Unnatural selections

It’s October, which means its time for the Ig Nobel prizes!   If you haven’t heard of ’em, they’re annual awards presented jointly by the Annals of Improbably Research, the Harvard-Radcliffe Society of Physics Students, the Harvard-Radcliffe Science Fiction Association, and the Harvard Computer Society to honor the top 10 achievements of the year that “first make people laugh, and then make people think.”   This year the awards were handed out on October 1, and in the spirit of scientific dissemination, let’s take a look at the winners.

The Ig Nobel Prize for Veterinary Medicine went to a pair of British scientists for showing that cows involved in caring platonic relationships with farmers produce more milk than aloof cows.   Research on the effects of milk production from cows in carnal relationships with farmers is still pending from a team of Appalachian researchers.   [Reference]

The Ig Nobel Prize for Chemistry went to a trio of Mexican scientists, who pioneered a process to make diamonds from liquid, and more specifically, from tequila.   Tah-kee-lah indeed!   [Reference]

Speaking of booze, the Ig Nobel Prize for Peace went to a quartet of Swiss scientists who determined by experiment whether it is more effective to wallop somebody on the head with a full bottle of beer versus an empty one.   I find such research utterly pointless, as the answer is clear: the effectiveness is directly proportional to the amount of beer in the bottle but inversely proportional to the quality of the beer.   For example, it’s better to thwack someone with a full bottle of Coors or Budweiser, on the premise that (a) if the bottle doesn’t break, its a heavier object with which to inflict more blunt-force trauma and (b) if the bottle does break, you’ve done the world a karmic favor by effectively disposing of fizzy yellow wuss beer.   [Reference]

The Ig Nobel Prize for Economics went to the directors, executives, and auditors of four major Icelandic banks for demonstrating that several well-off tiny banks can be rapidly fused into one big bankrupt bank and then just as rapidly reduced to several bankrupt little banks, and then applying the exact same principles to the Icelandic national economy.   Apparently the Icelandic bank directors just edged out their American bank director counterparts and their work on transforming the US economy via the introduction of imaginary numbers in bookkeeping.

Speaking of silly numbers and national economies, the Ig Nobel Prize for Mathematics went to the governor of Zimbabwe’s Reserve Bank, who (however inadvertently) promoted understanding of the decimal number system (and the relative orders of magnitude of numbers so encoded) in that country by having the reserve print out paper money in denominations of , but not limited to, 0.01, 0.1, 1, 10, 100, 1000, 10 000, 100 000, … up to 100 000 000 000 000 (that is, one-hundred trillion) Zimbabwe dollars.   As a related word problem to the reader, below shows a picture of a $100 000 000 000 bill (that is, one-hundred billion dollars) and the number of eggs it has the cash power to purchase:

Determine the cost of a single egg, and the total number of ways one could pay for this using Zimbabwean currency.

Speaking of governments, the Ig Nobel Prize for Literature went to Ireland’s police service for writing 50 traffic tickets to a Polish man named Prawo Jazdy, who is not only the most frequent driving offender in the whole of Ireland, but also has a name that translates to “Driving License.”

The Ig Nobel Prize for Medicine went to California M.D. Donald Unger, who tested the hypothesis that cracking one’s knuckles leads to arthritis by diligently cracking the knuckles of his left hand — but never his right hand — twice a day for more than eighteen-thousand consecutive days (that is, every day for 50 years).   His findings: no, it does not.   I admire not just the good doctor’s moxie, but also the conclusions he draws from his findings:

This result calls into question whether other parental beliefs, e.g., the importance of eating spinach, are also flawed.   Further investigation is likely warranted.

Suck on that, Brussel sprouts! [Reference]

The Ig Nobel Prize for Physics went to a trio of American scientists who determined with analytic precision exactly why it is that pregnant women, what with their heaving bosoms and spherical bellies, don’t simply tip over.   I hear lab space was generously provided by Playskool, which might explain the opening line of their abstract as reading “Preggies wobble but they don’t fall down.” [Reference]

Speaking of boobs, the Ig Nobel Prize for Public Health went to a pair of Chicago gals for inventing and patenting a bra that, in the event of an emergency, converts into a handy (or more physically accurately, mammary) pair of gas masks.   A quick check over at the patent office shows that in addition to their bra/gas-mask patent (7255627), the gals also have patents for bra with resizable cups (4449533), a bra with detachable cups (4911677), a bra with removable cups (4416284), a bra with a single cup (4185332), and a wearable computer with CPUs in the breast pockets (6507486).   Either somebody never got out of Freud’s oral stage, or someone just likes to include figures of nekkid ladies in their patent applications:

However, my favorite must be the following:

The Ig Nobel Prize for Biology went to a gaggle of Japanese scientists for demonstrating that kitchen waste can be reduced by more than 90% in mass if first sufficiently coated in panda shit.   [Reference]


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