PNAS Study Says Changing Hurricanes To Male Names Will Lead To Fewer Deaths
    By News Staff | June 2nd 2014 11:51 PM | 3 comments | Print | E-mail | Track Comments

    Either male hurricanes need to break through that glass ceiling of really dangerous storms, or we underestimate storms with female-sounding names and that puts more people in peril, or business scholars have taken causalation (correlation does not equal causation takes too long to write over and over) to a new level.

    An analysis of more than six decades of death rates from U.S. hurricanes shows that severe hurricanes with a more feminine name resulted in a greater death toll, simply because a storm with a feminine name is seen as less foreboding than one with a more masculine name. As a result, people in the path of these severe storms may take fewer protective measures, leaving them more vulnerable to harm.

    The finding indicates an unfortunate and unintended consequence of the gendered naming of hurricanes, which has important implications for policymakers, meteorologists, the news media and the public regarding hurricane communication and preparedness, the researchers say.

    Well, all hurricanes were named after females before 1979, which means almost 70 percent of the hurricanes in the period covered had female names.

    Nonetheless, they pick an arbitrary set of data and make a retrospective determination - basically, they want meteorologists to pick names based on severity, rather just being the next letter in an alphabet and alternating male and female. Perhaps a really strong storm could be named Magnus Ver Magnusson or something equally imposing. 

    "Names are assigned arbitrarily, based on a predetermined list of alternating male and female names," said Kiju Jung, a doctoral student in marketing at the University of Illinois and the lead author on the paper. "If people in the path of a severe storm are judging the risk based on the storm's name, then this is potentially very dangerous."

    This was actually published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, which is going to lead to people wondering if it's another one of their studies where a friend of the senior author hand-walked this past peer review, like PNAS has controversially done in the past.

    The collaborators examined hurricane fatalities for all storms that made landfall in the U.S. from 1950-2012, excluding Hurricane Katrina (2005) and Hurricane Audrey (1957) because they were much deadlier than the typical storm. Yet they did not exclude weak storms. How is this science again?

    Nonetheless, the authors found that for highly damaging storms, the more feminine the storm's name, the more people it killed. The team's analysis suggests that changing a severe hurricane's name from the masculine "Charley" to the feminine "Eloise" could nearly triple its death toll.

    "In judging the intensity of a storm, people appear to be applying their beliefs about how men and women behave," said Sharon Shavitt, a professor of marketing at Illinois and a co-author of the report. "This makes a female-named hurricane, especially one with a very feminine name such as Belle or Cindy, seem gentler and less violent."

    In a follow-up set of experiments, by which they mean surveys of college students, Jung and colleagues examined how the gender of names directly affected people's judgments about storms. They found that people who were asked to imagine being in the path of "Hurricane Alexandra" (or "Christina" or "Victoria") rated the storm as less risky and intense compared to those asked to imagine being in the path of "Hurricane Alexander" (or "Christopher" or "Victor").

    "This is a tremendously important finding. Proof positive that our culturally grounded associations steer our steps," said Hazel Rose Markus, a professor in behavioral sciences at Stanford University, who was not involved in the research. As noted, before 1979, hurricanes in the U.S. were given only female names, a practice that meteorologists of a different era considered appropriate given the unpredictable nature of the storms. According to the paper, the alternating male-female naming system was adopted because of increased societal awareness of how sexist it was. This year's storms will start with Arthur, Bertha, Cristobal and Dolly and the authors truly believe that people are so stupid that they won't take Dolly as serious as Arthur.

    Even though the "gender" of hurricanes is pre-assigned and arbitrary, they believe people will judge hurricane risks in the context of gender-based expectations,"People imagining a 'female' hurricane were not as willing to seek shelter," Shavitt said. "The stereotypes that underlie these judgments are subtle and not necessarily hostile toward women – they may involve viewing women as warmer and less aggressive than men."

    "Such gender biases are pervasive and implicit," said Madhu Viswanathan, a professor of marketing at Illinois and a co-author of the study. "We found that people were affected by the gender of hurricane names regardless of whether they explicitly endorsed the idea that women and men have different traits. This appears to be a widespread phenomenon."

    Although the negative effect of gender stereotypes is well-known in hiring decisions and other evaluations of women and men, this research is the first to demonstrate that gender stereotypes can have deadly consequences when it comes to weather.

    Citation: Kiju Junga, Sharon Shavitta, Madhu Viswanathan, and Joseph M. Hilbe, 'Female hurricanes are deadlier than male hurricanes', PNAS doi: 10.1073/pnas.1402786111


    "This Direct Submission article had a prearranged editor."

    Whew, for a moment we had to wonder if PNAS had completely lost all credibility, but this was not peer reviewed at all, it was a hand-picked editorial lite review by a social psychologist.

    Science is saved by the revelation that no one in this process knew anything about science. We still have to wonder why PNAS continues to let its brand be dragged through the mud by this kind of thing.

    I hate to be the only person commenting on an article, it's actually heartening that no one in the Science 2.0 audience took this thing seriously enough to bother reading beyond the title. Discover and Washington Post and others predictably gushed all over this nonsense but William Briggs applies the cold, statistical glare of doom to it, rather than just dismissing it out of hand, like we all did.

    I bet he wants that 30 minutes of his life back. There is almost nothing correct in it, he probably feels bad hammering the "pre-arranged" editor, a social psychologist who knows even less about statistical validity than the advertising people determined to find sexism in storm deaths.

    Psychologists lament that real science has set out to undermine them. No, they set out to undermine themselves by surveying college students and declaring it science, and now advertising people feel free to do the same thing.
    The authors must have conducted actual interviews with real people who recalled thinking about real hurricane names, and how they acted on the femininity of those names, right?

    Wrong. They ran six “experiments” to generate fictional data instead.
    Problem: the ability to predict and give warning of hurricanes has improved greatly over the span of the data set used (1950 to 2012) and all the male named storms are up the weather satellite, fast computer end.

    Crunching the numbers from the Weather Underground website and leaving out the top two as before (Mitch 1998 & Katrina 2005) but starting in 1979 produces a different result:

    Female named storms: 200
    Deaths: 4891
    Average per storm: 24.5

    Male named storms: 199
    Deaths 6089
    Average per storm: 30.6

    When you compare like for like it's the male storms that are more deadly but not to an extent that it couldn't be just explained by chance.