The April Fool Archive

Alabama Changes the Value of Pi    (April Fool's Day - 1998)

The April 1998 issue of the New Mexicans for Science and Reason newsletter contained an article claiming that the Alabama state legislature had voted to change the value of the mathematical constant pi from 3.14159 to the 'Biblical value' of 3.0. Before long the article had made its way onto the internet, and then it rapidly made its way around the world, forwarded by people in their email. It only became apparent how far the article had spread when the Alabama legislature began receiving hundreds of calls from people protesting the legislation. The original article, which was intended as a parody of legislative attempts to circumscribe the teaching of evolution, was written by physicist Mark Boslough.

Alabama Changes the Value of Pi Haiku (Submitted by Hoax Museum visitors)
Alabama’s act
Leaves engineers confounded
And circles quite lost
(by Paul)

More content from the Hoax Museum:


On Ronald Inglehart's book, "Modernization and Postmodernization: Cultural, Economic, and Political Change in 43 Societies", he says (approximately, i'm translating) "On the 19th century, the legislature of the state of Indiana passed a resolution that declared officially that starting from that moment, pi could be equivalent to a rounded 4,0 istead of the uncomfortable 3,1416"
Inglehart says this as an anecdotal comment, but he doesn't back it up, he doesn't offer sources. Reading this article, I just remembered I read this a couple of years ago and searched the book.
I can't find anything about this supposed law on the web. Anyone knows something about this?
Posted by Domingo Moreno  on  Fri Apr 02, 2004  at  06:48 PM
On Feb 8, 1897, the Indiana House of Representatives passed house bill no. 246 written by Edwin J Goodwin, MD, setting the value of pi at 3.2. It was never passed by the Indiana Senate.
Posted by gordon clason  on  Sat Apr 03, 2004  at  06:26 AM
I can't let this go without comment. How can people who "believe" the bible fail to look at what it says? Unfortunately for the premise of Eyesee and DrDino, the fiction that God is referring to the "inner circumference" is directly contradicted by the text itself which says, "a line of 30 cubits did compass it round about." To call "compass round about" an inner circumference requires assigning meanings to words that they don't contain. This is only one of many places where God demonstrates that He is ignorant of mathematics. Read John Paulos's book INNUMERANCY for some others.
Posted by gordon clason  on  Sun Apr 11, 2004  at  01:37 AM
The Indiana bill didn't actually set a meaningful value for pi, as it was based on gibberish written by a crackpot. It never made it past the debate stage, as a professor of mathematics happened to be watching the proceedings from the gallery, and managed to find a representative who'd listen to him. Try doing that today.

You can read the actual text of the bill and the gibberish it was based on in Petr Beckmann's "History of Pi."
Posted by Ron  on  Fri Feb 04, 2005  at  08:10 AM
So, you think this could never happen?

When I was teaching ESL to students in Japan,
one irate young man told me that his school
was indeed going to teach, for purposes
of simplicity, that pi = 3. Then, presumably,
once students got the hang of it, they could
confuse the hell out of them and tell them
it was really 3.1415926...

My student was angry about it, and I can't
blame him. This approach is the distant cousin
to the philosophy that "2+2=5" if the student's
confidence will be shattered by the truth.

That conversation happened in 2001.
Posted by Reid  on  Sun Apr 03, 2005  at  07:44 AM
ok, there's absolutely no point in having a religious debate because people have been doing that for centuries. There have been catastrophic massacres because of differences of interperatation of the universe around people. While others may not consider it totally reduntant to have fists flying over their own beliefs or opinions, I think it's probably better to let others have their own way as long as it's not hurting anyone else.

In response to the whole argument over Pi and 30 cubits and such and such, I fail to see the point, and I'll tell you why.

Numbers are a theoretical something that we have assigned to everyday tangible reality. If we create a set-in-stone system for designating the value of "units", then I fail to see how Pi, which is a whole name representing a specific number that goes in between 3 and 4, and therefore our designated units, differs from 30 Cubits (which, by the way, no one is totally certain of in terms of a modern equivalent), which is a whole name for something that was observed by ancient Christians which could very well be the exact same thing as Pi, only maybe they built their numerical system around Pi and not Pi around their numerical system which was already in place, which is what we have done. How do you know that they didn't consider perfect (or near perfect) circles to be divine because of their properites as a rather unique shape and decided to base their system of numbers on it? and thus 30 Cubits was the measure of Pi. I'm only guessing of course, I could be totally off, but that's my two cents. So please people...stop whining about how everyone but you is backwards, because that's never really helped our evolution in any sense of the word.
Posted by madHATTER  on  Tue Oct 04, 2005  at  03:52 PM
I totally agree with what was stated by madHATTER. Mathematics are in no sense an Exact Science. Human Perception is.
In fact, this argument is good for all purposes when it comes to these "scientific view" versus "religious view" debates.
Science-driven people tend to have that annoying habit of building their beliefs from the observable universe.
Religion-driven ones build their universe around their beliefs and not their beliefs around the observable universe which is already in place, which is what we have done.
Posted by Gonzo  on  Sat Oct 15, 2005  at  10:36 PM
*winks* dat's the ticket. we'll all evolve intellectually as a species and come to accept our differences not as discrepancies, but as something to learn from.


until then, continue your useless bantering. and yes - debating IS useful, it helps us grow, and learn interpersonal skills, how to manipulate language to express what is closest to our truth to others, and how to accept others. but there IS a fine line between a debate and an argument. and when you cross the 'personal' line - which we have - then it's just attack and defence, which leaves people feeling angry and less inclined to listen.
Posted by madHATTER  on  Wed Oct 26, 2005  at  06:13 PM
I don't see a problem with having younger students (4th-6th grade) treat pi as 3 or 3.2 for basic mathematical equations. Just be honest about it from the beginning. Say it is 'about 3'.
At that point they are going to be building isn't going to be drastically effected by a bit over 1/10th of a integer difference.

Once they get into 6th or 7th grade, then you can explain pi more fully. You aren't damaging them by this process and can teach caculating circumfrances and areas earlier without having to delve into complicated fractions. Just remember to stress that the answers are approximate, not exact.

Afterall, if you are cooking for instance and want to caculate how much baking dough the pot can hold those extra decimals aren't going to make any more difference than the fact that some of your dough is inevitably going to stick to the surface of whatever you are pouring it from and thus you won't be exact anyway.
Posted by Hebitsuikaza  on  Mon Mar 27, 2006  at  03:33 PM
The debate about this joke is almost as funny as the joke itself. Just because some prankster called the "new" pi the "biblical pi" should not cause the Bible to be viewed as a math textbook. It does not say "We in Isreal have noticed a constant in all circles...that is 3". It just gives the dimensions of the bowl. To use this as an issue to either refute or substantiate faith is ridiculous.

I don't have a problem believing an ancient document's description of a ceremonial bowl. What I marvel at is the very existence of pi. It is absolute and eternal. It never changes and seemingly continues forever. I know it's hard for you post-modernists to grasp that there are actually abolutes. But try to look past the number of "pi" and consider the God that put such order in the universe. In some ways it is a stamp of His image (absolute and eternal).
Posted by David  on  Wed Mar 29, 2006  at  08:43 AM
madhatter, you are indeed way off. The bible says that the bowl was 10 cubits in diameter and 30 cubits in circumference. Cubits - or any other measurement of length ever used by humans for a significant amount of time - scale linearly (that is, A cubits + B cubits = (A+B) cubits). So such a bowl could not exist and be circular, as the circumference divided by the diameter is 3, which differs from pi by a significant amount.

(Note - I'm not saying this is an argument that the bible is rubbish or anything of that nature, measuring objects, especially curved objects, would not have been as easy thousands of years ago as it is now.)
Posted by Clipse  on  Sun Apr 02, 2006  at  12:58 AM
According to a fundamentalist Christian friend of mine, Billy Graham's imaginary god is going to strike me dead for making fun of Alabama lawmakers. He claims that the Alabama legislature's greater adherence to Christian doctrine, than to principles of science and to the articles of the U. S. Constitution, is necessary in order to protect the church from the onslaught of heretics like me.

Considering the fact that this silly little pretend God is going to strike me dead, sooner or later, anyway, I fail to perceive the threat. If anyone is able to explain to me what I am, obviously, failing to grasp, I would like to hear from them, as I have been told that my understanding all of this foolishness is essential to the preservation of my nonexistent, but everlasting, soul
Posted by David Edwards  on  Fri Apr 07, 2006  at  12:06 PM
Everyone has missed the fact that this whole thing, pretty much word-for-word, came from the book "Stranger in a Strange Land" by Robert A. Heinlein. He wrote it in 1961.
Posted by Torch  on  Sun Apr 09, 2006  at  09:07 PM
Ok, lots of the people that have left comments on here so far are math teachers, engineers or possess some type of intellectual knowledge of math, and or science. Myself on the other hand, am only a high school student who (quite like a nerd, I must admit...kidding) has memorized pi to the hundredth decimal place, making 101 digits. Hard to fathom, I realize. (kidding again) All kidding aside, moral of the story, you don't even have to obtain a vast understanding of math or any subject to know that pi cannot be changed! Duh! 😊
Posted by Laura  on  Tue Nov 28, 2006  at  02:43 PM
It is interesting that during the reign of George W. Bush, the poorest and most ignorant states seem to be setting the national agenda. I doubt if you could find a legislator in Alabama who knew what Pi was. In Kansas, you can't teach evolution. In Mississippi its illegal to teach about poverty in the public schools. Red States all.
Posted by geocam  on  Sun Apr 01, 2007  at  01:38 PM
The Bible does not say pi = 3 ! TRANSLATIONS of the Torah say pi = 3 ;

I am sure that 99 % of the people reading about pi = 3 have never in their life ever seen
an authentic Torah Scroll.

This url will take you to a line in Genesis VII.17

The blue lines give the vocalization " Kree " and the black lines gives the text " Ksiv"

If you look carefully at the third line from the end of the blue, second to last word from the end of the line you will see a little circle.

Now go to the same word in the black and there is no circle

This is called a kree( apparent) /ksiv ( true)which means that the word is not read ( kree) the way it is written (ksiv)

When you go to I Kings VII.23 there is a different kree/ ksiv

In the Hebrew language letters have numerical
equivaents and it comes out that the I Kings VII.23 gives the value of pi as 3 times 111/106.

Thus the Torah agrees with modern science to four decimal places.
Posted by abra  on  Sun Apr 01, 2007  at  01:45 PM
I have to admit, I fell for this one when I first read it many years ago.

Not because I'm ignorant of math, but more because I have my doubts about the intelligence of Alabama legislators (and I didn't read about it on April Fools day).
Posted by Dale Atkin  on  Sun Apr 01, 2007  at  03:04 PM
Please people how could you be so narrow minded. Why overanylise everything. Life is life. Pi is nothing. When you're dead and gone, will it matter if you knew you were right about pi. And if by some beautiful divine intervention and all holy enlightenement you came to understand that pi is not what it is you will be tortured for all eternity to realise your life meant nothing in the long run. Give it up. I am a proclaimed slacker and hate science. It ruins all that is pure and simple by complicating things. What is love? Love. What is freedom? Freedom. The more you know the more is left to find out. The less you more you know is real.
Posted by NOBODY  on  Sun Apr 01, 2007  at  09:25 PM
im just posting a bit of a new thread...
most people know the first 3 numbers of pi (3.14) but how far can you go??
Posted by Deanna  on  Thu Mar 27, 2008  at  08:04 PM
And of course, we mustn't forget the concern of the motor industry - when they realised that, as the circumference of a tyre is 2 * Pi, that all their machines had to be retooled to produce hexagonal wheels.
Posted by Matt Symes  on  Mon Mar 31, 2008  at  04:51 PM
As mentioned previously in the comments, the State of Nebraska did redefine pi to 22/7, but for a fairly good reason. The problem was that over the taxing of grain stored in silos/grain elevators. The volume of the grain was pi times the radius of the silo squared times the height. For legal reasons having the calculation based on a transcendental and thus undefinable number made for some interesting court cases. Thus, for the purposes of taxing grain, pi was redefined to 22/7.
Posted by Andy  on  Mon Mar 31, 2008  at  05:44 PM
It is a clear indicator of how gullible people are such as Bible scoffers that believe that the Bible somehow says the value of pi is 3.0. If you simply make a formula from the description in the Bible, you will find that it does NOT in any way have the value of pi at 3.0.

30C / pi + 2H = 10C (c = cubits, H = handbreadths)

You can substitute your measurements for cubits and handbreadths and even solve for pi to see for yourself. Pi doesn't come out to be 3.0 as so many idiotic Bible scoffers have so erroneously repeated over and over. It goes to show you, people will believe anything as long as it isn't in the Bible.
Posted by Haekel  on  Mon Mar 31, 2008  at  11:04 PM
Gracie Allen: Tell me something you learned in college
Mickie Rooney: Pi R Squared
Gracie Allen: Pi R Squared? Hmmph...shows how little you know. Pie are round
Posted by JB  on  Tue Apr 01, 2008  at  01:21 AM
Terry Pratchet, the author of the Disc World series of humorous fantasy books explores this issue in his book "Going Postal" . In his version, some wizards couldn't be bothered with the extra digits after 3, and created a circle where Pi=3. This of course had dire effects on the entire time-space continuum.Pratchet is a master satirist and if you read enough of his books you find that he makes fun of just about every institution out there, especially if they take themselves too seriously..

So- PI may equal three somewhere, but beware of the consequences...
Posted by Randolph  on  Tue Apr 01, 2008  at  12:32 PM
I grew up in Alabama, and, knowing Alabama as I do, have no problem beleiving that this really happened. Alabama is unique, thank god. two Alabamas and I would be forced to move to another planet. When I visit there I feel like I am on another planet.
Posted by robert ambrose  on  Tue Apr 01, 2008  at  01:10 PM
It is entirely possible to create circles that have a circumference of 3 * diameter.

However, you can't do it on a flat (or "Euclidean") surface.

If, on the other hand, you grab a sphere, and draw a circle at at a constant 60 degrees of latitude you will find that the ratio of the circumference to the diameter (the diameter being the path you take to get from one side of the circle to the other in the shortest distance - i.e. by walking through the "North Pole") is exactly three.

As for the comments above about "How long is the decimal expansion of Pi" - there are lots of numbers you can't write out exactly as a decimal number. 1/3 for example (0.333...). But at least it can be written as a fraction (such numbers are called "Rational numbers".

But there is no fraction either that equals Pi. This makes is an "Irrational" number. (In fact, it's worse than that - it's called "Transcendental" - but that's a whole another story)
Posted by Mazor Rackham  on  Wed Apr 02, 2008  at  05:02 AM
sir, true value of pi is (14-root 2)/4=3.1464466... 😊
Posted by rsj reddy  on  Thu Aug 12, 2010  at  07:16 AM