Are Hurricanes With Female Names Really More Deadly?

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Researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign claim hurricanes with female names are more deadly. They propose this is because many people subconsciously associate female names with a lesser amount of danger, thus taking fewer precautions. And, where there is less preparedness, there will ultimately be more casualties.

The team reached this conclusion after reviewing six decades worth of death rates from U.S. hurricanes, suggesting that, if their theory is correct, changing the name of a storm from Charley to Eloise could triple the number of casualties. "In judging the intensity of a storm, people appear to be applying their beliefs about how men and women behave," says study co-author Sharon Shavitt in a statement. Though this finding may sound sexist against women, the team also says that it shows a certain sexism toward men, arguing that, socially, we consider males to be more aggressive.

While our subconscious gender associations are interesting to consider, we should take this particular study with a grain of salt. Jeff Lazo of the National Center for Atmospheric Research says the study's method was flawed. In his opinion, we're witnessing a statistical anomaly — not an accurate finding. The research team had its subjects rate names of hurricanes from one to 11, one being very masculine and 11 being very feminine. But, as Lazo notes, from 1950 to 1979 storms had only female names. And, hurricanes have become less deadly over time. So, at the outset, the information is already skewed. Importantly, he also notes that not everyone will interpret a name the same way, depending on their culture and experience.

While Lazo's argument (the full version is available over at National Geographic) is rooted in a more factual analysis, it's interesting to consider the way we continue to associate certain characteristics with either sex — even if we don't realize we're doing it. (TIME)