Forget your Emmies, your Tonies, your Grammies. Your Hammies, your Spammies, your Phishies, your Phonies – the best awards of all are the Ig Nobel Prizes!
The Ig Nobel prizes started out as a way to make fun of useless scientific research (“which cannot, or should not be, reproduced”) but over time the organisers have realised that some of that work – apart from showing the unpredictability of the human brain and the many ways there are to look at the world – is interesting and at times even useful. The new formula is “Research which makes people laugh and then think. The prizes are intended to celebrate the unusual, honor the imaginative — and spur people’s interest in science, medicine, and technology.”
Here are some of my favourite Ig Nobel awards
1993 Literature: T. Morrison, E. Topol, R. Califf, F. Van de Werf, P. W. Armstrong, and their 972 co-authors, for publishing a medical research paper with nearly ninety-eight times more authors than pages.
2001 Astrophysics: Jack Van Impe and Rexella Van Impe of Jack Van Impe Ministries in Rochester Hills, Michigan, for their finding that black holes meet the technical requirements of the location of Hell.
2005 Economics: Gauri Nanda of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, for inventing an alarm clock that runs away and hides, repeatedly, thus ensuring that people DO get out of bed, and thus theoretically adding many productive hours to the workday.
2005 Literature: “Presented to the Internet entrepreneurs of Nigeria, for creating and then using e-mail to distribute a bold series of short stories, thus introducing millions of readers to a cast of rich characters—General Sani Abacha, Mrs. Mariam Sanni Abacha, Barrister Jon A Mbeki Esq., and others—each of whom requires just a small amount of expense money so as to obtain access to the great wealth to which they are entitled and which they would like to share with the kind person who assists them.”
(This, in my opinion, is the best citation for an award ever written)
2006 Biology: Bart Knols of Wageningen Agricultural University in Wageningen, the Netherlands, of the Ifakara Health Institute in Tanzania, and of the International Atomic Energy Agency in Vienna, Austria; and Ruurd de Jong of Wageningen Agricultural University and of Santa Maria degli Angeli, Italy, for finding that the female malaria mosquito, Anopheles gambiae, is equally attracted to the smells of limburger cheese and human feet.
(Apparently, mosquito traps using Limburger cheese have been put into use in Africa.)
2007 Linguistics: Juan Manuel Toro, Josep B. Trobalon and Nuria Sebastian-Galles, for determining that rats sometimes can’t distinguish between recordings of Japanese and Dutch played backward.
2009 Archaeology: Astolfo Gomes de Mello Araujo and Jose Carlos Marcelino,or measuring how the course of history, or at least the contents of an archaeological dig site, can be scrambled by the actions of a live armadillo.
2009 Veterinary Medicine: Catherine Douglas and Peter Rowlinson of Newcastle University, for showing that cows who have names give more milk than cows that are nameless.
2009 Economics: Geoffrey Miller, Joshua Tyber, and Brent Jordan,or discovering that professional lap dancers earn higher tips when they are ovulating
2009 Literature: Ireland’s police service (An Garda Siochana), for writing and presenting more than fifty traffic tickets to the most frequent driving offender in the country — Prawo Jazdy —
( “Prawo Jazdy” means “Driving License” in Polish) .
2010 Management: Alessandro Pluchino, Andrea Rapisarda, and Cesare Garofalo of the University of Catania, Italy, for demonstrating mathematically that organizations would become more efficient if they promoted people at random.
(How this hasn’t brought about a revolution in the way we manage organisations I fail to understand.)
2010 Peace: Richard Stephens, John Atkins, and Andrew Kingston of Keele University, UK, for scientifically validating belief that swearing relieves pain
2010 Physics: Lianne Parkin, Sheila Williams, and Patricia Priest of the University of Otago, New Zealand, for demonstrating that people slip and fall less often, on icy footpaths, if they wear socks on the outside of their shoes
2010 Transportation Planning: Toshiyuki Nakagaki, Atsushi Tero, Seiji Takagi, Tetsu Saigusa, Kentaro Ito, Kenji Yumiki, and Ryo Kobayashi of Japan, and Dan Bebber and Mark Fricker of the UK, for using slime mold to determine optimal routes for railroad tracks
2012 Psychology: Anita Eerland, Rolf Zwaan, and Tulio Guadalupe for their study entitled “Leaning to the Left Makes the Eiffel Tower Seem Smaller”
2012 Neuroscience: Craig Bennett, Abigail Baird, Michael Miller, and George Wolford, for demonstrating that brain researchers, by using complicated instruments and simple statistics, can see meaningful brain activity anywhere — even in a dead salmon.
2013 Biology/Astronomy: Marie Dacke, Emily Baird, Marcus Byrne, Clarke Scholtz, and Eric Warrant, for discovering that when dung beetles are lost, they can navigate their way home by looking at the Milky Way.
2013 Psychology: Laurent Bègue, Brad Bushman, Oulmann Zerhouni, Baptiste Subra, and Medhi Ourabah, for experimentally concluding that people who think they are drunk also think that they are attractive.