Collingwood or making Duck A L'Orange for dinner, better things have come along and it should be abandoned immediately. It isn't wrong but we just shouldn't use it.

In contrast, Anders Celsius' scale was reasonably well thought out, the conditions can be reproduced and it has proper real world applications.
0°C is the point at which water freezes in an atmosphere of 1000mB and 100°C is the point at which water boils in an atmosphere of 1000mB. Water is a chemical which has useful relevance to people's lives and by setting the standard based off of it, this means that the conditions are readily reproducible. Furthermore, because 0°C is based on the freezing point of water; that's readily observable as well. If I step out and I can see frost and ice all over the place, then I know that there must have been some micro 0°C conditions outside. Minus degrees Celsius suggests that it is cold outside because it is. 29°F which is below the freezing point of water doesn't really suggest much of anything. Likewise, 100°C is observable every time one makes a cup of tea; which is proper and noble and delightful. 212°F which is the same temperature sounds hot but its a vague sort of number.

Don't get me wrong, I'm not calling for the absolute elimination of the Fahrenheit scale, it's just that it has a singular and limited use. A lot of the old Imperial units for instance, were based on useful and practical things. A pint is a good amount but not too much to have, of milk or beer. A pound is a good amount but not too much to have, of cheese, beef, rice, potatoes or leeks. People should be measured in feet and inches because that's sensible; new born babies should be measured in pounds and ounces because that's also sensible.
Fahrenheit should be used to measure fever because 99°F is alright but 100°F is the beginning of a fever. 101°F is worse, 102°F is a little bit of a worry, 105°F is time to be worried. Fahrenheit although it is used to quote temperatures on weather forecasts in some countries, is really ill suited to the job. The continued use of Fahrenheit for these purposes makes my blood boil (which is an extreme sort of fever and one which should be investigated by a triage officer or emergency ward immediately).

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