Campaign>> Mathematics • UK/USA
On June 28, the humble pi came under threat from a group of detractors who observed a day to honour what they claim is a more appropriate mathematical constant: tau.
Tau proponets say the constant twice as large as pi—or about 6.28, hence the 28 June celebration—makes calculations easier. Not all fans of maths agree, however, and pi’s rich history means it will be a difficult number to unseat.
“I like to describe myself as the world’s leading anti-pi propagandist,” says Michael Hartl, former theoretical physicist. “When I say pi is wrong, it does not have any flaws in its definition—it is what you think it is, a ratio of circumference to diameter. But circles are not about diameters, they are about radii; circles are the set of all the points a given distance, a radius, from the centre,” Hartl explained to BBC News.
By defining pi in terms of diameter, he says, “what you are really doing is defining it as the ratio of the circumference to twice the radius, and that factor of two haunts you throughout mathematics.” Hartl credits Bob Palais of the University of Utah with first pointing out that “pi is wrong”, in a 2001 article in the Mathematical Intelligencer.
We are a voice to you; you have been a support to us. Together we build journalism that is independent, credible and fearless. You can further help us by making a donation. This will mean a lot for our ability to bring you news, perspectives and analysis from the ground so that we can make change together.
Comments are moderated and will be published only after the site moderator’s approval. Please use a genuine email ID and provide your name. Selected comments may also be used in the ‘Letters’ section of the Down To Earth print edition.