Thursday, March 14, 2013

The State of Indiana Almost Changed the Value of Pi to 3.2!

There once was legislation proposed in the State of Indiana to change the value of Pi from the commonly accepted 3.14 to 3.2.  This was proposed by a hobbyist mathematician that had claimed to discover a method of “Squaring the Circle”.  The hobbyist was Edward J. Goodwin, from Solitude, Indiana and was a physician.  Squaring the Circle is a problem where a square is made that has the same area as a given circle by only using a small number of steps with a compass and straightedge.  It has proven to be impossible to do this.


Dr. Goodwin believed that he had solved this problem and copyrighted his solution in 1889.  His solution was even published in the American Mathematical Monthly in 1894.  Evidently Dr. Goodwin saw that his discovery could make him some money, thus the copyright.  He had a plan to have the State of Indiana pass legislation to use his mathematical findings in public schools as well as other state institutes free of charge so that he could charge a royalty to others.  He would profit form others using his methods.  This is America, so why not discover something or develop a method to solve a problem and license that method.  Here is a link to a PDF of the text of the bill:

In Section 2 of the bill it says “The ratio of the diameter and circumference is as five-fourths to four”.  This is a ratio of 4 to 1.25 or 4 divided by 1.25 which equals 3.2.  This means that Pi would be equal to 3.2 because the number Pi is a ratio between the diameter of a circle and that circle’s circumference. 

The bill had verbiage in it proposing “new mathematical truth” and wanted to make it state law.  The bill never mentioned the word or number “Pi” but it does say that the accepted value of what would be Pi as ”wholly wanting and misleading in its practical applications.”  The bill, as well as Dr. Goodwin, said that Pi is wrong.  Pi is 3.2 now make it state law.  Anyone else that wants to use 3.2 or his method of Squaring the Circle will now have to pay Dr. Goodwin to do so.  Nice try Doc!
The proposed bill passed the Indiana State House and went on the State Senate.  In fact, the house passed it with a unanimous vote (all in favor.)  Eventually the news that Indiana was trying to legislate a new value of Pi got out.  News agencies across the country were mocking the state and its bill to change Pi.  Rightfully so. 
Luckily for the state, Professor C.A. Waldo of Purdue University was in town while the Pi events were going on and sat in on part of the debate for the bill.  He couldn't believe it and decided to help out the government officials.  Professor Waldo discussed matter with some members of the state senate and helped them understand the errors in the bill.  Evidently the members of the legislator didn't fully understand the contents of the bill (a problem many legislators today have as well) and were only concerned that the state would be able to use this information free of charge.  Senator Orrin Hubbel moved that a vote on the bill be postponed indefinitely.  It turns out that the bill died and has never been brought back to the state legislator.  Thank goodness.


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