Would you be more afraid of Hurricane Irma if it were named Hurricane Irwin?
Apparently, no: In sharp contrast to findings of a study published in 2014, further research suggests that hurricanes with female names aren’t deadlier than those with male names after all.
The original study, published in the prestigious, peer-reviewed journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, found hurricanes with feminine names killed more people than those with male names — because people didn’t take the threat as seriously.
The paper claimed that a masculine-named storm would kill about 15 people, but a hurricane of the same strength with a female name would kill about 42.
Even when the study published, other experts were skeptical: One researcher not involved in the study, Hugh Gladwin of Florida International University, found the report “very problematic and misleading, while another, Jeff Lazo of the National Center for Atmospheric Research said, “any finding with respect to naming and fatalities could be a statistical fluke.”
Since then, as noted by the Capital Weather Gang this summer, the original study has been even more widely refuted in papers published in that same journal. Various experts have said the study was “based on biased presentation and invalid statistics,” that the results were “of questionable robustness” and “the statistical difference between the male and female subsets becomes negligible” when outlier storms in the study group were accounted for.
Gary Smith, an economist at Pomona College, said in 2016 that “it is implausible that an imperiled public’s response to a potential storm of the century — with catastrophic warnings broadcast by news media that feed on sensationalized reporting — depends on whether the name Sandy is perceived to be a feminine or masculine.”
The World Meteorological Organization, based in Geneva, chooses hurricane names several years in advance, so storms are not named based on their severity at the time.
From the early 1950s until the late 1970s, hurricanes received only female names. The alternating male-female naming system was adopted in the late 1970s because of society’s increased awareness of sexism, the authors in the original study said.
The first male storm was Hurricane Bob in 1979.