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GEOSTATS: AP Article (fwd)

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  • bobdog
    This is a must read. ... Date: Wed, 1 Apr 1998 20:24:34 -0700 From: M.Kim or Jane Johnson To: kim@Rt66.com Subject: AP Article ... M. Kim
    Message 1 of 1 , Apr 3, 1998
      This is a must read.


      ---------- Forwarded message ----------
      Date: Wed, 1 Apr 1998 20:24:34 -0700
      From: "M.Kim or Jane Johnson" <kim@...>
      To: kim@...
      Subject: AP Article

      >By April Holiday
      >The Associated Press
      >HUNTSVILLE, Ala. -- NASA engineers and mathematicians in this high-tech
      >city are stunned and infuriated after the Alabama state legistature
      >narrowly passed a law yesterday redefining pi, a mathematical constant
      >used in the aerospace industry. The bill to change the value of pi to
      >exactly three was introduced without fanfare by Leonard Lee Lawson (R,
      >Crossville), and rapidly gained support after a letter-writing campaign
      >by members of the Solomon Society, a traditional values group.
      >Governor Guy Hunt says he will sign it into law on Wednesday.
      >The law took the state's engineering community by surprise. "It would
      >have been nice if they had consulted with someone who actually uses
      >pi," said Marshall Bergman, a manager at the Ballistic Missile Defense
      >Organization. According to Bergman, pi is a Greek letter that
      >signifies the ratio of the circumference of a circle to its diameter.
      >It is often used by engineers to calculate missile trajectories.
      >Prof. Kim Johanson, a mathematician from University of Alabama, said
      >that pi is a universal constant, and cannot arbitrarily be changed by
      >lawmakers. Johanson explained that pi is an irrational number, which
      >means that it has an infinite number of digits after the decimal point
      >and can never be known exactly. Nevertheless, she said, pi is precisly
      >defined by mathematics to be "3.14159, plus as many more digits as you
      >have time to calculate".
      >"I think that it is the mathematicians that are being irrational, and
      >it is time for them to admit it," said Lawson. "The Bible very
      >clearly says in I Kings 7:23 that the alter font of Solomon's Temple
      >was ten cubits across and thirty cubits in diameter, and that it was
      >round in compass."
      >Lawson called into question the usefulness of any number that cannot be
      >calculated exactly, and suggested that never knowing the exact answer
      >could harm students' self-esteem. "We need to return to some absolutes
      >in our society," he said, "the Bible does not say that the font was
      >thirty-something cubits. Plain reading says thirty cubits. Period."
      >Science supports Lawson, explains Russell Humbleys, a propulsion
      >technician at the Marshall Spaceflight Center who testified in support
      >of the bill before the legislature in Mongtomery on Monday. "Pi is
      >merely an artifact of Euclidean geometry." Humbleys is working on a
      >theory which he says will prove that pi is determined by the geometry
      >of three-dimensional space, which is assumed by physicists to be
      >"isotropic", or the same in all directions.
      >"There are other geometries, and pi is different in every one of them,"
      >says Humbleys. Scientists have arbitrarily assumed that space is
      >Euclidean, he says. He points out that a circle drawn on a spherical
      >surface has a different value for the ratio of circumfence to
      >diameter. "Anyone with a compass, flexible ruler, and globe can see
      >for themselves," suggests Humbleys, "its not exactly rocket science."
      >Roger Learned, a Solomon Society member who was in Montgomery to
      >support the bill, agrees. He said that pi is nothing more than an
      >assumption by the mathematicians and engineers who were there to argue
      >against the bill. "These nabobs waltzed into the capital with an
      >arrogance that was breathtaking," Learned said. "Their prefatorial
      >deficit resulted in a polemical stance at absolute contraposition to
      >the legislature's puissance."
      >Some education experts believe that the legislation will affect the way
      >math is taught to Alabama's children. One member of the state
      >school board, Lily Ponja, is anxious to get the new value of pi into the
      >state's math textbooks, but thinks that the old value should be
      >retained as an alternative. She said, "As far as I am concerned, the
      >value of pi is only a theory, and we should be open to all
      >interpretations." She looks forward to students having the freedom to
      >decide for themselves what value pi should have.
      >Robert S. Dietz, a professor at Arizona State University who has
      >followed the controversy, wrote that this is not the first time a state
      >legislature has attempted to redifine the value of pi. A legislator in
      >the state of Indiana unsuccessfully attempted to have that state set
      >the value of pi to three. According to Dietz, the lawmaker was
      >exasperated by the calculations of a mathematician who carried pi to
      >four hundred decimal places and still could not achieve a rational
      >Many experts are warning that this is just the beginning of a national
      >battle over pi between traditional values supporters and the technical
      >elite. Solomon Society member Lawson agrees. "We just want to return
      >pi to its traditional value," he said, "which, according to the Bible,
      >is three."

      M. Kim Johnson
      9906 Loretta NW
      Albuquerque, NM 87114

      (505) 897-3364 (H)
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