Scientists Come Out To Play at Ig Nobels

Philip Zeyliger

Editor of the Annals of Improbable Research MARC ABRAHAMS emcees last night’s Ig Nobel Prize ceremony in Sanders Theater.

More than 1,000 spectators, dressed in everything from lab coats to garden hoses, crowded into Sanders Theater last night to honor four researchers who studied ostriches’ courtship behavior toward humans.

In the company of three Nobel laureates, they also lauded a man who invented a washing machine for dogs and cats and another who authored the scholarly report “Scrotal Asymmetry in Man and in Ancient Sculpture.” As paper airplanes deluged the stage, a silver-painted man wearing only glasses and his underwear wandered around holding a flashlight over his head.

One might expect to have such a nightmare during a dark Stockholm winter. Yet yesterday’s spectacle was the continuation of a cherished Cambridge tradition.

The 12th annual Ig Nobel Prize awards ceremony honored those whose dubious achievements “could not or should not be reproduced” in a chaotic blend of great minds, modest irreverence and outrageousness.

“Every winner has done something that first makes people laugh, and then makes them think,” said Annals of Improbable Research editor and master of ceremonies Marc Abrahams.

Each year, the Ig Nobel Board of Governors––composed of actual Nobel scientific laureates, science professionals, public figures and athletes––chooses the recipients of 10 Ig Nobel Awards, each in a different field. The board randomly selects someone from the street to help with the final decision.

Last night’s award recipients represented four continents.

British researcher D. Charles Deeming, who co-authored a paper on ostriches’ amorous advances toward humans “under farming conditions,” accepted the Ig Nobel in Biology on behalf of his colleagues.

“It’s too long that science has held its collective head in the sand over this important issue,” he said.

Arnd Leike of the University of Munich garnered the Ig Nobel in Physics by showing that beer froth diminishes according to the mathematical Law of Exponential Decay.

“I had much fun in taking data and writing the paper,” he told the audience.

The Chemistry prize went to Theo Gray, a commercial scientist who built three-inch-thick, solid-wood table in the shape of the Periodic Table of the Elements.

This year’s Ig Nobel Peace Prize went to Keita Sato, Matsumi Suzuki and Norio Kogure, who jointly designed and marketed a dog-to-human translation device.

Viki L. Silvers and David S. Kreiner studied “The Effects of Pre-existing Inappropriate Highlighting on Reading Comprehension” and concluded that the effect was indeed negative. They won an Ig Nobel in Literature.

Judges awarded the Economics prize to all the corporations, such as Enron and WorldCom, that “adapted the mathematical concept of imaginary numbers for use in the business world.”

Nobel laureates Richard J. Roberts, William N. Lipscomb, who is Lawrence professor of chemistry, emeritus, and Dudley R. Herschbach, who is Baird professor science, presided over the ceremony.