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---------- 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

M. Kim Johnson

>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

>number.

>

>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."

>

>http://www.sciencemag.org/cgi/content/full/279/april/fool.htm

>

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