This story is about a sad day in Indiana, and educators in general, bad amateur science, bold commercial ventures, and the
dangers of uneducated people being elected to Indiana Legislature. In 1897 an amateur mathematician named
Edwin J. Goodwin believed he had
solved a math problem previously determined to be impossible. Mr. Edwin Goodwin thought he could copyright his proof about "
squaring a circle," including
his implicit assumption that Pi = 3.2. According to Wikipedia, the bill does include text that appears to dictate various
incorrect values of Pi. He introduced a bill (
Indiana Pi Bill #246 of 1897) to the
Indiana House of Representatives to rule his proof correct and grant him sole proprietorship. What made this such
a sad day in Indiana? The bill passed unanimously and the legislators were reportedly impressed.
It should also be noted that the passing of this bill did follow a motion to suspend the rules.
Rules exist for a reason and one should be certain those reasons are well understood, in order to avoid such mishaps. And chiefly
among those reasons should be the infinite fallibility of all humans alike, legislators included. This is much like congress passing
laws the individual legislators have never read, taking someone else's word.
It should also be noted, that the text of the bill also included references to Mr. Edwin Goodwin's reportedly prior accomplishments.
A confidence trick, suggesting the audience should accept reasoning they don't understand, as in this case, because of other
claims (also with little or no evidence presented for those additional claims). For example: "You should trust me to manage your money,
because I have been known to walk on water, leap over tall buildings in a single bound, and my credibility can't be questioned."
Mr. Edwin Goodwin's additional mathematical accomplishments referred to in the bill, had also previously been given up on by scientific bodies as
By chance an actual mathematician, Professor
C. A. Waldo of Purdue University of Indiana,
became aware and undertook the business of educating the Indiana State Senate, before they brought the bill to a vote. The professor
deserves recognition for saving the entire state from shame, if not the House. Fortunately, the now more educated senate threw the bill out.
For questions about what is meant by "squaring the circle," I suggest the
wikipedia article for clarity.
"Beware of snake oil and all manipulation!" ~ MW
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"May the well documented & accessible truth set you free!" ~MW