Duped at the equator

Joel Warner and I went to Tanzania for the Humor Code project. The intro to the chapter explains what 2012-10-04 13.26.19drew us there:

Good news greets us in Uganda as we disembark our plane: “Uganda has defeated the outbreak of Ebola,” announces a large placard standing in the airport’s main hall. “Please have a nice stay.”

Well, that’s a relief.

We actually have a different malady in mind—one far less lethal than Ebola, but evocative nonetheless. We’re here in East Africa on the trail of the so-called 1962 Tanganyika laughter epidemic. As the story goes, in 1962 in the northwest corner of Tanganyika (a country now known as Tanzania), hundreds of people began laughing uncontrollably. The affliction, if you could call it that, spread from one person to the next, and nothing seemed to stop it. Schools shut down. Entire villages were caught in its throes. When the laughing stopped months later, a thousand people had come down with the “disease.”

We were skeptical of the account and wanted to see for ourselves. To get there, we flew into Uganda and spent a day driving down to the Tanzanian town of Bukoba.

I didn’t anticipate it, but we crossed the equator on our ride. We stopped at a café and tourist shop, where we shot this video:

Amazing, right? Well, we were duped – and people were nice enough to tell us in the comments to our YouTube video:

You can not run a proper experiment with what they are using, especially the distance they used to show it. The trick was in the pans they used to manipulate water flow. Yes its true there is some effect but not how they demonstrated.

 Actually no its not, scientifically, its totally correct because if you’ve ever noticed surface currents on the oceans that are on or off the equator, they correspond to their surface currents.
Phil Plait, the good guy at Bad Astronomy, outlines the hoax here.

All you need to know is that over the size of a water basin, the Coriolis force has no effect. I mean it: none. Any random eddy or movement of water in the basin is hugely more important than the teeny tiny effect of the rotating Earth on the basin.

Alas. I still have a lot to learn.

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