## 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?

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.

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