Tremble before Boobquake!

Tremble before Boobquake!

Tremble before Boobquake!

Bad Astronomy
The entire universe in blog form
April 26 2010 10:57 AM

Tremble before Boobquake!

The actual cleavage
that causes earthquakes.
If you are a geek, a skeptic, or a man, then you've probably heard that today is Boobquake: a day for women around the world to show off their cleavage in an attempt to debunk a fundamentalist Iranian cleric who blames natural seismic events on women dressing immodestly.

In other words, all that shaking and jiggling in the ground is caused by... well, I don't need to belabor the point.

Phil Plait Phil Plait

Phil Plait writes Slate’s Bad Astronomy blog and is an astronomer, public speaker, science evangelizer, and author of Death From the Skies!  


To be clear, I happily endorse both of these things (the cleavage and the debunking). But I do have one niggling doubt. Bear with me here... First, last week an Islamic cleric in Iran said that all the earthquakes occurring in that country are caused by women dressing "immodestly". Yes, this same screwed-up thinking that brought us the Taliban and the idea that burning, throwing acid upon, and beheading women is all their own fault for being, y'know, women, gives us this:

"Many women who do not dress modestly ... lead young men astray, corrupt their chastity and spread adultery in society, which (consequently) increases earthquakes... What can we do to avoid being buried under the rubble?" Sedighi [the cleric] asked during a prayer sermon Friday. "There is no other solution but to take refuge in religion and to adapt our lives to Islam's moral codes."

I got news for you, Sedighi: if I were God, I'd be throwing more earthquakes your way for the way you treat women. In fact, I'd send a few thousand mini ones that open the Earth and just swallow up the twinkie clerics who say such profoundly horrid things.

Serious note: I've said this before, but it bears repeating: not all cultures are created equal. Any culture that sweepingly and maniacally oppresses half their population is what I would call evil. Moral relativism be damned: that kind of crap is wrong, plain and simple.


Now, the response on the skeptical and science blogs was pretty good; mockery, for the most part, which is what this kind of insanity deserves (Maria at Skepchick, for example, took this opportunity to debunk myths about breasts). But Blag Hag, a female blogger, came up with an interesting idea: Boobquake. The idea is for women around the world to show off their assets today, Monday, April 26, in an attempt to debunk the cleric. When there is no earthquake today, it will show the cleric for what he is: a sexist jerk* mired in an ancient and ridiculous mode of thinking.

I like the idea of Boobquake for many reasons. It's an excellent display of physical mockery, which is a great way to raise awareness. It also resonates in American culture because we have so many people who are so twisted up about such things morally; I support poking them in the eye with this kind of thing as well. Also, I'm unapologetically a heterosexual man, so c'mon.

But I have a major reservation with this idea as well, and it has to do with the number of earthquakes around the world. Here is a table from the USGS giving the number of earthquakes per year listed by magnitude:



As you'd expect, there are very few huge quakes, and a lot of little ones. We expect to rack up maybe one quake more powerful than magnitude 8 in a year, but on average we get one in the magnitude 6 - 6.9 range every couple of days somewhere in the world, and one in the 5 - 5.9 range something like three to five times every day. That's every few hours!

And there's the weakness in the Boobquake plan. The idea of Boobquake is to debunk the cleric by saying that women can reveal their boobs and not start a seismic event (ignoring perhaps the tremors caused by geek guys habitually running to their computers every few minutes and checking for updates). But without defining the time period, the earthquake size, and the region in advance, this can actually reinforce the cleric's claims! Given the huge tracts of land involved, no matter when women of the world unveil their decolletage, there is bound to be a magnitude 5 quake within an hour or so of the event, and a mag 6 quake within a day.

We also know that supernatural thinking makes people see correlations where none exist, and to also retroactively assign credit after an event to something that happened before it. They cling desperately to such measures like a drowning man to a life preserver. And when the parameters (like time and size) aren't defined in advance, that makes uncritical thinking easier. If there is even a modest earthquake today, then that cleric can declare victory. If there's a big quake, then it's more like sending that drowning man a motorboat!

Still and all, this is perhaps a minor complaint given the positive nature of the cause itself. I really like the idea of web-based activism, especially when it comes to rallying a lot of people to make a clear statement... and in this case, the more people who see that cleric for the fool he is, the better.


So I stand with my XX-oriented friends against the neolithic thinking of gender-oppressing religions. As Ben Franklin would say were he here today:

We must, indeed, all hang together, or most assuredly we shall all hang lifted and separated.

*You didn't seriously think I'd call him a boob, did you?