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Locked In?

In the May 2000 SN Plain Talk article commenting on the OECD [Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development], WTO [World Trade Organization], and consequences, ASTM President Jim Thomas hit a crucial point: There are other values than standards; furthermore, standards are only an actual snapshot, in principle obsolete as soon as balloted.

The TBT [Technical Barriers to Trade] Agreement can only resolve technical questions. And having a valid standard that is no longer up-to-date because of new developments shall not stop us from writing and rewriting our standards. Being a member of E10.01 [ASTM Subcommittee on Dosimetry for Radiation Processing] where in a pilot program ASTM standards have already been and are being converted into ISO standards, I have had particular experiences. Several of these standards, after being adopted by the International Organization for Standardization (ISO), are superseded at the same time in ASTM by the revised versions. But this is not a real obstacle. And the value of having a standard at all is very high. And the particular value of ASTM standards is the way they are produced: by consensus—with the best knowledge available. Other standards, including ISO, are diplomatic results, that is, compromises for reasons other than scientific/technological facts.

You define the problem as a country’s right to “choose the best for its people”; but there is no standard for best. Now, after accepting WTO and helping China to join it, governments are beginning to see and feel the consequences. Cultural pecularities and ideologies are categories or dimensions different from technical standards. Hence, the problem is not their existence but the uses made of them.

Dipl.-Phys. Dieter A.E. Ehlermann
Director and Professor
Institute of Process Engineering, Federal Research Centre for Nutrition
Karlsruhe, Germany

Agreement on the Fat Lady

Referencing the Mo Brooke “Fat Lady” Opinion article in the June SN, I strongly agree with his points.

The ASTM consensus development procedures, honed over many years under conditions I have called “cooperative antagonism,” simply do not allow standards to become “too tight” and exclude products as claimed by the FTC in the 1970s investigations that both Mo and I sat through along with [former ASTM President] Bill Cavanaugh. The ASTM voting rules and ballot procedures along with the presence of competitors developing standards together has enough checks and balances to prevent anyone from obtaining a competitive edge. Rather the argument of “lowest common denominator” is more likely to be made.

Rather, ASTM test methods are established to measure properties and produce values that may be used by others in codes, specifications, and contracts. It is at this point that the appeal process needs to be present.

The beauty of standards and test methods is that they permit measurable numbers to be obtained for characteristics and properties of materials. These numbers may then be used by codes, designers, and specifiers to describe what they need and want. In turn, suppliers may now use these standards to design and control the production and quality of their materials and products.

By routine testing of these materials and products, and by the preservation of the records of these tests and inspections, the producer is able to certify and assure his customers and peers that he has delivered as claimed. The records are available to substantiate the claims.

Recent activities of ASTM committees such as E36 on Conformity Assessment and their development of standards related to the competence of laboratories and certification bodies and having been developed in conjunction with ISO CASCO [International Organization for Standardization Council Committee on Conformity Assessment] and other national and international organizations have largely replaced the need for “appeal” called for by the FTC some years ago. This very situation established the need why [former ASTM President] George Nelson and I convened the organizational committee that formed Committee E36.

Mo Brooke’s point about infatuation with the concept of “appeal” is potentially far-reaching. The term “appeal” implies that some decision or measurement was wrong. Stretched to the breaking point concerning test methods and standards, these people would appeal basic standards such as the metre, kilogram, and time. Where do we stop?

Foster Wilson
ASTM Fellow
Newark, Ohio

It Figures

You probably have heard this several times by now (I hope). The 1000-horsepower on page 48, June SN, “Big Wheels Keep on Turning,” should be 750 kW (not 170 kW). While I am at it, I would prefer the 4400 Mg to be 4.4 Gg, but you certainly will hear arguments about it. It is a matter of significant figures.

Keep up the good work.

Uri Gat
Oak Ridge National Laboratory
Oak Ridge, Tenn.

While the tireless and efficient Bob Parsons—the member of ASTM’s SI committee who calculates SN’s metric conversions—is batting a thousand to date, the editorial staff is not. We apologize for our typo. (—Ed.)

Our Pleasure

I received the June 2000 issue and want to congratulate you and your staff on the very attractive looking publication. You have very adequately answered the question of, “Who says technical articles can’t look good?”

Lewis S. Ripps, President
Palmer Asphalt Company
Bayonne, N.J.

Copyright 2000, ASTM