GEOSTATS: AP Article (fwd)
- This is a must read.
---------- Forwarded message ----------
Date: Wed, 1 Apr 1998 20:24:34 -0700
From: "M.Kim or Jane Johnson" <kim@...>
Subject: AP Article
>By April HolidayM. 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
>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,
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