Why do hurricanes with female names have a higher death count?


I may be missing something (and unfortunately I cannot access the original paper through my school) but it sounds like the researchers did account for the change in naming practice by including elapsed years in their model (and not just by merely restricting their dataset to hurricanes post 1979, as this author suggests). In the authors’ words:

“1. We are of course aware that all hurricanes had female names from
1953 through 1978. In 1979, they began alternating the gender of the
names. However, our analysis primarily focused on the
femininity-masculinity of names, not only on male/female as a binary
category. Even during the female-only years, the names differed in
degree of femininity (compare two female names: Fern, which is less
feminine to Camille, a rather feminine name). Although it is true that
if we model the data using only hurricanes since 1979 (n=54) this is too
small a sample to obtain a significant interaction, when we model the
fatalities of all hurricanes since 1950 using their degree of
femininity, the interaction between name-femininity and damage is
statistically significant. That is a key result. Specifically, for
storms that did a lot of damage, the femininity of their names
significantly predicted their death toll.
Is this a statistical fluke? Lazo says, “It could be that more
people die in female-named hurricanes, simply because more people died
in hurricanes on average before they started getting male names.” But
no, that is not the case according to our data and as reported in the
paper. We included elapsed years (years since the hurricane) in our
modeling and this did not have any significant effect in predicting
fatalities. In other words, how long ago the storm occurred did not
predict its death toll.”

There very well could be serious issues with this study, but this really doesn’t seem to be a fair critique. On the subject of spotty science reporting, I find it distressing that so many bloggers are dogpiling on these researchers based on the word of an individual that doesn’t appear to have actually read the study. I know the boing boing community is full of smart individuals that are more science aware than myself, so hopefully someone can point out where I’m wrong!

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If you read Ed’s article that is linked to in my post, you’ll find that the way they tried to account for that issue didn’t really account for it very well.

Are you referring to “Jung’s team tried to address this problem by separately analysing the
data for hurricanes before and after 1979. They claim that the findings directionally replicated those in the full dataset” but that’s a bit of a fudge”? Because that wasn’t the only method they used, they also included the number of elapsed years in a model on the full dataset. I don’t believe Ed discusses that.

I suppose I would like to see Ed and Lazo respond to the authors’ reply (which they mention in an update and link to at http://publish.illinois.edu/shavitt/files/2013/07/PNAS-Reply.pdf).

why can’t this be equally framed: people assume male named hurricanes will be terrifying and powerful? Since we named hurricanes w/female names for a very long time, the way we rthink about the default hurricane is already primed to be feminine.

But now, the men have invaded, and they are much scarier. Because everyone is afraid of invading scary men.

Scary male names like Gilbert?



Here’s the bit that stuck out to me: “They excluded Katrina because that was such a huge outlier.” They also left out Audrey at 416 deaths.

They also left out Hurricane Mitch killed which killed 11,000 people - just not people in the US - because they didn’t seem to consider hurricanes that killed people outside of the US. Presumably this is not a reflection on the enlightenment of people in central america with respect to gender tropes but rather a difference in the ability to predict and mitigate hurricanes.

We all know why even hurricanes have killed more than odd ones - one had to kill more than the other. When you include the outliers, this is obvious. When you exclude them it starts seeming like you are massaging the data to pretend this isn’t about coin flips.

If you want to study whether people are actually more likely to obey an evacuation order for a male-named hurricane than a female-named one in real life, you have to use data from real life. That would be an interesting study, not a lab study with an insanely unsurprising result coupled with a random number generator.


The report failed to mention if they included female names of kickass characters like Electra, Natasha, Beatrix, and Selina.

As a longtime resident of Florida, I can tell you we see so many hurricanes and tropical storms form that we only really pay attention to a storm’s Force Category and heading.

A Tropical Storm? “Looks like rain this weekend.” A mere Category 1 Hurricane? “Better clean up the yard so the winds don’t make it a mess.” Many folks only start paying attention when it’s a particularly strong Hurricane, Category 4 or so.

Even then, we’re mostly just on notice to see where it ends up. Quite often strong storms will drift north out over the Atlantic and weaken or dissipate before making landfall. Or they’ll plow into the Carribbean first, spending most of their fury on the poor bastards down there and ending up severely downgraded in force before they ever make landfall on the US.

(There’s a point - do these numbers account for location? Storms are much deadlier in the poverty stricken Carribbean islands.)

If names factor into people’s reactions down here, consciously or unconsciously, it’s a very minor role compared to the factors of the severity and path of the storm. We know to batten down the hatches for a Force 5, no matter the name, and we know to not bother dragging the storm shutters out of the shed if a storm isn’t actually coming our way.

There might still be some misjudgement involved, such as when a weak storm rapidly and unexpectedly strengthens, or when a storm that has been steadily plodding north decides to suddenly veer off course and put us right in it’s new path, but how do you measure those effects? Do we even have such exacting data available to us far enough back to make proper comparisons?

Oh! Someone has self-reported not being biased? False alarm, folks.


So the “experiment” was asking the question:
“One day, national and regional weather forecasts have reported that Hurricane Victor (vs. Victoria) is approaching and he (vs. she) will directly hit your county within 24-hour. Your local officials just issued a voluntary evacuation order for protection from Hurricane Victor (vs. Victoria), asking you to evacuate immediately, would you?” of people WHO DON’T live in hurricane country.

Then using various names “femininity” to weight historic death tolls, while ignoring the storm force AND threw out Katrina? What a stupid study.

Like Glitch said - the FIRST response from anyone living on the coast is “What’s the storm’s Force rating?” I’m going to go out on a limb and bet that factoring in how recently a killer storm had landed within 100 miles of the respondent matter VASTLY more than anything else.

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