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Plain Talk for a New Generation
A Passage Toward Harmony

To the members of the ASTM family and to our friends who have suffered personal losses as a result of the events of Sept. 11, we extend our deepest sympathy. The best way we know how to honor those that were lost, and those who mourn them, is to carry on. And this we shall do, with more dedication and resolve than ever before. It is in this spirit that I recount the events below.

In the days shortly after the tragedy, two conferences on standardization were held in Germany, one in Berlin (1) and one in Hamburg. Many in this country had been forbidden to travel. As it happened, an ASTM colleague and I were the only Americans to attend either conference. In Hamburg, the Universität der Bundeswehr held its Third Interdisciplinary Workshop on Standardization Research, organized by Professor Wilfried Hesser, Head of the University’s Department of Standardization. Professor Hesser’s call for papers asked his colleagues to consider the impact of different standardization approaches in the European Union and the United States on regionalization and globalization. In particular, he invited them to address the question, “What is an international standard?” Following are some of the extraordinary statements that came out of that workshop.

• Some of the most widely used (or internationally significant) standards are not recognized.
• One standard worldwide may not be the most efficient way.
• Free trade can be achieved not by harmonization, but by competition.
• Free trade cannot be imposed by an international standard.
• One standard is like one language: Not so rich opportunities for innovation.
• Independently of the economic arguments for public intervention …the market remains superior.

These statements, all made by European academics, were supported by market research, case studies, and astute observation. For example, the statement concerning “unrecognized” international standards referred to Internet standards, an example that in itself speaks volumes. (2) Considering the candor, openness, and impartiality with which our European colleagues have shared their findings, I’d say we have something very positive to talk about next year. It could be that we will come to accept the wide world of standards and how its differences make it dynamic and useful; or perhaps we will discover that our differences are not as great as we thought they were. Maybe we’ll be able to agree more than disagree. Maybe the word “harmony” will take on a whole new meaning. And if this year has brought us closer to that, the standards community may be forging the sense of cooperation and unity we hope for in the rest of the world.

A safe holiday season to all.

James A. Thomas
President, ASTM


(1) See the October issue of SN for Jim Thomas’ speech delivered to this gathering.
(2) A paper was also presented titled “Inspiration and Segmentation: The Long Anglo-American Standardization Dialogue,” which included parallel histories of ASTM and BSI, by Mr. Robert C. McWilliam, of the National Museum of Science and Industry, in London.

Copyright 2001, ASTM

James Thomas
President, ASTM

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