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Desert Diary
Mathematics/Easy Math


One of the roles of science and mathematics is to determine relationships set by natural law. Confusion between such relationships and matters unbound by such restrictions affects politics and people's vision of the natural world.

A hopefully apocryphal story emphasizes the point. A state legislator wanted to increase the efficiency of engineering works and noted that many projects required calculation of the relationship between a circle and its circumference. Being told that the value of pi was necessary, he immediately realized that its cumbersome value of 3.1416 slowed things down. The result? A law stating that henceforth, the value of pi would be set at the easily usable figure of 3.0.

This, of course, couldn't really change the relationship. On the other hand, changing the length of a human-mandated mile to exactly 5000 feet, although raising economic havoc, would violate no natural relationships. Do you suppose the Texas legislature would help out school children by decreeing that the angles of a triangle will add up to the nice, round number of 200 rather than the clumsy 180 degrees?
pen and ink

Listen to the Audio (mp3 format) as recorded by KTEP, Public Radio for the Southwest.


Contributor: Arthur H. Harris, Laboratory for Environmental Biology, Centennial Museum, University of Texas at El Paso.

Desert Diary is a joint production of the Centennial Museum and KTEP National Public Radio at the University of Texas at El Paso.

pi equals 3.0000

The new, easy math, thanks to your friendly legislature.