Sunday, August 26, 2012

 

Should Storms Not Be Named?

According to the Christian Science Monitor
Hurricane Isaac delays start of Republican National Convention in Tampa
Dim 26 Août 2012 à 02:30
As in 2008, Republicans scramble to adjust speaking and travel schedules to cope with the hurricane. The vote to formally nominate Mitt Romney shifts to Tuesday – for now. Stay tuned.
According to the Los Angeles Times
Tropical Storm Isaac postpones Republican convention in Florida
Dim 26 Août 2012 à 09:00
Republican Party officials decide to delay Mitt Romney's formal nomination in Tampa as Tropical Storm Isaac is forecast to become a hurricane.
TAMPA, Fla. — An approaching tropical storm, forecast to become a hurricane as it roars into the Gulf of Mexico on Sunday, has forced postponement of the first day of the Republican National Convention here, party officials announced Saturday evening.

It seems quite plausible the the approach of the tropical storm has influenced and inspired the decision to postpone the convention. However, "approaching tropical storm...has forced postponement" is one step down the slippery slope toward imbuing the storm with will and mind. "Tropical Storm Isaac postpones" is that one last step too far, as is "Hurricane Isaac delays start".

The storm does not manage the agenda and send out memos by electronic mail and fax and make phone calls to change the time schedule of events. People do. The storm does not "act", it results and has effects and consequences. Calling a storm 'Isaac' is simply an artifice to make it easier to refer to information about a storm, easier than by identifying it by date and trajectory, particularly when more than one storm is in progress at a given time. It is not intended to imply that the phenomenon is a human-like (nor godly) actor.

People seem to have plenty of trouble understanding science, which is understandable given how much science there is to understand. When journalists use storms as the subject of verbs that should be reserved for people (and robots), it encourages superstition and misunderstanding. Surely journalists can avoid this mistake so meteorologists can continue to use their handy labels.

The Financial Times, for instance, reports

Tropical storm knocks Romney off course

Dim 26 Août 2012 à 07:27
The opening day of the US Republican convention in Florida has been cancelled as the state prepares for the arrival of severe weather
While the title is figurative, "knocking off course" is a consequence of a storm phenomenon, not an act attributed to the storm as an actor.

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