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In school, many years ago, my teacher taught me about a mathematician who was working on developing tables (or something similar to that). He apparently worked for years and then made a single mistake in his calculations. Consequently, the remaining work he did on these tables, which spanned additional years, was inaccurate. I tried looking him up recently but can't find any information in a general search of the internet. Does anyone know who this mathematician was?

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  • $\begingroup$ This sounds like the computation of $\pi$ by William Shanks to $707$ places, but there was a mistake that resulted in only the first $527$ being correct. That nevertheless was the record number of digits at the time. See the Chronology of computation of $\pi$ for more details. Actually several previous attempts turned out to be similarly flawed. $\endgroup$ – hardmath Sep 9 '17 at 23:01
  • $\begingroup$ I wonder where that Wikipedia page's figure "Took 15 years to calculate" comes from - it's not in the cited "The Quest for Pi" article $\endgroup$ – Dap Sep 9 '17 at 23:04
  • $\begingroup$ @Dap: His St. Andrews biography has some surrounding details, esp. concerning his collaboration with William Rutherford. $\endgroup$ – hardmath Sep 9 '17 at 23:13
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    $\begingroup$ I hope that neither your teacher nor you are planning to use this story to scoff: Shanks's error in calculating the decimal expansion of $\pi$ led to more errors in the same calculation. It did not make all his later mathematical work useless. $\endgroup$ – Rob Arthan Sep 9 '17 at 23:14
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William Shanks is probably who they meant

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