Decimals Soon Allowed in International Standards
December 5, 2006 // Published as a news service by IHS
According to the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), it soon may be possible to write international standards documents with decimal points in them. The issue is more than academic, experts said, as it can affect sales of U.S. exports.
Until recently, the rule at the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) and the International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC) was that all numbers with a decimal point must be written in formal documents with a comma decimal separator, the prevailing fashion in Europe.
The constant pi, for example, starts 3,141 592 653.
Experts said this had been something of an irritant for the English-speaking world (plus such countries as China, India and Japan) where the decimal point is used.
Moreover, it could be expensive. Countries that adopted labeling or import documentation regulations based on ISO or IEC standards could block imports from the U.S. on the strength of decimal points in their specifications.
The first step in making a change was to secure a resolution by the General Conference on Weights and Measures (CGPM) - the reigning international treaty organization dealing with measurement - endorsing the use of the point on the line as a decimal sign. That was in 2003.
Then NIST, acting through the American National Standards Institute (ANSI), worked to get revisions to the formal ISO and IEC documentation standards and procedures eliminating language that forbade the use of the decimal point.
In June 2006, ISO agreed to make such revisions subject to IEC agreement and an effective implementation plan. In September, IEC agreed with ISO.
The last remaining hurdle is to develop the implementation plan that makes sure that ISO and IEC staff change their publication style policies to reflect the now-legitimate use of decimal points in English-language documents.