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Ig Nobel 2011
September 30, 2011 7:40 AM   Subscribe

The 21st Annual Ig Nobel prizes were announced last night.

The theme of the night was "Chemistry", with a promo video showcasing the power of lasers.

The ceremony included the debut of a mini-opera, "Chemist in a Coffee Shop", a rendition of Tim Lehrer's "The Elements", and much, much more.

Award Winners:

PHYSIOLOGY PRIZE
: Anna Wilkinson (of the UK), Natalie Sebanz (of NETHERLANDS, HUNGARY, and AUSTRIA), Isabella Mandl (of AUSTRIA) and Ludwig Huber (of AUSTRIA) for their study 'No Evidence of Contagious Yawning in the Red-Footed Tortoise."
REFERENCE: 'No Evidence Of Contagious Yawning in the Red-Footed Tortoise Geochelone carbonaria," Anna Wilkinson, Natalie Sebanz, Isabella Mandl, Ludwig Huber, Current Zoology, vol. 57, no. 4, 2011. pp. 477-84.
ATTENDING THE CEREMONY: Ludwig Huber

CHEMISTRY PRIZE
: Makoto Imai, Naoki Urushihata, Hideki Tanemura, Yukinobu Tajima, Hideaki Goto, Koichiro Mizoguchi and Junichi Murakami of JAPAN, for determining the ideal density of airborne wasabi (pungent horseradish) to awaken sleeping people in case of a fire or other emergency, and for applying this knowledge to invent the wasabi alarm.
REFERENCE: US patent application 2010/0308995 A1. Filing date: Feb 5, 2009.
ATTENDING THE CEREMONY: Makoto Imai, Hideki Tanemura, Yukinobu Tajima, Hideaki Goto, Koichiro Mizoguchi and Junichi Murakami

MEDICINE PRIZE: Mirjam Tuk (of THE NETHERLANDS and the UK), Debra Trampe (of THE NETHERLANDS) and Luk Warlop (of BELGIUM). and jointly to Matthew Lewis, Peter Snyder and Robert Feldman (of the USA), Robert Pietrzak, David Darby, and Paul Maruff (of AUSTRALIA) for demonstrating that people make better decisions about some kinds of things — but worse decisions about other kinds of things‚ when they have a strong urge to urinate.
REFERENCE: "Inhibitory spillover: Increased Urination Urgency Facilitates Impulse Control in Unrelated Domains," Mirjam A. Tuk, Debra Trampe and Luk Warlop, Psychological Science, vol. 22, no. 5, May 2011, pp. 627-633.
REFERENCE: "The Effect of Acute Increase in Urge to Void on Cognitive Function in Healthy Adults," Matthew S. Lewis, Peter J. Snyder, Robert H. Pietrzak, David Darby, Robert A. Feldman, Paul T. Maruff, Neurology and Urodynamics, vol. 30, no. 1, January 2011, pp. 183-7.
ATTENDING THE CEREMONY: Mirjam Tuk, Luk Warlop, Peter Snyder, Robert Feldman, David Darby

PSYCHOLOGY PRIZE: Karl Halvor Teigen of the University of Oslo, NORWAY, for trying to understand why, in everyday life, people sigh.
REFERENCE: "Is a Sigh 'Just a Sigh'? Sighs as Emotional Signals and Responses to a Difficult Task," Karl Halvor Teigen, Scandinavian Journal of Psychology, vol. 49, no. 1, 2008, pp. 49–57.
ATTENDING THE CEREMONY: Karl Halvor Teigen

LITERATURE PRIZE: John Perry of Stanford University, USA, for his Theory of Structured Procrastination, which says: To be a high achiever, always work on something important, using it as a way to avoid doing something that's even more important.
REFERENCE: "How to Procrastinate and Still Get Things Done," John Perry, Chronicle of Higher Education, February 23, 1996. Later republished elsewhere under the title "Structured Procrastination." < http://www-csli.stanford.edu/~jperry>
ATTENDING THE CEREMONY: Colleague Deborah Wilkes accepted the prize on behalf of Professor Perry.

BIOLOGY PRIZE: Darryl Gwynne (of CANADA and AUSTRALIA and the USA) and David Rentz (of AUSTRALIA and the USA) for discovering that a certain kind of beetle mates with a certain kind of Australian beer bottle
REFERENCE: "Beetles on the Bottle: Male Buprestids Mistake Stubbies for Females (Coleoptera)," D.T. Gwynne, and D.C.F. Rentz, Journal of the Australian Entomological Society, vol. 22, 1983, pp. 79-80
REFERENCE: "Beetles on the Bottle," D.T. Gwynne and D.C.F. Rentz, Antenna: Proceedings (A) of the Royal Entomological Society London, vol. 8, no. 3, 1984, pp. 116-7.
ATTENDING THE CEREMONY: Darryl Gwynne and David Rentz

PHYSICS PRIZE: Philippe Perrin, Cyril Perrot, Dominique Deviterne and Bruno Ragaru (of FRANCE), and Herman Kingma (of THE NETHERLANDS), for determining why discus throwers become dizzy, and why hammer throwers don't.
REFERENCE: "Dizziness in Discus Throwers is Related to Motion Sickness Generated While Spinning," Philippe Perrin, Cyril Perrot, Dominique Deviterne, Bruno Ragaru and Herman Kingma, Acta Oto-laryngologica, vol. 120, no. 3, March 2000, pp. 390–5.
ATTENDING THE CEREMONY: The winners accepted via recorded video.

MATHEMATICS PRIZE:
Dorothy Martin of the USA (who predicted the world would end in 1954), Pat Robertson of the USA (who predicted the world would end in 1982), Elizabeth Clare Prophet of the USA (who predicted the world would end in 1990), Lee Jang Rim of KOREA (who predicted the world would end in 1992), Credonia Mwerinde of UGANDA (who predicted the world would end in 1999), and Harold Camping of the USA (who predicted the world would end on September 6, 1994 and later predicted that the world will end on October 21, 2011), for teaching the world to be careful when making mathematical assumptions and calculations.

PEACE PRIZE: Arturas Zuokas, the mayor of Vilnius, LITHUANIA, for demonstrating that the problem of illegally parked luxury cars can be solved by running them over with an armored tank.
REFERENCE: VIDEO and OFFICIAL CITY INFO
ATTENDING THE CEREMONY: Arturas Zuokas

PUBLIC SAFETY PRIZE: John Senders of the University of Toronto, CANADA, for conducting a series of safety experiments in which a person drives an automobile on a major highway while a visor repeatedly flaps down over his face, blinding him.
REFERENCE: "The Attentional Demand of Automobile Driving," John W. Senders, et al., Highway Research Record, vol. 195, 1967, pp. 15-33. VIDEO
ATTENDING THE CEREMONY: John Senders
posted by Orange Pamplemousse (45 comments total) 25 users marked this as a favorite

 
To be a high achiever, always work on something important, using it as a way to avoid doing something that's even more important.

Earlier work (scroll past the video)
posted by DU at 7:49 AM on September 30, 2011 [1 favorite]


The mathematics prize seems like a bit of a cop out.
posted by Think_Long at 7:58 AM on September 30, 2011 [2 favorites]


Harold Camping of the USA (who predicted the world would end on September 6, 1994 and later predicted that the world will end on October 21, 2011), for teaching the world to be careful when making mathematical assumptions and calculations.

You know for all of Harold Camping's problems, I never really thought that bad math was a major one.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 8:03 AM on September 30, 2011 [1 favorite]


Wasabi alarm sounds brilliant
posted by villanelles at dawn at 8:03 AM on September 30, 2011 [2 favorites]


The Peace Prize guy who RAN OVER expensive cars with his TANK? Awesome. I have no idea how that contributes to peace, but it's fantastic.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 8:04 AM on September 30, 2011 [1 favorite]


You know for all of Harold Camping's problems, I never really thought that bad math was a major one.

Actually, as explained here on MeFi by Copronymus, Camping failed to take into account the transition from the Julian to the Gregorian calendar, making his calculations off by 11 days.
posted by jedicus at 8:08 AM on September 30, 2011 [1 favorite]


It's pretty easy to snark at many of these. But things like the study about the acute need to void affecting cognitive function, while pretty obvious common sense perspective, are need to provide empirical data for various larger scale initiatives.
posted by Horselover Phattie at 8:09 AM on September 30, 2011 [1 favorite]


Ha, ha!! Humor that depends on a fundamental lack of comprehension of how science makes advances! I am slappin' my knee. (Aside from the Mathematics and Peace Prizes, which didn't award an actual scientific paper, but just generally mocked someone.)
posted by aught at 8:10 AM on September 30, 2011 [3 favorites]


(Oops, I should get an Ig Nobel for allowing autocorrect to murder my words.)
posted by Horselover Phattie at 8:17 AM on September 30, 2011


aught: "Ha, ha!! Humor that depends on a fundamental lack of comprehension of how science makes advances! I am slappin' my knee. (Aside from the Mathematics and Peace Prizes, which didn't award an actual scientific paper, but just generally mocked someone."

To be fair, the prizes are aimed at research that "makes people laugh, and then makes them think."
posted by charred husk at 8:17 AM on September 30, 2011 [2 favorites]


Actually, as explained here on MeFi by Copronymus, Camping failed to take into account the transition from the Julian to the Gregorian calendar, making his calculations off by 11 days.

Shit, I forgot that Camping also did that (the guy Copronymus was talking about was not Camping affiliated (I don't think). The reason I know this also makes the fact that I forgot about Copronymus's point doubly embarrassing; namely that Copronymus lives in my house.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 8:19 AM on September 30, 2011


I mean, some of the researchers came and accepted the awards, so clearly they're in on the joke. The baby steps towards understanding are sometimes pretty goofy-sounding by themselves and it's okay to laugh about it, I think.
posted by dismas at 8:20 AM on September 30, 2011 [2 favorites]


Some Ig Nobels mock, but most of them are intended in good fun.
posted by kmz at 8:21 AM on September 30, 2011 [2 favorites]


I'd believed the purpose of these awards was mockery and belittling of research that was deemed worthless, so I was very surprised to see the number of award winners who were in attendance. It seems the point of the Ig Nobels has migrated to a more subtle satire?

When I see lists like this, I tend to cringe at the prospect of anti-science political factions using them as fodder in arguments over public support for research. Studies that seem purposeless to the layperson can supply important information that informs further "important" research in a field.
posted by itstheclamsname at 8:21 AM on September 30, 2011


Great post, but that would definitely be Tom Lehrer.
posted by Mental Wimp at 8:24 AM on September 30, 2011


The point of the Ig Nobels has never been satire. It's to acknowledge real science that sounds funny. Like the "why we sigh" one. Why do we sigh? We don't know why we yawn, or why yawns are contagious, but many people have asked that question. I've never heard anyone ask why we sigh. It's a good question and that paper attempts to start addressing it. The Ig Nobels acknowledge that. But it's still funny.
posted by DU at 8:25 AM on September 30, 2011 [6 favorites]


I'd believed the purpose of these awards was mockery and belittling of research that was deemed worthless, so I was very surprised to see the number of award winners who were in attendance. It seems the point of the Ig Nobels has migrated to a more subtle satire?

Yeah. I'd only known of Ig Nobels for the past few years and I was surprised to find that the awards initially focused on mockery.

...

One of the fun things about the ceremony is that many of the awards are handed out by actual, non-Ig, Nobelists.
posted by Anything at 8:25 AM on September 30, 2011


The point of the Ig Nobels has never been satire. It's to acknowledge real science that sounds funny.

Were we a society dedicated to scientific pursuits popularly supported, I would feel a little more like everyone was in on the joke. As is, I wonder if this kind of thing is what people think of when they reply to some important finding with "But you know scientists are really just after those grant dollars."
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 8:42 AM on September 30, 2011


Don't forget Andre Geim, who has both a Nobel and an Ig Nobel.
posted by kmz at 8:42 AM on September 30, 2011 [3 favorites]


ahem, steel is iron and carbon. rust is iron and oxygen.
posted by 517 at 8:46 AM on September 30, 2011


Mental Wimp, the rendition of the elements is in the main link, but I couldn't find a clip from the ceremonies (not that I tried real hard, time constraints and all).

You can see the rendition at 30:20 on the main link. The program says its by Rich Roberts and Thomas Michel.
posted by Orange Pamplemousse at 8:52 AM on September 30, 2011


I think Mental Wimp's main point is that it's Tom Lehrer. Not Tim.
posted by kmz at 8:55 AM on September 30, 2011


Well, in that case I have no excuse.
posted by Orange Pamplemousse at 9:05 AM on September 30, 2011


I love that the procrastination guy couldn't attend the ceremony. He's probably still thinking about making reservations, but hasn't gotten around to it yet.
posted by Curious Artificer at 9:25 AM on September 30, 2011 [1 favorite]


The one on procrastination actually seems very valuable. I might have to try that out.
posted by solarion at 9:26 AM on September 30, 2011


Tuk, Debra Trampe and Luk Warlop, Psychological Science, vol. 22, no. 5, May 2011, pp. 627-633.
REFERENCE: "The Effect of Acute Increase in Urge to Void on Cognitive Function in Healthy Adults," Matthew S. Lewis, Peter J. Snyder, Robert H. Pietrzak, David Darby, Robert A. Feldman, Paul T. Maruff, Neurology and Urodynamics, vol. 30, no. 1, January 2011, pp. 183-7.


this was actually reported on the news this morning as "legitmate" scientific research...
posted by Gungho at 9:33 AM on September 30, 2011


One of the things I love about the Ig Nobels is trying to think of a real-life, good use for the ideas in them & it is usually not hard to do so.
posted by pointystick at 10:01 AM on September 30, 2011


Consider that "ignoble" doesn't mean unnecessary. Like "Dirty Jobs" for science.
But, yeah, I originally didn't know about the true point of the awards until MetaFilter. Sadly the point will be missed by many and only be read as, "measuring cow farts lol".
posted by charred husk at 10:13 AM on September 30, 2011


> this was actually reported on the news this morning as "legitmate" scientific research...

Well, it's pretty blindingly obvious that when you have to take a giant dump everything else kind of loses precedence. But, to have hard data on precisely how that might affect human concentration is good to have when justifying costs for bathroom placement or work scheduling. Institutional planning can be pretty merciless and calculating, and if there is data to suggest efficiency then "silly" research like that can be very useful and humanizing.
posted by Horselover Phattie at 10:15 AM on September 30, 2011


I have started to wonder about the effect of the Ig Nobel awards outside the reality-based community. I recently saw a link on reddit to an alleged Nobel winning scientist's new book. I clicked the link and it was Time Cube level crap. This guy obviously was not a Nobel Laureate. So I googled and instantly it comes up, he's an Ig Nobel winner.

I am sure the intent of the Ig Nobel committee was not to confuse the public but that is being done, to some extent, amongst the most easily confused segment of the public.
posted by charlie don't surf at 10:18 AM on September 30, 2011


For some reason, I thought the Ig Nobels were like the Razzies of science, given out to bad or disingenuous research. This is nicer, if just silly.
posted by Navelgazer at 10:35 AM on September 30, 2011


As somebody whose (unconscious, and usually not sad or depressed) sighing has been commented on by multiple people, I LOVE that somebody's studying it.

And I'd pay good money for a wasabi alarm for my husband. He probably would too--he'd find it more pleasant than a buzzer.
posted by dlugoczaj at 11:00 AM on September 30, 2011


trying to understand why, in everyday life, people sigh

Because other people fucking annoy them.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 11:13 AM on September 30, 2011 [1 favorite]


a series of safety experiments in which a person drives an automobile on a major highway while a visor repeatedly flaps down over his face, blinding him.

I wouldn't have thought this was ever something of value except that I've now got the experience of having sat with a team of students working on a project for a new user interface to control automobile entertainment/gps/whatnot systems - you needed to know just how much the driver relied on muscle memory and how much attention was required.

Thank you for this post. I'd always assumed igNobel was satire or poking fun at the waste of money
posted by infini at 11:30 AM on September 30, 2011


Great post, but that would definitely be Tom Lehrer.

I only bring it up, because Tom Lehrer is fucking great!
posted by Mental Wimp at 2:43 PM on September 30, 2011


Hi there, I work with Improbable Research, and I've been part of the Igs for a dozen years now.

(Also, longtime MeFi reader, first-time commenter.)

The frequency with which people (well, YouTube commenters at least) seem to confuse the Ig Nobels and the Nobels is truly astonishing. I often see comments or get E-mails to the effect of "[Laureate who I dislike] have completely destroyed any respect I had for the Nobels" (It used to be Al Gore, and has since migrated to Pres. Obama).

As far as whether or not we're making fun of the winners, generally not. The criteria are "achievements that first make you laugh, and then make you think". Why people laugh and what they think are not anything we particularly have control over. Certainly there's usually one awarded each year (this year's Math prize, last year's Chemistry prize about BP "disproving that oil and water don't mix", the homeopathy prizes that went to Jacques Benveniste, etc.) that is... let's say a bit more pointed than usual. But in general, all we aim for are things that make us laugh and then spark discussion. And we almost universally reach out to potential winners well before the ceremony and give them the opportunity to decline the prize, if they feel it would somehow harm their career or whatnot.

Any other questions about the Igs or whatnot, ask away. :)
posted by LeDiva at 4:38 PM on October 3, 2011 [21 favorites]


Hi LeDiva. Given that the Ig Nobel are misconstrued in popular media (and right wing demagogues especially) as a mockery of wasteful research, are you doing anything to clarify your intents?
posted by Horselover Phattie at 5:03 PM on October 3, 2011


Taken to MeTa. Welcome, LeDiva!
posted by MonkeyToes at 6:15 PM on October 3, 2011


I'd missed the BP award last yea, so a belated Bravo! Welcome, LeDiva.
posted by arcticseal at 6:59 PM on October 3, 2011


LeDiva - do you have any particular favorites from years past?
posted by Think_Long at 7:21 PM on October 3, 2011


BTW, LeDiva, my comments were not meant as a criticism of the Ig Nobels, but a criticism of stupid charlatans who would try to give authority to their lunatic ideas, by conflating an Ig Nobel with a Nobel.

I wish I could remember who the guy was that I found on the website that falsely claimed to be a Nobel Laureate. I don't remember what he won the Ig for, but IIRC his regular line of "research" seemed to be primarily about stuff like the Nazca Lines and how they prove aliens visited earth.
posted by charlie don't surf at 7:25 PM on October 3, 2011


I have said, and say again, a career goal for me as a Historian is to win one of these. Preferably the first awarded for the discipline.
posted by strixus at 8:27 PM on October 3, 2011


I'm pleased to see Perry's Structured Procrastination being rewarded - a major contribution.
posted by LobsterMitten at 11:41 PM on October 3, 2011


That procrastination one was pretty much exactly how I wrote my thesis. "Can't be bothered working on the general intro? Go compile the stats appendix instead - it needs to be done so why not do it as procrastination". Works very very well, and I've been giving that advice to grad students ever since.
posted by gaspode at 9:13 AM on October 4, 2011


Horselover Phattie: One of the main things we're doing is continuing the awards. I can't tell you how many Ig winners were dubious about the entire thing, but immediately after the ceremony were positively giddy about how much fun they'd had, how they want to come back next year, etc. I also like to think that the presence of Nobel Laureates (albeit Nobel Laureates doing silly things) helps lend us some second-hand respect.

Think_Long: Oh, geez. Kees Moeliker's first documented case of homosexual necrophilia in the mallard duck (Biology 2003) pops immediately to mind. Coca-Coca is/isn't an effective spermicide (2008 Chemistry) is, to my mind, a fabulous example of how experimental design can influence results. Any of the ones that have made it on to MythBusters (swimming in syrup, swearing increases pain tolerance, the New Zealand exploding trousers), because, well... MythBusters. I suppose the emergency bra (Public Health 2009) just because it indirectly meant I got to help put half a bra over Neil Gaiman's face at the 2010 ceremony(which has been retroactively added to my bucket list).

charlie don't surf: No criticism taken. I have to say, it's personally annoying to me, too.

strixus: Best of luck. I'll note that something like 90% of Ig Nobel nominations we receive are self-nominations, and they very rarely win.
posted by LeDiva at 11:31 AM on October 4, 2011


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