Boobquake: a slightly silly test of a ridiculous scientific hypothesis

Cross-posted at Highly Allochthonous

It 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 Eyjafjallajökull 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.”

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