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Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Boobquake experiment is bad science

Mimi Catblue Dynamite by evilfenn from flickr (CC-NC-SA)

In spite of my best attempts I couldn't find any relevant cats, so as a next best thing I included some catgirls possibly participating in the Boobquake experiment

I'm as appalled by low standards of modern science as cleris Hojatoleslam Kazem Sedighi is about skimpy female outfits. And yesterday, we both had a chance to be outraged at the same thing - boobquake experiment makes travesty of science!


The conflict comes from a long accepted paradigm of natural disasters, which explained them as God's punishment for human sins. Research supporting this theory goes as far back as the famous Lot's experiment [Gen 19], and countless other papers of similar antiquity. It has been very widely believed until even as recently as mid-18th century, when it was the most commonly believed explanation for the 1755 Lisbon earthquake - according to sources of the time supposedly due to slutiness of Portuguese women, and other human sins.

This paradigm has been largely replaced by current naturalistic paradigm which claims such events are mostly "random" and have no particular reason - replacement motivated more by wish to remove God from the picture than by any hard scientific data, and by crude analogy with cases like creationism vs evolution in which similar removal of God was actually supported by large volume of evidence.

So it should be no surprise that if even a well researched case of evolution still has many doubters, it should be even more true for less researched case of causes of earthquakes and other natural disasters, where the main argument is compatibility with Western secularism.

Given all this, we should be grateful that someone finally tried running an experiment to check the sin theory of natural disasters. Unfortunately the experiment was so far from standards of good science as to render it totally unconvincing.

What went wrong with Boobquake experiment

The boobquake experiment was an attempt to test the sin theory of natural disasters by having a large number of women wear sluttier outfits than usual, make God angry, and cause increased number of earthquakes.

Before even looking at its scientific value we should notice that such experiment grossly violates modern ethical standards by risking lives of countless people who didn't volunteer for it. In the future it would be prudent to at least limit such experiments to a singre geographic location, where all sinners would group before commencing the sinning - and which non-sinners would be able to evacuate in advance.

Now, for the experiment. No attempt was made to establish baseline sin level, or even baseline outfit skimpiness level - and unfortunately we have no way of knowing how large was the change due to boobquake relative to the daily fluctuation of sin. Even the most basic estimates suggest the effect to be minor - supposedly about 200,000 women tried to wear sluttier than normally on that day - such number is far below changes in a single country known for sinning like Sweden due to daily weather variations. Experiment also takes place in the aftermath of Eyjafjallajökull eruption (believed by some to be caused by the deadly sin of greed of Icelanders) - which caused major disruption of tourism, and it is universally accepted that people sin a lot more during holidays.

Moreover, this sample was not random. Experiment participants have been self-selected, and we have reasons to believe that people particularly unconcerned with God's wrath, and therefore with higher than baseline sinfulness level - probably constituted vast majority.

While data on most participant is missing, comparison between be the supposedly "most scandalous" outfit of the main researcher she wore during the experiment with her profile photo causes serious doubts, as they're about equally revealing.

In addition to lack of statistical soundness, and sample randomness, no attempt was made to blind the experiment. This difficulty is inherent, as God's omniscience makes proper double-blinding impossible, but participants knew well in advance that they're assigned to treatment group, so they may have consciously or subconsciously reduced their other kinds of sinning, a blatant violation of basic rules of scientific testing that would pass no peer review. What's worse, no attempt was even made to establish a control group!

Now it could be argued that blinding participants would be difficult - or that sinning requires conscious action, so both treatment and control groups would be equally in state of sin by even risking wearing revealing clothing - but this difficulty is present in many experiments, and at least serious attempt should be made to reduce placebo effect when it cannot be fully eliminated. Numerous examples of women wearing clothing far more revealing that they thought easily found on the Web suggest this kind of blinding is not fully impossible.

Not only experiment was of dubious quality, the hypothesis tested is far from the standard theory of sin causing natural disasters. Now the theory has many variations but even the basic Sodom and Gommorah version clearly disagrees with research assumptions:
  • Assumption was made of no delay between sin and punishment, while the theory says punishment only comes after sinning.
  • Assumption was made of near-linearity between sin and punishment, while the theory says God was willing to spare Sodom and Gomorrah if even as few as ten righteous people were found.
Given all these problems, the Boobquake experiment brings essentially no new knowledge to the discipline of causes of natural disasters, and we can only hope that future experiments are better planned, with better design, better experimental controls, and detailed publicly available photographic documentation of sinning.

Catgirls, CascadiaCon, Seattle, WA by djwudi from flickr (CC-NC-SA)

With baseline like this, it is dubious Boobquake really changes average sinning level much

Related research

While Boobquake is clearly bad science, a much more relevant research was done by IPCC reports, which claim that we can expect high correlation between global warming and extreme weather effects.

This strongly confirms sin theory of natural disasters, as warmer weather causes many women to wear more revealing outfits, the results being among others "increased droughts, tropical cyclone activity, and tsunamis" (but curiously no mention of earthquakes).

Now correlation doesn't equal causation, and IPCC research doesn't directly test the sin theory, but it arguably provides stronger evidence than Boobquake experiment.

In the future, one would hope solid systematic research is done on variations of female outfit skimpiness - an area that has long been ignored by mainstream science.


Anonymous said...

I'm sure it wasn't meant to be "good science". It was designed to poke fun at a comment widely viewed as cynical. Have you picked up a journal lately? Pressure to publish at universities drives plenty of drivel into them.

Noumenon said...

This article should start with "we should be grateful that..." because that's where it starts to get extremely funny.

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