A few weeks ago I had a conversation with a young graduate about useful and useless information. For him, very strongly in the latter category was absolutely everything in mathematics beyond basic arithmetic, and he particularly resented being taught and having to remember the significance of πr2 – something he swore he would never ever have to use in what he called ‘real life’. I didn’t bother pursuing this particular line, but I suspect he would not have been able to tell me the value of π – i.e. 3.14159 (as readers of this blog will of course know).
Well, for a moment yesterday I thought that help might have arrived for him, as I read a report that a Republican US Congresswoman, Martha Roby, had introduced a Bill in Congress stipulating that from now on π will be a much more memorable and manageable value of 3 precisely. This, she was reported as suggesting, would allow American students to be more mathematically competitive in global terms.
Alas, it wasn’t true, or at least apparently not. The internet has been buzzing with this particular item, and yet it took staffers of the conservative Congresswoman (who incidentally prefers to be described as a ‘Congressman’) a few days to state, on her Facebook page and not exactly prominently, that this was all just a joke at her expense. I was hoping that it might be accurate, and that she might follow up this particular second-guessing of Euclid of Alexandria with other radical re-arrangements of mathematical theorems. Unfortunately we are destined to stay wedded to actual reality. Oh dear.