Batavick: Pi Day protests speak to President Trump's disdain for science, numbers

This past Tuesday, March 14, or 3-14, was Pi Day. The Greek letter pi is the symbol used in mathematics to represent the ratio of the circumference of a circle to its diameter. Pi is approximately 3.14159, and can go on infinitely beyond its decimal point. Mathematicians and scientists around the world celebrate this day, and it doesn't hurt that it is also, appropriately, Albert Einstein's birthday.

We've known about pi for almost 4,000 years. The ancient Babylonians and Egyptians came close to the actual number with their approximations of 3.125 and 3.1605 respectively, but it took Archimedes of Syracuse in the third century B.C. to calculate pi at 3.14159. Don't ask me how he did this because that's all of the math you are going to get out of me today. You'd understand why if you knew my SAT math score.


Since we now appear to live in the age of protests, pi has become controversial, and not because people are quibbling over decimal points. Nearly 1,000 Silicon Valley technology workers at Facebook, Apple and Google in the San Francisco Bay area used March 14 to abandon their computers and rally against President Donald Trump's immigration ban. Los Angeles and Austin had similar anti-Trump rallies, and almost 100 tech companies filed a legal brief on March 5 opposing the ban. Keep in mind than many high-skilled tech workers are immigrants, here on H-1B visas, and fear any crackdown might ripple out to them.

Protesting tech workers also complained about the anti-science stance of the new administration, for which Trump is the avatar. The examples are many. He has claimed that climate change "was created by and for the Chinese in order to make U.S. manufacturing non-competitive," and that it "is based on faulty science and manipulated data." This is despite the 97 percent of the world's scientists who agree that global temperatures have increased during the past 100 years, and the 84 percent who say they personally believe it is human-induced. Trump has doubled down by appointing Scott Pruitt, a climate change skeptic, as administrator for the Environmental Protection Agency. Despite Tuesday's snow, locals have only to consider the inordinately warm winter of 2017 to appreciate how dangerous this thinking is.

On alternative energy, Trump has declaimed, "Not only are wind farms disgusting looking, but even worse they are bad for people's health." Of course, his unfounded belief was business-driven. In 2011, he tried to block an 11-turbine wind farm project near his Trump International Golf Links Resort near Aberdeen, Scotland.

Trump also doesn't believe in the efficacy of vaccination for children. Among several tweets on this crucial topic is his, "Healthy young child goes to doctor, gets pumped with massive shot of many vaccines, doesn't feel good and changes — AUTISM. Many such cases!" There is absolutely no scientific evidence that childhood vaccinations cause autism, and parents who don't get their children vaccinated are endangering all of us. I happen to remember the iron lungs of the 1950s when polio was much too common.

Numbers play a crucial part in science, and Trump's "alternative facts" universe only accepts those numbers that are favorable to him. When a recent CNN poll revealed that 53 percent of respondents disapproved of the way he was handling his job and 60 percent opposed building a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border, Trump tweeted, "Any negative polls are fake news." There's also his claim that he won the largest electoral vote victory since Ronald Reagan. That's true except for the records of Bill Clinton, Barack Obama and George H.W. Bush. Trump's tally ranks 46th out of 58 U.S. presidential elections.

The above antipathy to unfriendly numbers would be funny if it was only confined to polls and electoral votes. Trump has also voiced disbelief in the Bureau of Labor Statistics' jobless rate, especially as it dropped to 4.7 percent under President Obama. "Don't believe these phony numbers," Trump told supporters early last year, claiming the real number could be as high as 42 percent. Of course, when the latest figures came out showing that 235,000 jobs were added in February, White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer said, "[The report] may have been phony in the past, but it's very real now."

Science and numbers count, Mr. President, always. They are not just a pi to be sliced your way.

Frank Batavick writes from Westminster. His column appears Fridays. Email him at