Saturday, November 18, 2006

ig nobel prizes

Every year since 1991, the Annals of Improbable Research recruits actual Nobel laureates to present ten Ig Nobel Prizes for "achievements that cannot or should not be reproduced." They often focus on accidental or amusing discoveries. As Nature observed, "The Ig Nobel awards are arguably the highlight of the scientific calendar."

Past winners have included:

Medicine (1991): Alan Kligerman, deviser of digestive deliverance, vanquisher of vapor, and inventor of Beano, for his pioneering work with anti- gas liquids that prevent bloat, gassiness, discomfort and embarrassment.

Literature (1992): Yuri Struchkov, unstoppable author from the Institute of Organoelemental Compounds in Moscow, for the 948 scientific papers he published between the years 1981 and 1990, averaging more than one every 3.9 days.

Consumer Engineering (1993): Ron Popeil, incessant inventor and perpetual pitchman of late night television, for redefining the industrial revolution with such devices as the Veg-O-Matic, the Pocket Fisherman, Mr. Microphone, and the Inside-the-Shell Egg Scrambler.

Mathematics (1994): The Southern Baptist Church of Alabama, mathematical measurers of morality, for their county-by-county estimate of how many Alabama citizens will go to Hell if they don't repent.

Psychology (1995): Shigeru Watanabe, Junko Sakamoto, and Masumi Wakita, of Keio University, for their success in training pigeons to discriminate between the paintings of Picasso and those of Monet.

Physics (1996):
Robert Matthews of Aston University, England, for his studies of Murphy's Law, and especially for demonstrating that toast often falls on the buttered side.

Biology (1997): T. Yagyu and his colleagues from the University Hospital of Zurich, Switzerland, from Kansai Medical University in Osaka, Japan, and from Neuroscience Technology Research in Prague, Czech Republic,
for measuring people's brainwave patterns while they chewed different flavors of gum.

Statistics (1998): Jerald Bain of Mt. Sinai Hospital in Toronto and Kerry Siminoski of the University of Alberta for their carefully measured
report, "The Relationship Among Height, Penile Length, and Foot Size."

Peace (1999): Charl Fourie and Michelle Wong of Johannesburg, South Africa, for inventing an
automobile burglar alarm consisting of a detection circuit and a flamethrower.

Computer Science (2000): Chris Niswander of Tucson, Arizona, for inventing
PawSense, software that detects when a cat is walking across your computer keyboard.

Economics (2001): Joel Slemrod, of the University of Michigan Business School, and Wojciech Kopczuk, of Columbia University, for their
conclusion that people find a way to postpone their deaths if that that would qualify them for a lower rate on the inheritance tax.

Interdisciplinary Research (2002): Karl Kruszelnicki of The University of Sydney, for performing a
comprehensive survey of human belly button lint -- who gets it, when, what color, and how much.

Interdisciplinary Research (2003): Stefano Ghirlanda, Liselotte Jansson, and Magnus Enquist of Stockholm University, for their inevitable report
Chickens Prefer Beautiful Humans.

Biology (2004): Ben Wilson of the University of British Columbia, Lawrence Dill of Simon Fraser University , Robert Batty of the Scottish Association for Marine Science,
Magnus Whalberg of the University of Aarhus, and Hakan Westerberg of Sweden's National Board of Fisheries, for showing that
herrings apparently communicate by farting.

Chemistry (2005): Edward Cussler of the University of Minnesota and Brian Gettelfinger of the University of Minnesota and the University of Wisconsin, for conducting a
careful experiment to settle the longstanding scientific question: can people swim faster in syrup or in water?

And, now, for my favorite prize from this year’s awards:

Mathematics (2006): Nic Svenson and Piers Barnes of the Australian Commonwealth Scientific and Research Organization, for calculating the number of photographs you must take to (almost) ensure that nobody in a group photo will have their eyes closed

My thanks to an anonymous commenter on this post for alerting me to the 2006 Medicine Ig Nobel prize for curing hiccups, and the Ig Nobels in general.