In Rwanda… ignorance exposed closer to home.

I’ve been immersed in policy and away from science too long…

On day two here in country, the nine of us were bouncing along through the streets of Kigali in our van and our church pastor says, “Dr. Hooke…”

An ominous start…

…Sure enough… “I notice here and when I was in Uganda a few years ago that the sun seems to set faster at the equator than it does back home. It’s only my subjective impression. I haven’t made any measurements, but I’m sure it’s true. What’s the explanation?”

Ugh. The last post was about reducing my ignorance…but today it was exposed.  I’m supposed to know this science stuff.

Instead, my mind went blank. I’ve been asked and thought about hundreds of such questions thousands of times…but not that one. I couldn’t even say that his impression was real. Muttered something to the effect I’d been getting back to everyone and the conversation mercifully moved on to other things. Sort of. There seemed to be general enjoyment at my discomfiture…

That night once the lights were out I tried to think coherently about the problem but fell asleep instead.

The next morning, while we were all sitting in the guest lounge waiting for breakfast and everyone was on the Internet I punted and went to …Google. Of course, I found the explanation. In fact, I found several contradictory explanations. Some sites gave the simple answer that the velocity of an observer on the Earth is greatest at the equator…but of course that’s not right…there’s a bit more to the answer than that. Other sites remind us that the speed of the angular rotation is the same at all latitudes. It’s the grazing angle of the sun’s trajectory at higher latitudes that makes the difference.


And not just duh…but a cred-diminishing, face-losing duh.  A lot of jokes over the next 24 hours, especially about my ham-fisted attempts at explaining this to my lay friends’ ears…

And of course, history changes, new events are set into motion…

So, just now, our missionary friend who’s been taking us around, taking a cue from our pastor, spoke up, again within hearing of the entire van… Dr. Hooke, I have a serious question about global warming. It’s supposed to make the sea level rise, right? Well I was in Kenya on holiday and was at Gedi Ruins which are centuries old and were supposedly originally on the coast at sea level. But nowadays it seems like they are remote from the coast and above sea level. So can you explain how that’s consistent with sea level rise? It looks like sea level has been going down instead…”


This is going to end badly…


p.s… additional Rwanda photos here.

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One Response to In Rwanda… ignorance exposed closer to home.

  1. Jeremy Fretts says:

    Just tell them to visit Vesuvius…much easier to explain the rising coast there, I would guess. :). Love the pictures of Dr Hooke surrounded by children.

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