It’s Not the Onion, It’s Science

nVrlgcUHonestly, I’m unclear on why we continue to name weather systems.

I mean, really, what is to be gained by personifying potentially catastrophic climactic events? Why couldn’t we name them after, say, fruit? Or geometric shapes? Or even animals?

The other day a friend sent me an article that posits the following conclusion:

“People don’t take hurricanes as seriously if they have a feminine name and the consequences are deadly, finds a new groundbreaking study.”

When I first glanced at it, I thought it was the Onion.

Here’s the rest of the piece:

Female-named storms have historically killed more because people neither consider them as risky nor take the same precautions, the study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences concludes.

Researchers at the University of Illinois and Arizona State University examined six decades of hurricane death rates according to gender, spanning  1950 and 2012.  Of the 47 most damaging hurricanes, the female-named hurricanes produced an average of 45 deaths compared to 23 deaths in male-named storms, or almost double the number of fatalities.  (The study excluded Katrina and Audrey, outlier storms that would skew the model).

The difference in death rates between genders was even more pronounced when comparing strongly masculine names versus strongly feminine ones.

“[Our] model suggests that changing a severe hurricane’s name from Charley … to Eloise … could nearly triple its death toll,” the study says.

Sharon Shavitt, study co-author and professor of marketing at the University of Illinois, says the results imply an “implicit sexism”; that is, we make decisions about storms based on the gender of their name without even knowing it.

“When under the radar, that’s when it [the sexism] has the potential to influence our judgments,” Shavitt said.

On this blog, we’ve uncovered male privilege in lots of different contexts, from politics to economics to sports to the church.

Now, we find it embedded in how we deal with the weather.

So, allow me a friendly public service announcement:

Until the day when Tropical Storm Pomegranate, or Hurricane Rhombus, or SuperStorm Chihuahua is barreling your way, your response should be the same, whether the system is named Wayne or Rhonda:


One response to “It’s Not the Onion, It’s Science”

  1. the Farmy says :

    This study makes an excellent case for societal male privilege – not that it needs proof of existence. I think your advise is good. Hopefully it doesn’t turn into an argument on how to name a storm, but have people frankly admit the gender bias in everyone.

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