When Alabama Redefined Pi and Other Unscientific Urban Legends

Null Hypothesis: The Journal of Unlikely Science has a neat compilation of 10 of the most unscientific urban legends. Like this one of when Alabama tried to redefine the value of pi, for example:

The story goes that state of Alabama tried to redefine the value of pi to be exactly three – a far more precise and biblical number. You can’t have constants, such as pi, running around with infinite numbers of decimals after all – it’s far too untidy.

According to the Bible, King Solomon made a bowl that was 10 cubits from rim to rim and 30 cubits in circumference, which would seem to indicate that the value of pi is in fact exactly three. Surely the Bible knows what it’s talking about? Although we should probably ignore the fact that this biblical item was not a pure mathematical shape but a solid object with a thick rim to confuse calculations. Anyway the important thing is that in Alabama, the ratio of the circumference of a circle to its diameter has now been returned to its proper value.

Well, no not really. But it was a rather funny report from Mark Boslough on April Fool’s day 1998. The story later mutated and spread across the Internet. Part of its appeal might be the element of truth – in 1897 the Indiana House of Representatives unanimously passed a bill stating that ‘a circular area is to the square on a line equal to the quadrant of the circumference, as the area of an equilateral rectangle is to the square of one side’; fortunately the Senate decided to postpone the act indefinitely (probably because it made absolutely no sense - Ed). Thus pi to this day remains an extremely irritating and untidy number.

Check out the whole list: Link - Thanks Jon Jason!

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King James Version should never be taken as an authority as to what the Bible actually says, since it is not necessarily an accurate translation.
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The King James Version said it was "round in compass", as I recall. But it didn't say to what precision the numbers 10 and 30 were given; if they were simply rounded off to the nearest cubit the vessel could have been circular and the measurements correct (though not exact).
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Here's why everyone thought it was three: the Bible never said what shape the bowl was! It could've been an oval, a square, or a triangle for any matter. "Across" isn't the same as "diameter" and "around" isn't the same as "circumference".
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