This topic is a bit of a personal bugaboo. See this publication.
To the Editor:
In case 32-2009 (1) I was surprised to see the patient’s height measured with impressive, millimeter precision: 165.1 cm. More likely, of course, this was simply a ludicrously precise conversion to SI units from an imprecise 5-foot 5-inch estimate.
Information, as defined by communications scientists, has been likened to the amount of surprise in a system (2). Thus, to feel surprise when reading about a patient’s unremarkable height indicates that a perturbation of informational content has occurred – surely undesirable in any scientific journal.
To maintain informational aequanimitas, I suggest the Journal report measurements in the units in which they were originally obtained. Converted values – in full misleading precision – could follow in parentheses.
(1) Tager AM, Sharma A, Mark EJ. Case records of the Massachusetts General Hospital. Case 32-2009. A 27-year-old man with progressive dyspnea. N Engl J Med. 2009 Oct 15;361(16):1585-1593. PubMed 19828536. doi 10.1056/NEJMcpc0905544
(2) Applebaum D. Probability and Information: An Integrated Approach. 2nd ed. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2008. Pages 105-106.