jfribrg

2010-Jan-10, 01:25 PM

I saw this article (http://news.yahoo.com/s/afp/sciencemathematicsfranceoffbeat) about a new record for calculating 1.7 trillion digits of pi. Some of the wording in the article seemed to be a bit unusual, perhaps due to the use of an automated translation software. However, near the bottom of the article, I saw the following:

Pi, the ratio of a circle's circumference to its diameter, kicks off with 3.14159... in a string whose digits are believed never to repeat or end.

Emphasis mine. The word "believed" is misleading. The correct word is "proven". It has been well over a century since the transcendence of pi was proven. The irrationality of pi was known before that. And before that is several thousand years of people trying (and failing) to find the rational representation of pi in an impossible quest known as "squaring the circle".

Usually you can blame the reporter for this type of error, but I'm not sure in this case. The programmer who did these calculations is not a mathmetician. He could have used one of the hundreds of formulae for pi without ever knowing any more about the history or properties of pi.

Pi, the ratio of a circle's circumference to its diameter, kicks off with 3.14159... in a string whose digits are believed never to repeat or end.

Emphasis mine. The word "believed" is misleading. The correct word is "proven". It has been well over a century since the transcendence of pi was proven. The irrationality of pi was known before that. And before that is several thousand years of people trying (and failing) to find the rational representation of pi in an impossible quest known as "squaring the circle".

Usually you can blame the reporter for this type of error, but I'm not sure in this case. The programmer who did these calculations is not a mathmetician. He could have used one of the hundreds of formulae for pi without ever knowing any more about the history or properties of pi.