Those Sexist Storms

There are some things that you would just never even try to pair with one another–think pork rinds and foie gras, or Adam Baldwin in a Zima commercial.  It just wouldn’t make sense on any level, no matter how hard you tried to hammer that square peg into a round hole.  Take the recent spate of hurricanes, for instance.  Never would it have occurred to me that there might be a social justice angle lurking somewhere in the eye of the storm, but lo and behold the National Academy of Sciences has found one:

Female-named hurricanes are far deadlier than male-named ones, according to [a] 2014 study…

How is that possible? Sexism, and more specifically the stereotypical perceptions often held on the basis of gender, according to the study.

“These experiments show that gender-congruent perceptions of intensity and strength are responsible for male-named hurricanes being perceived as riskier and more intense than female-named hurricanes,” the authors wrote

Um. okay.  And how exactly did they come to this conclusion?

Their findings — based on data from 94 hurricanes that made landfall in the U.S. from 1950 to 2012 — were telling. While hurricanes with masculine names caused an average of 15.15 deaths, those with female names caused 41.84 deaths. (Data from Hurricane Katrina and Audrey were removed as outliers.)

The authors also conducted lab experiments in which they confirmed that a storm with a masculine name markedly increased people’s perceptions of its intensity and danger. Female-named hurricanes were perceived as weaker.In addition, participants were less likely to follow a voluntary evacuation order if a hurricane had a female name.

But wait, it gets worse.

Even the early naming mechanism for hurricanes was sexist; hurricanes were once only given female names, “a practice that meteorologists of a different era considered appropriate due to such characteristics of hurricanes as unpredictability,” the authors wrote.

Or it could be that meteorologists of that era were mostly guys and weren’t so uptight about those things–kind of like the bomber pilots of World War II who gave their planes some glamor gal name, usually accentuated with a sexy picture of said siren.  Va-va-voom.

These stereotypical perceptions held true for all genders of the study participants.

“These findings have important implications for hurricane preparedness and public safety,” the authors wrote.

They also have implications for how poorly the National Academy of Sciences seems to understand the scientific method.  Although they acknowledge that there was a time when hurricanes were only given female names, there’s no mention whether the authors took this into account when compiling their statistics.  Male names weren’t even introduced until 1978–which means that every storm-related death for the first 28 years of the study was caused by a hurricane with a female name.  That weights the average heavily in favor of the girls, doesn’t it?

Also left on the dust heap of history is the deadliest Atlantic hurricane of the 20th century, which killed over 11,000 people, mostly from mudslides caused by its torrential rains.  Of course, most of those deaths occurred in Central America, so I guess they don’t really matter in the author’s estimation.

By the way, the name of that hurricane?  Mitch.  So much for sexism.

Still, the quest for social justice is never satisfied, so it’s likely that we’ll continue to see charlatans and pseudo-scientists trying to impose their politically correct notions on a natural world that really doesn’t give a damn about such things.  Like the old Rush song says, “You can twist perceptions, reality won’t budge.”  And the world will keep on a’spinnin’.

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Marc Giller

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