Right, so. Many people here will have heard about Indiana’s attempt to legislate the value of pi. This was quite a long time ago, mind, but it’s still funny. I was just reminded of this by the delightful Pharyngula commenter Jaws. It inspired me to re-read an article from a couple years ago – before I started this blog. The story about the legislation is funnier than I remembered it.
You should feel free to go read that original for yourself, but the few of bits I wanted to highlight here were that
- The man who introduced the bill, one Taylor I. Record, had only just been elected to his first term and would fail to be reelected to a second. I like to think the pi bill was a significant part of that, but you’ll have to talk to an Indiana political historian to know for sure.
- This was an intellectual property transaction. The deal was to be between the state of Indiana and the man who claimed to have proved that pi = 3.2 (in passing while proving that it’s possible to construct a square with area exactly equal to a given circle knowing only the diameter, and then calculate the area of both via the formula for calculating the area of the square. While he was copyrighting his mathematical method to cash in on all the businesses who would, presumably, use his mathematics in any number of efforts at manufacturing, engineering, architecture and design, he also offered Indiana free use of his method so long as it would pass a law declaring pi to be equal to the number of times 5/4ths went into 4, which happens to be 3.2. On the surface this is meant to seem a giveaway to Indiana, though I think in fact this Mathematics Man believed that getting the law to attest to his new truths would be commercially useful at his next stop in River City, Iowa.
- The bill so defining pi passed the Indiana House of Representatives unanimously. You read that right. Unanimously.
- Though the senate ultimately killed the bill, it also passed through the first committee to which the bill was assigned. And it passed through that committee also unanimously. “But what committee would this be?” you ask. When a fraudster is hoping to provide something of no value to you in exchange for your endorsement in his future endeavors, which legislators would take such an interest that they would feel the need to hold hearings and a vote on the bill and yet take such cursory note of the actual goings on that they pass the bill out of committee unanimously? Oh, dear noodly gods give me a moment to catch my breath before I tell you: Yes, it was the Temperance Committee. That’s right, the committee devoted to resolving the problems created when too much of Indiana is too drunk too consistently is also the committee that held hearings on whether pi = 3.2 and announced, “Yep! Sounds good!” The jokes. They write themselves.
The full text of HB 246 (1897) is available embedded within the text of this other article about the debacle.