Yesterday was the single most (ok, second most) important annual event for science: the Ig Nobel Prize ceremony. The Ig Nobel Prizes have been awarded since 1991 for those scientific achievements that first make people laugh, and then make them think. They ‘celebrate the unusual, honor the imaginative — and spur people’s interest in science, medicine, and technology’.
In Harvard University, great scientists gathered to hear who would follow in the footsteps of eminent illustrious intellectuals like:
Daniel Simons of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and Christopher Chabris of Harvard University, for demonstrating that when people pay close attention to something, it’s all too easy to overlook anything else — even a woman in a gorilla suit. (Winners Ig Nobel Prize for Psychology, 2004)
Ben Wilson of the University of British Columbia, Lawrence Dill of Simon Fraser University [Canada], Robert Batty of the Scottish Association for Marine Science, Magnus Whalberg of the University of Aarhus [Denmark], and Hakan Westerberg of Sweden’s National Board of Fisheries, for showing that herrings apparently communicate by farting (Winners Ig Nobel Prize for Biology, 2004).
Lal Bihari, of Uttar Pradesh, India, for a triple accomplishment was awarded the 2002 Ig Novel Prize for Peace, for three reasons. First, for leading an active life even though he has been declared legally dead; Second, for waging a lively posthumous campaign against bureaucratic inertia and greedy relatives; and Third, for creating the Association of Dead People (Lal Bihari overcame the handicap of being dead, and managed to obtain a passport from the Indian government so that he could travel to Harvard to accept his Prize. However, the U.S. government refused to allow him into the country).
Willibrord Weijmar Schultz, Pek van Andel, and Eduard Mooyaart of Groningen, The Netherlands, and Ida Sabelis of Amsterdam, for their illuminating report, “Magnetic Resonance Imaging of Male and Female Genitals During Coitus and Female Sexual Arousal.” [Published in British Medical Journal, vol. 319, 1999, pp 1596-1600.] (Winner Ig Nobel Prize for Medicine in 2000)
…And many many more…
This years prizes covered everything from the side-effects of sword swallowing to the ultimate evidence (yes finally!) that rats are unable to tell the difference between a person speaking Japanese backwards and somebody speaking Dutch backwards. This years winners are:
Medicine – Brain Witcombe, of Gloucestershire Royal NHS Foundation Trust, UK, and Dan Meyer for their probing work on the health consequences of swallowing a sword.
Physics – A US-Chile team who ironed out the problem of how sheets become wrinkled.
Biology – Dr Johanna van Bronswijk of the Netherlands for carrying out a creepy crawly census of all of the mites, insects, spiders, ferns and fungi that share our beds.
Chemistry – Mayu Yamamoto, from Japan, for developing a method to extract vanilla fragrance and flavouring from cow dung.
Linguistics – A University of Barcelona team for showing that rats are unable to tell the difference between a person speaking Japanese backwards and somebody speaking Dutch backwards.
Literature – Glenda Browne of Blue Mountains, Australia, for her study of the word “the”, and how it can flummox those trying to put things into alphabetical order.
Peace – The US Air Force Wright Laboratory for instigating research and development on a chemical weapon that would provoke widespread homosexual behaviour among enemy troops.
Nutrition – Brian Wansink of Cornell University for investigating the limits of human appetite by feeding volunteers a self-refilling, “bottomless” bowl of soup.
Economics – Kuo Cheng Hsieh of Taiwan for patenting a device that can catch bank robbers by dropping a net over them.
Aviation – A National University of Quilmes, Argentina, team for discovering that impotency drugs can help hamsters to recover from jet lag.