Why Pi Matters: that One Time Indiana Passed a Bill to Round Pi to 3.2

Today will be the most epic of Pi Days.  In fact, it only comes around once in a century.

In case you are unfamiliar with the nerdiest of holidays, Pi Day, is when the date (given in the American order as Month, Day) line up to match (pi), which is probably the most well-known mathematical constant rounded as 3.14. This means that each year on March 14th, pi enthusiasts around the world celebrate with all things pi (which usually just ends up being all things pie).

The world is also gifted with amazing puns like this:

But today isn't just a regular Pi Day!

Oh, no, today is a super Pi Day that only comes around once in a century.  This is because actually goes on forever: 3.14159265359. This number continues on forever in a seemingly random pattern.  Did you notice the “exciting” part? The next two digits of   are 15. This means that March, 14th 2015 (3.1415) is a perfect Super Pi Day! (Actually 15 AD would be the perfect Pi Day, but whatever).

And, if you’d really like to get into Pi Day: March 14th, 2015 at 9:26:53 is the super, super Pi moment! 

But why do we care about pi so much?

Pi is the ratio of a circles circumference to its diameter (Circumference =   *Diameter). This is true for all circles everywhere, big and small. It’s pretty weird that a number that goes on forever can be used to describe the most important shape in humans lives (wheels and wine glasses, need I say more).

You know what’s also pretty magical? This little fact below:

Here's a fun article that talks about that fun fact, and other reasons why pi matters. 

But wait, there's more!

For me, however, Pi Day is always a fun yearly reminder why STEM literacy is important for policymakers. That took a quick turn from pie eating to politics! I know, but hear me out.

In 1897, the Indiana House of Representatives unanimously passed a bill that would officially round the constant to 3.2. This seems ridiculous right? First of all, why does the Indiana House Legislature want to dedicate their time to passing legislation about mathematics?

Well, it’s because of a somewhat self-involved man named Edward Goodwin, who is often generously described as an amateur mathematician, wanted to get his “genius” work written into law.

It all started when Goodwin wanted to find a simple way to find the area of a circle without using this irrational constant, . You can imagine how annoying it would be to find the exact area of a circle without that nifty little “” button on your calculator. So he made something up and said it only worked if you rounded to 3.2! He got his “proof’ (which was anything but) printed in the journal, American Mathematical Monthly. Of course, this was before the diligent process of peer review which came about in the late 1900s.

Goodwin was pushing for this to be used in schools and on top of that, he wanted to collect royalties from businesses and mathematicians who were obviously going to use his terrible method to calculate all of their circle areas. But, being the generous man that he was, Goodwin said the state of Indiana could completely avoid all of these royalties if the legislature passed his method into state law.

So here the Indiana legislature was, with this over confident man who had published something in a Mathematical magazine they’d probably never heard of, and he was threatening to charge all of the people in their state to use it.  These representatives were probably like, “I don’t know, Bob, there are a lot of circles everywhere. This could add up.” And voila, they caved in and passed Goodwin’s stupid bill in the House.

Luckily, the Pi bill failed in the Senate and it never came to fruition.

Rounding Pi to 3.2 would mess up the design and manufacturing of anything that involved circles. Our cars, planes, and rolly chairs may actually kill us if we didn’t know how to accurately calculate circle areas. Well, maybe not the rolly chairs, but they would still roll really inefficiently!

So there you have it kids! Make sure we are electing representatives who know the importance of Pi or terrible things can happen!

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