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February 07, 2008

Feb. 5, 1897: Indiana declares pi=3.2

How a visiting mathematician saved pi in Indiana...

1897: Egged on by an amateur mathematician, the Indiana General Assembly almost passes a bill adopting 3.2 as the exact value of pi (or π). Only the intervention of a Purdue University mathematician who happens to be visiting the legislature prevents the bill from becoming law, saving the most acute political embarrassment.

What became known as the Indiana pi bill was sponsored by Rep. T.I. Record at the behest of Edwin J. Goodwin, a physician and math dilettante who claimed to have figured out how to square circles.

House Bill 246, proposed as "an act introducing a new mathematical truth," went through three reads before being passed unanimously by the House, presumably to avoid having to endure a fourth. [Wired]

As Tommy Long notes in Wired, the bill didn't use the word "pi." Instead, the bill stipulated that the ratio of the "The ratio of the diameter and circumference [of a circle] is as five-fourths to four." If so, Indiana pi"=3.2, as opposed to the more cumbersome reality-based 3.1415926535...

If the bill had passed Indiana's upper house, Rep. Record would have legislated circles out of existence in Indiana. Luckily, there was a mathematician in the house.

Someone should make a short film out of this story.

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Comments

Evolution is the new Pi.

Auuuugh!!!!

September 29, 1995, the Office of Technology Assessment, Congress’ scientific advisory group for previous 23 years, shut down as Newt Gingrich and fellow genius GOP ostriches plunge collective heads into sand.

This is hilarious. That's some serious rounding up to make 3.2.

Surely it'd be 3.1 to one decimal place.

well, Hoosiers are basically rednecks with the Southern charm. Rather like most of you are like annying intellectuals without the ideas. Anyway, why on earth would this be an interesting film? Some hick legislators almost pass a bill that is nonsensical scientifically, because they are not well informed, it's a non-consequential bill, and one of their own is pushing it as a favor to someone. I'd even rather see someone make a film about this weblog, that would be even more interesting. Well, especially if it featured me.

Lindsay, as I stomp away from my keyboard to yet another soul-crushing day of influencing and reporting on the geniuses in my state legislature, this was just what I needed.

Neither the times nor the state being changed would make this story any less credible. If there is a body of hicks less informed and more corrupt than any volunteer, part-time state legislature, I don't want to know about it. (I know, no complaining about how my bread is buttered; I've managed to make a small business out of this feature, so it's not a bug anymore.)

Oh, and the three-readings thing is just how it's done.

First you introduce, then committees amend, then the whole place votes. Most states require that this process takes a minimum of three readings, which means the chances of sunlight disinfecting are maximized.

I grew up using 22/7 (3.14285714286) as the easy rational estimate. Oops there's that "rational" word again. Never mind.

Next time something like this happens we should send Tommy Chong to Indiana instead of some silly mathematician.

What? That's not a good idea?

Maybe spacetime is just unusually curved in Indiana? Bent, even...

So circles would be replaced with, umm... ellipses? Why did they think it was necessary to legislate on the matter?

Milo, milo. The duty of intellectuals is to be aware of ideas, not to have them. Didn't you know? c.f. Ecclesiastes.

Is this just another example of compassionate conservatives wanting to "make the pi higher?!"

Yikes. Serious question: what difference would it make? It's just not the sort of thing politicians can decide. Why would they waste their time with this?

Intelligent Rounding....

I'd even rather see someone make a film about this weblog, that would be even more interesting. Well, especially if it featured me.

The part about YOU, for anyone with two brain cells to rub together, would be really "annying".

I'd even rather see someone make a film about this weblog, that would be even more interesting. Well, especially if it featured me.

The part about YOU, for anyone with two brain cells to rub together, would be really "annying".

I thought pie = flour + sugar + eggs + plenty of butter + pecans
Yummm. Now thats what I call rounding.

What gets me is defining it as "five fourths to four." Why the unwieldy use of fractions? Why not just "five to sixteen?" It's wrong, but it's worse than that: it's also maddeningly inelegant.

There's a Christion pi in the Bible, too, 3/10> That and more at my link.

You have to wonder why God didn't dictate the first million digits of pi to one of the Prophets :) .

What gets me is defining it as "five fourths to four." Why the unwieldy use of fractions? Why not just "five to sixteen?"

I think it's because of the math (or rather "math") they use to get there. Or possibly pure cussedness.

Someone should make a short film out of this story.

The life of Pi?

Thanks for reminding people of the true version of this story... it's become an ever-mutating legend, with the state usually relocated to the deep South, the rejected bill turning into a law-still-on-the-books and its motivation changed to Biblical inerrancy, etc. I've even seen some sources describe different versions of the legend as separate incidents. It became such a staple of early Usenet discussion that a reference to the true story actually showed up in the FAQ for Usenet--not the FAQ for some particular Usenet group, the FAQ for Usenet (yes, there was one).

Like most such legends, it turns into a fable describing what people already believe, in this case about the behavior of ignorant hayseeds in power--when in fact it's more a story of what happens when complete insanity collides with parliamentary procedure while some of the people involved are really bored.

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