Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Boobquake strikes Taiwan!

(Originally posted by Pat on 1/26/10)

Or, why clever demonstrations do not science make.
I feel really ambivalent about the Boobquake phenomenon. I'm all in favor of boobs, and I'm tired of people blaming them for earthquakes; I know full well that sexual politics and plate tectonics are totally unrelated, and I want people to say so more often (and stop saying the opposite ever). Even the dramatic public event has its benefits; attracting attention raises consciousness, and we definitely need that.
But I couldn't help but think the whole time: This is bad science. You're feeding into their flawed epistemology.

For "I showed boobs, there was no earthquake" no more constitutes scientific evidence than does "I prayed for rain, it rained". This latter is the reasoning of pretty much every religious person ever, once they realize that "my daddy told me" is not a good reason for believing something.
In fact, there was an earthquake (in Taiwan, presumably far from the epicenter of breast exposure), and religious fundamentalists can now point to it and say, "Ha! See? It does cause earthquakes!" (As Ewan put it: "God apparently is exceedingly bad at aiming.")
A real scientific analysis would be to compare longitudinally factors like "number of 6.0+ earthquakes" and "number of breasts exposed per day" (Per square kilometer? Per capita? Or is China just screwed regardless? Wait... that would explain why it hit Taiwan! It's per square kilometer, not per capita!). You would need to statistically analyze the data to see if there is any correlation, and whether that correlation can be accounted for by other mediating variables (like population density near the Ring of Fire or some such). In fact, much of this data has already been gathered by the illustrious folks at the United States Geological Survey.
All of this would be incredibly complicated and exhausting, all to find the obvious answer, "No correlation"; but that's what you'd have to do if you really wanted good science. The Boobquake project does draw attention to fundamentalist silliness, but it does so in a way that actually serves to endorse the flawed epistemology of religion.
Hence, I'm ambivalent.

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