As a follow up to one of my favourite threads on FT (with one of the best comments sections ever), we return to the all new SI Units with a conundrum. A discussion about difficult jobs threw up two separate examples. Namely when one wants to invoke the relative simplicity of a task it is usually compared to EITHER rocket science or brain surgery. As the BIPM of the all new SI Units, we need to know.

Now both of these throw up an interesting point about units of measurement. If both are considered to be about the hardest jobs one can do, every other job will be a fraction of them. So data entry might be ten milli-“rocket sciences”, driving a bus might be a centi-“brain surgery” and moderating an online message board could range from 0.001 to 2 of either of these units depending on contributers. Having your standard unit too large or two small can cause problems in comprehension when you are talking about large quantities. Since a light year is almost impossible to comprehend as an ACTUAL distance, how meaningful are fractions of it. And look at the poor old Byte, now we are getting into the Terrabyte age does this standard unit even make sense?

Which brings us back to Rocket Science and Brain (salad) Surgery. Is there a more appropriate unit. Should we go to the other end and have data entry as a unit of work (its something most people have done somewhere along their work career). Or checkout cashier? You can’t force these things though, and I don’t think brain surgery and rocket science are going away. So which is harder, and which is more appropriate as our unit? A small amount of research has come up with this response from a scientist (retired – and possibly prejudiced).

Brain surgery is complicated, but not difficult.
Rocket science is easy and not at all hard work. It’s the rocket engines that do
all the work. If you had to pull all the rockets up into space yourself – now that would be hard
work, but it doesn’t work out like that. (nb This is a trade secret. nobody must know this).

So perhaps we should pick brain surgery. Not so fast – as I have a solution based on the usage of both these popular terms, which salvages them both. We could use brain surgery is the SI unit of difficult work but Rocket Scientist as the SI Unit of a difficult job? What do you think? And while we are at it what are the SI Units of the following:


Come on, its not rocket surgery.