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martes, abril 01, 2008

Alabama Legislature Devalues Pi

NMSR reports:
NASA engineers and mathematicians in this high-tech city [Huntsville] are stunned and infuriated after the Alabama state legislature narrowly passed a law Friday [March 28, 2008] 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 Bob Riley, who emphasized the Biblical reasons for the change in value, says he will sign it into law on Thursday.

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 precisely 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 altar font of Solomon's Temple was ten cubits across and thirty cubits in diameter, and that it was round in compass."
Lawson, the article says, called into question the usefulness of any number that cannot be calculated exactly, and suggested that never knowing an 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."

Governor Riley is expected to have a signing ceremony for the bill on Thursday in Montgomery at which former Alabama Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore is expected to give an invocation. Moore's office today stated that the change in the value of pi to the Biblical value was a good, first, legislative step toward the Rapture, toward making the crooked straight and rough places plane.

Haven't these people done enough already? Is nothing sacrosanct? Who will stand up for the missing .14159+?

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