Monthly archive April, 2010

My article on the science of Boobquake at The Guardian

Just wanted to let everyone know that I have an article up at The Guardian on the skeptical goal of Boobquake. I present my “scientific” results from the “experiment” there, but I also touch on my motivation and response to critics. And I’m super excited to be a part of such a huge, respectable newspaper – so go check it out!

Three quick godless announcements

1. For those of you at Purdue or within driving distance of West Lafayette, IN, there’s an event tomorrow evening that you may be interested in. The Society of Non-Theists will be hosting Dr. Darrel Ray for his lecture The God Virus: How Religion Infects our Lives and Culture. It’s from 5 to 7pm in Beering Hall Room 2280. This is my last event as President, so you all should totally attend!

Women Thinking Free, a new non-profit organization founded by the Skepchicks focusing on women in science and skepticism, will be hosting its first official event on May 22. And their first speaker is…me! Elyse had the good fortune of asking me to volunteer before boobquake erupted – if she would have asked me now, I totally would be requesting a limo and $10,000 speaker fee. Sigh, I guess I can settle for her buying me a beer.

Anyway, if you live in the Chicago area and want to hear me ramble about feminism and skepticism, you should totally check it out. I’ll give a brief talk, and then we’ll have some food and booze – can’t get much better than that. The tickets cost $10, but it’s for a great cause. Go here for more information about the event and how to sign up!

3. The Secular Student Alliance Board of Directors elections open tonight at midnight. If you’re a member, you should totally go vote. Lots of lovely people are running (many of whom I’m friends with), and so am I. All of them would do an awesome job, but I’d also love to keep helping out the SSA. And if you’re not a member, you should definitely consider becoming one – SSA is a fabulous, hardworking organization that helps young freethinking groups, and every bit of money helps them a ton. I’ll also be speaking at their annual conference in July, which is an amazing opportunity for young people involved or thinking of starting non-theist student groups.

My article on the growth of boobquake at the Daily Beast

Hey everyone, just wanted to let you know that I wrote a piece for the Daily Beast on the incredible response to boobquake. I focus on the emails and traffic I’ve been getting, the media coverage, the power of social media, and the silly things people have created in honor of boobquake. Go check it out!

For the people who love number crunching (or are too lazy to read the article), here are some fun facts. Since the 19th I have received:
– About 2,600 new Twitter followers (follow me!)
– About 1,000 new blog subscribers through Google Reader, doubling my total. Yes, in a week I received as many subscribers as I did in a year.
743 friend requests on Facebook. Not sure what proportion of those are male…
Roughly 700 Facebook messages
– From April 19th to the present, 854,521 unique visitors to Blag Hag, with over 2 million pageviews. To put that in perspective, I used to get about 1,000 visitors a day.

Oh, and one more fun fact a friend brought to my attention:My name was the 72nd most popular search on Google yesterday morning? …That’s just flipping insane. Wow. …Wait, “Hotness: Mild”? Did I just get burned by search engine statistics generator? Hehe.

Westboro Baptist Church to troll Constance McMillen’s graduation

Just when I thought Westboro Baptist Church couldn’t get any more vile, they just announced that they will picket Constance McMillen’s high school graduation. If you don’t remember, Constance was the lesbian student who wanted to take her girlfriend to prom, and in turn her high school canceled prom. And when it seemed like everything was going to work out okay (after the ACLU stepped in), the majority of Constance’s high school student’s went to a secret “real” prom instead.

Constance, you should see the WBC’s attention as a badge of honor. By standing up for your rights and helping gay students across the country, you became so awesome that WBC wants to waste their time on you. The vast majority of people, theists and non-theists alike, detest the deplorable actions of WBC. We applaud you.

Though at the same time, I really do feel bad for her. Her classmates have proven to be complete tools so far, with no one willing defend Constance, and everyone willing to bring her down. The WBC has always brought together diverse groups together to protest and mock their hate… I wonder if even Fulton, Mississippi will launch a counter-protest? The cynic in me worries, since the sort of things that have been said by community members fall pretty close to the beliefs of WBC.

Fulton, this is your one shot at (at least some) redemption. I suggest you don’t screw it up.

Boobquake on the Colbert Report

<td style='padding:2px 1px 0px 5px;' colspan='2'Boobquake Day Causes Earthquake
The Colbert Report Mon – Thurs 11:30pm / 10:30c
Colbert Report Full Episodes Political Humor Fox News

When I heard “Iran,” I sat up on the couch. When I heard “cleric,” I sat on the edge of my seat. When I heard “boobquake” I jumped up and down high fiving my friend. When he said my name* and showed my photograph, I started screaming and flailing and even crying a little. Yes, boobquake got covered by CNN, BBC, CBC, ABC, FOX… But I’m a 22 year old geeky liberal – being on the Colbert Report is pretty much The Best Thing Ever. My friends and professors joked about it happening, but I never thought it really would.

Following my friend’s suggestion, whenever I’m feeling down or defeated or overwhelmed, I am going to listen to Stephen Colbert saying “You go girl!” to me. Possibly on repeat. Wow.

Though Stephen did get the science a bit wrong, saying the Taiwan earthquake was proof, even though I later explained why it was not. Maybe he needs a certain young female scientist to explain it to him a little bit more on the show *wink wink nudge nudge* …Okay, maybe I shouldn’t push my luck, haha.

*My name is spelled McCreight, but pronounced McCrite. Yes, I know it doesn’t make any dense. Blame the Irish (who, ironically, also mispronounced my name in interviews).

And the Boobquake results are in!

Boobquake is finally over across the world. It’s time to crunch some numbers – did women dressing immodestly really increase earthquakes? Can we find any data that supports Hojatoleslam Kazem Sedighi’s hypothesis?

(click here for larger image)

Photo by David Collins. Yes, that’s the biological hazard symbol. Yes, I found that funny. In case you didn’t notice, I’m a geek.

Many people seemed to misinterpret the planned analysis of this event. We’re not just trying to see if any earthquakes occurred, since dozens happen every day. What we want to see if we actually increased earthquakes in either number or severity. Let’s first look at the number of earthquakes that occurred on Monday, the 26th, and compare it to earthquakes in the past couple months. All data was taken from the USGS Earthquake website.

(click here for larger image)
Each data point represents the total number of earthquakes per day going back to February 5th (the extent of the online database). Days are measured in Coordinated Universal Time. That red square is boobquake. As you can see qualitatively, our provocative dress didn’t really seem to affect the frequency of earthquakes. There were 47 earthquakes on the 26th, which falls well within the 95% confidence interval for number of earthquakes (about 0 to 148).

So did our cleavage/thighs/ankles/hair increase the number of earthquakes? No.

“But Jen!” the internet cried, “what about the 6.5 magnitude earthquake in Taiwan? Surely that shows our bosoms have supernatural powers!”

Sorry to be a buzzkill – hey, I’d like magical control over plate tectonics too – but that single earthquake wasn’t significant. Earthquakes between 6.0 and 6.9 magnitude happen, on average, 134 times a year. That means we had about a 37% probability of an earthquake of that magnitude happening on boobquake just due to chance alone – hardly an improbable event that needs to be attributed to an angry deity.

But just to be safe, let’s look at the overall distribution of the magnitudes of earthquakes on boobquake. Did they differ from the types of earthquakes we’ve seen since February? These samples span from the entirety of the event – midnight at the earliest time zone to midnight at the last time zone – so the data encompasses more than 24 hours.

(click here for larger image)
The box indicates the first and third quartiles (within which 50% of the data points fall). Not only did all of the earthquakes on boobquake fall within the normal range of magnitudes, but the mean magnitude actually decreased slightly!

Now, this change isn’t statistically significant, but it certainly doesn’t support the cleric’s claim. In fact, I think it develops an even more interesting alternative hypothesis: Maybe immodest women actually decrease the amount of earthquakes! Man, that would certainly be a fun way to provide disaster relief. Of course, before we can make any claims about that, we’d have to greatly increase our sample size. You know, I have this gut feeling that a lot of people would like to do our boobquake experiment again…

Obviously this study had its flaws. We didn’t have a large sample size, and we didn’t have a control planet where women were only wearing burkas. We didn’t have a good way to quantify how much we increased immodesty (what’s the unit of immodesty anyway? Intensity of red on blushing nuns?). Maybe women did dress immodestly, but we didn’t lead men astray enough. Maybe God really was pissed, but he couldn’t increase earthquakes for us because that would provide proof for his existence (or maybe it’s his existence that’s the problem).

Or of course, maybe God is just biding his time. If you hear a news report in the next couple weeks saying a bizarre Indiana earthquake killed a science blogger, well, then maybe we’ll have to rethink our conclusions a bit.

But you know what? Boobquake was originally intended to be a humorous exercise in scientific and skeptical thinking – that we should test claims people make, especially when they’re ridiculous. And what could be a better way to do that than to question the methods of boobquake itself? That’s why science is such a wonderful tool for investigation – research must not only go through rigorous peer review, but it also must be able to be overturned in light of new data. I think it’s awesome reading all the scientific flaws people keep noticing – feel free to keep pointing them out!

I’m pretty sure our results aren’t going to change Sedighi’s mind. People tend to find any way possible to justify their superstitious beliefs, no matter how illogical. I’m sure the next time a big quake hits we’ll get a “See? Told you so!” even if the event wasn’t statistically significant – he didn’t care about science before, and he probably won’t now. Even if he says that, I think boobquake succeeded. We exposed these beliefs for their ridiculous nature, encouraged people to think skeptically, and of course, had some fun. What else could someone ask for? (Less creepy misogynistic guys who miss the point? Yeeeaah, agreed.)

So, sorry Sedighi. To quote something that was floating around twitter – women can move mountains, but they don’t cause earthquakes.

Don’t forget that boobquake shirts are on sale here. All profits will be donated to the Red Cross and James Randi Educational Foundation.

EDIT: If you want a more scientific explanation of earthquakes and boobquake, there’s an excellent article here by Dr. Lawrence Braile, professor and earthquake expert at my own Purdue University.

And the boobquake experiment has begun…

I won’t be able to make a blog post until boobquake is over, but I will be tweeting and posting photos throughout the day. Feel free to talk about your boobquake adventures in this post*!

Check back here after boobquake is over around the world (6am EST) for the results!

*No, that does not mean I need an update of every single earthquake that has happened so far. No, the Taiwan earthquake is not statistically significant – yet. If we get many of a similar magnitude in the next 24 hours, then we might start worshipping the power of immodesty.My official boobquake outfit. So horribly scandalous, I know.

Watch me on BBC, Canada AM, WGN, and CNN!

Boobquake is almost upon us, which means the media is super interested in covering the end of the world. I just thought I’d let you know what shows I’ll be appearing on in the next twenty four hours, since they’re… uh, kind of huge. And if you need more motivation to watch, yes, I’ll be showing cleavage – at least as much as is appropriate for TV.

11:10 pm WGN Radio Chicago – The Nick Digilio ShowAudio here!

In the morning in your part of the world – BBC World Service – The World Today

7:00 am Canada AMVideo here!

9:00 am WGN Morning News

5 – 7 pm CNN – The Situation Room (I swear to FSM I’m not making these things up)

I’m also being interviewed by The Young Turks tomorrow night at 9 pm, but I’m not sure when it’ll be online.

For those at the epicenter of boobquake (West Lafayette, IN), we’re going to have a meeting on campus mainly so news outlets have something to videotape (information here). I know that Fox59 Indianapolis, WRTV6 Indianapolis, CBC TV, and WLFI Channel 18 will be there, and who knows who else. I also know that BBC Persia will be covering boobquake, with footage of the gathering in Washington DC and interviews with me, but I don’t know when it’ll be on. Keep an eye out for all of these things!

New Society of Non-Theists officers

I forgot to do this earlier in the week due to the media fire storm, but I want to congratulate the new officers of the Society of Non-Theists at Purdue for the 2010-2011 school year! Bryan is President, Amanda is Treasurer, and Mike is Secretary. Two of them have blogs, and they’re definitely worth checking out (seriously, not just because I’m their friend).

That now makes me the lame duck President (not the sitting duck, which my frazzled brain keeps making me accidentally say). It’s been awesome being President for the last three years, but I’m also excited to see what sort of things they’ll do when I’m gone. It’s always good to get some new, creative minds running something! And and top of that, we were finally allotted office space for next year, which is awesome!

And while I’ll miss the club dearly, there are some perks to graduation. Well, namely getting my degree and moving to a new, exciting part of the country… But people also like to give graduating seniors free food and merchandise. And I got to take my photo with all the Purdue icons! Huzzah!

Boobquake t-shirts to benefit charities

Multiple people have been calling for boobquake t-shirts, so I decided to make some really simple ones. 100% of the profit goes to charity, half to the Red Cross (because of their earthquake relief) and half to JREF (for supporting critical thinking and fighting supernatural claims). Go check them out:

Who says science has to be boring?
Did the Earth move for you?
Modestly dressed women seldom make earthquakes
I survived boobquake
Hm, that last one may be a bit premature. We still may all perish in tank-top induced apocalypse.

Head of Iran’s Guardian Council supports Sedighi’s earthquake hypothesis

When I first conceived my boobquake experiment, I thought I was testing the claims of a single man who had failed to think scientifically. But now someone higher up in the Iranian government is supporting Sedighi’s hypothesis – Ahmad Jannati, “longtime head of the ultra-conservative Guardian Council, which vets all laws and political candidates for office.” The LA Times reports:

Ayatollah Ahmad Jannati might have thought he was clarifying remarks by his colleague, the cleric Kazem Sedighi, who suggested in a Friday prayer sermon a week ago that women who dress immodestly cause earthquakes by angering God.

Instead Jannati, who delivered the nation’s keynote sermon in the Iranian capital this Friday, reiterated the claim that human behavior causes — and can also prevent — earthquakes.

He told worshipers on Friday that while science cannot yet predict earthquakes, they can be spiritually prevented by repentance and prayer.

“We can avoid earthquakes if the faithful and devoted people pray to God,” Jannati said during the Friday sermon.

Ah, good thing I wasn’t grossly misinterpreting anything! Though for the sake of science, I hope people who believe this keep their repentance and prayers at normal levels on Monday. I don’t want any confounding variables ruining my study. And they shouldn’t either – wouldn’t they like to know if they’re right about women’s immodesty causing earthquakes?

On a more serious note, I love how since earthquakes are unpredictable, we must therefore conclude that they’re controlled by God. We understand how they occur, but it’s difficult to predict a location. Why? Because so many variables are constantly interacting with each other, and that sheer amount of complexity is incredibly difficult to model. Maybe one day we’ll have even more scientific knowledge and computing power to do so. But just because something is complex doesn’t mean we throw in the towel and yell “God did it!”

Of course, maybe God is making the earth rumble because he hates immodestly dressed women. That’s what makes Sedighi’s claim so wonderful – it actually is scientifically verifiable. And when someone makes ludicrous claims that can be tested, we should do so. Monday night I’ll do some statistics, and then we will have a better idea. Though it seems even Jannati has his doubts:

While Jannati called for prayer as a way of preventing earthquakes, he didn’t rule out using less celestial methods. “Officials precautionary moves to make homes quake-proof are appreciated,” he said.

Does he doubt the power of modesty to prevent earthquakes? Or does he doubt that women can easily be forced against their will to dress modestly?

Obligatory disclaimer: I in no way think that all Muslims or Iranians or theists agree with these two men. For all the rational thinkers out there who happen to fall into those groups, my mockery is not directed toward you.

PS: I’m on CNN’s website

Just thought you’d like to know.

*faints in corner*