Claim: Responding to pressure from religious groups, Alabama's state legislature redefined the value of pi from
Example: [Collected on the Internet, 1998]
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.
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Origins: This wonderful bit of creative writing began circulating on the Internet in April 1998. Written by Mark Boslough as an April Fool's parody on legislative and school board attacks on evolution in New Mexico, the author took real statements from New Mexican legislators and school board members supporting creationism and recast them into a fictional account detailing how Alabama legislators had passed a law calling for the value of pi to be set to the "Biblical value" of 3.0.
This brilliant piece of humor was originally posted to the newsgroup talk.origins on
Ah but the Internet works in mysterious ways. Several readers forwarded the piece to friends and posted it to other newsgroups. As the story moved along, what would have easily identified it as a parody and not a news item was stripped out: the attribution to "April Holiday" of the "Associmated Press." Now it looked like a real news piece. Which is how it was received by many.
There is not now and never has been a bill in front of the Alabama state legislature to redefine the value of pi. With one exception, none of the names given in this fanciful account stand up to scrutiny.
The one exception is Guy Hunt. He is a former governor of Alabama, convicted in 1993 for diverting $200,000 from his inaugural fund to his personal use.
Though the claim about the Alabama state legislature is pure nonsense, it is similar to an event that happened more than a century ago. In 1897 the Indiana House of Representatives unanimously passed a measure (House Bill
Barbara "cornbread are square; pi are round" Mikkelson
Sightings: In his 1961 novel Stranger in a Strange Land, Robert Heinlein makes passing mention of Tennessee's enacting a law making pi equal to 3.0.
Last updated: 13 March 2015
Bussmann, Tom. "Foreword: Zeitgeist." The [London] Guardian. 16 May 1998 (p. 8). Devlin, Keith. "Off Line: Mythical Mathematics." The [London] Guardian. 3 July 1997 (p. 8). Habinger, Bernie. "Rest Easy! Pi Is Not Changing!" Associated Press. 7 May 1998. Heinlein, Robert. Stranger in a Strange Land. New York: G.P. Putnam, 1961. ISBN 399-10772-X (p. 360). Jaggi, Narendra. "A Centenary Celebration of Clear Political Arrogance." The [Bloomington] Pantagraph. 13 July 1997 (p. A12). Truly, Pat. "In Indiana, Pi R a Matter of Debate." The Fort Worth Star-Telegram. 3 March 1997 (p. 9). USA Today. "Across the USA." 8 May 1998 (p. A10).