Boobquake: a slightly silly test of a ridiculous scientific hypothesis

A post by Anne JeffersonIt seems that whenever a natural disaster (or other tragedy) strikes, there is but a short delay before someone with a megaphone and an axe to grind points his finger at an entirely innocent group of people and blames them as the cause of the tectonic activity, meteorological phenomenon, or terrorist act.
What am I talking about? Pat Robertson has said that the Port-au-Prince earthquake was caused by a pact the Haitians had made with the devil. Rush Limbaugh recently suggested that the Eyjafjallaj??kull eruption was a response to the passage of the US healthcare bill (displaying a somewhat tenuous grasp of geography as well as geology). Or remember when Jerry Falwell blamed feminists, lesbians, and the ACLU for the 9-11 terrorist attacks? It’s a strange and loathsome pathology that pushes aside science in favor of demonizing those with little power.
The latest incarnation of such wackaloonery is the statement by an Iranian cleric that the immodest dress of women is the cause of earthquakes:

“Many women who do not dress modestly … lead young men astray, corrupt their chastity and spread adultery in society, which (consequently) increases earthquakes,” Hojatoleslam Kazem Sedighi was quoted as saying by Iranian media. Sedighi is Tehran’s acting Friday prayer leader. (Chicago Tribune, 19 April 2010)

A few days later, the sentiment was supported by Iran’s top spiritual leader:

“We can avoid earthquakes if the faithful and devoted people pray to God,” Jannati said during the Friday sermon. (LA Times, 23 April 2010)

Jen McCreight, a Purdue University grad student, has had enough of this nonsense and has dreamed up and organized a grassroots effort to test the correlation between immodestly dressed women and seismic activity. Today, 26 April 2010, is the day of the “boobquake,” in which thousands of women around the world will wear the least modest shirt in their closet in attempt to set the seismograph needles trembling. After the day is over, McCreight and others will show statistically that seismically…nothing happened. Because women’s bodies do not cause earthquakes.
If you want to follow the silly science, you can read McCreight’s blog, check the hashtag #boobquake on Twitter, or check in on the Facebook event page (177,829 confirmed attendees at this moment). The mainstream media has also picked up on this event, so you may hear something about it on radio or TV.
If you are concerned that this event is somehow anti-feminist or demeaning to women, here’s what McCreight has to say about it:

I’m asking women to wear their most “immodest” outfit that they already would wear, but to coordinate it all on the same day for the sake of the experiment. Heck, just showing an ankle would be considered immodest by some people. I don’t want to force people out of their comfort zones, because I believe women have the right to choose how they want to dress. Please don’t pressure women to participate if they don’t want to. If men ogle, that’s the fault of the men, not me for dressing how I like. If I want to a show a little cleavage or joke about my boobs, that’s my prerogative.

So today I’m wearing a shirt that I wouldn’t normally wear to work and I’ll probably start my 90% male hydrogeology class with a brief mention of earthquake hazards. Because even though I know that the actions of tens of thousands of women for one day aren’t going to change the minds of Iranian clerics or make a measurable difference in women’s rights or sexist attitudes, I also know that my shirt is not going to cause an earthquake. And, in the words of boobquake organizer McCreight: “I’m a firm believer that when someone says something so stupid and hateful, serious discourse isn’t going to accomplish anything – sometimes light-hearted mockery is worthwhile.”

Categories: antiscience, by Anne, ranting

Comments (18)

  1. Lab Lemming says:

    Has it occurred to the organizers of this event that they are creating a powerful incentive for guys to repeat the stupid statements, in hopes of provoking a similar responsive action?
    “Stop saying sexist things or we’ll show off our tits” may not be the most effective argument.. But that’s just a guess. Experimentation is obviously required.

  2. Bee says:

    Well, to begin with one would expect a correlation between earthquakes and the seasons, and the weather generally. For example, it should be incredibly unlikely there’s an earthquake in Iceland during the Winter, and beaches generally should be epicenters…

  3. Mine will be on display today. :)

  4. It would suck if there was an earthquake today by coincidence, I can see it now, boob panic, and the military giving billions of dollars to plastic surgeons to equip all our fighting men and women with a bug set of breasts.

  5. Katharine says:

    I wonder if this is a symptom of the tendency of people to want to blame things on something.

  6. coconino says:

    Having spent some time in Iran pre-Bush, I can say it was quite demoralizing and demeaning to wear “modest dress” – scarves covering head, ears and neck and a glorified lab coat (with pants and long-sleeved shirt underneath), while doing field work in 95F temps. Not being able to swim with the guys after a long day in red dirt was incredibly difficult. Beyond the difficult field conditions, it was startling to really understand how that practice really denies women an understanding and appreciation for their own bodies and sexuality. When I went to Mexico not long after, you can bet I wore my skimpiest bikini and girls-revealing tops! I plan to participate.

  7. zen says:

    I posted a comment on Jens’ (blaghag) blog that the cleric clearly stated that the path is immodest dress>promiscuity>earthquakes. Scantily dressed women alone aren’t going to do it, The test should be scantily dressed women having sex with men they aren’t married to.
    I’m in…..
    (note: consensual sex only, of course. In no way do I advocate any form of coercion)

  8. WIll says:

    But what if there’s a major earthquake today?

  9. Jeff says:

    This has been a discussion item in my science class, how to deal with bizarre statements. Was it not Galileo who proved a 2000 yr statement wrong because he tested it, the heavier the object will fall faster. GO JEN, test the theory as any good scientist must

  10. Sam Carmalt says:

    It’s the thought that counts. Just thinking of all those scantily clad women must have been the cause of the 6.5 mag. quake off Taiwan this morning (before most of the boobquakers were out of bed and undressed for the day).

  11. Lab Lemming says:

    An alternative test of this hypothesis is here, but the silence in the comment section suggests I’ve exceeded the bounds of taste.

  12. AmoebaMike says:

    Re: this morning’s earthquake. It was on the pacific ring of fire, and earthquakes of that size happen about once every 3 days around the world so unless there’s an earthquake along the east coast of the US I’m not convinced.
    …and even if there is, I’d still need more data (and I mean that seriously, not in a pervy way).

  13. Squiddhartha says:

    Will, if there’s a major earthquake today, then that’s one data point, and the experiment must be repeated to determine its reproducibility.

  14. coconino says:

    Zen – one would think that all the immodestly dressed women living in, ahem, sin (like myself) would be causing massive earthquake damage. No earthquakes here in NM.

  15. mandas says:

    Damn – what a great scam. I wished I had dreamt this one up. It’s important you show us your tits otherwise the terrorists win!!

  16. Heather says:

    I wish they’d challenged as well the notion that women covering up actually makes men behave better, as the science seems to suggest that they don’t:
    M. LeBlanc’s “It’s more than just your eyes” blog post on BitchPhD of 2008.

  17. hoary puccoon says:

    Interesting that the South of France, where topless bathing is normal, is pretty much earthquake-free, while Iran is a seismic hot spot.

  18. Nathan Myers says:

    Maybe we’re paying too much attention to what Iranian clerics are saying, and too little attention to the fact that they’re saying it. As noted, nudity is evidently not correlated with seismicity. Apparently stupidity is. But which is the cause, and which the effect? Do earthquakes cause stupidity?
    Maybe it’s more complicated. Maybe immodesty causes stupidity. Or complaining about immodesty causes stupidity. Or might stupidity cause complaints about immodesty? We might be onto something there. But how to test it?