Thursday, January 16, 2014


An incident that took place in Indiana in 1897, when politicians attempted to legislate an official (and wildly incorrect) value for π:

The Indiana Pi Bill was the brainchild of Edwin J Goodwin, a physician from the town of Solitude in the south-western corner of the state. He had approached the assembly and proposed a bill that focused on his solution to a problem known as "squaring the circle". He seemed oblivious to the fact that this ancient problem had already been proved impossible in 1882. Goodwin's complicated and contradictory "solution" effectively dictated a value for π equal to 3.2. He said that Indiana schools could use his discovery without charge, but that the state and he would share the profits from royalties charged to other schools who wished to adopt a value of 3.2 for π.

Initially, the technical nature of the bill baffled the politicians, who then passed it without any objection. It was then up to the state senate to ratify the bill.

Fortunately, Professor CA Waldo, a mathematician at Indiana's Purdue University, alerted senior politicians to the absurd legislation. This prompted Senator Orrin Hubbell to proclaim: "The Senate might as well try to legislate water to run uphill as to establish mathematical truth by law."

There was a successful motion to indefinitely postpone the passing of the bill, but it still exists in a filing cabinet in the basement of the Indiana statehouse, waiting for a gullible politician to resuscitate it.

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