Give brains the reins

BILL BROWNSTEIN, The Gazette Published: Thursday, February 09, 2006

Sure, it’s always swell touching base with the Boss and Bono, Mariah and Madonna.

But Houston - that would be Whitney - we have a problem. There are only so many celebs to go around and there are just too many TV awards - and Super Bowl halftime - shows. And only so often that we can pluck Mick and Keef and McCartney from mothballs and prop them up on stage for the dining and dancing pleasure of the soon-to-be-senior toe-tapping set.

We have another problem: There is a fear among TV execs - not unjustified - that the public has had it with watching pampered celebs preening on camera, be it on the Golden Globe awards or Skating with Celebrities. Although all those sycophantic TV entertainment shows would have us believe that Britney Spears and Paris Hilton are goddesses worthy of our worship, the public knows better. And if it didn’t before, it knows so now after seeing photos of dim-bulb Britney driving her SUV with one hand on her infant son in her lap and the other on the wheel. (She claims it was those "physically aggressive paparazzi" who made her do it - despite the fact she reportedly had her bodyguard sitting next to her.)

No, the time has come for TV execs to make a break from bozo stars and to showcase the brainiacs of the planet. However, they’ll have to do it gently, for having a Grizzly Adams clone recite his PhD on quantum physics could induce slumber for a mainstream TV audience whose only exposure to science comes from a CSI team measuring the distance of projectile vomit. So, may I humbly suggest that TV execs consider the Ig Nobel prizes for wide broadcast. I’m not the only one. Consider this ringing endorsement from Nature magazine: "The Ig Nobel awards are arguably the highlight of the scientific calendar."

Scoff not, cynics, for the winners of Ig Nobel prizes have all done things that "make people laugh, then make them think," according to organizers. Among those honoured at the 2005 gala - which took place, appropriately, at Harvard University - was one James Watson from New Zealand. Watson, on hand for the event, won the agricultural history Ig Nobel for his evidently rather scholarly study The Significance of Mr. Richard Buckley’s Exploding Trousers, which apparently has to do with dairy farming in New Zealand between the World Wars.

Gauri Nanda of MIT copped the Ig Nobel for economics, "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."

In chemistry, top honours went to Edward Cussler and Brian Gettelfinger for "conducting a careful experiment to settle the long-standing scientific question: Can people swim faster in syrup or in water?" (People, I’m not making this stuff up.)

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Kudos to German Victor Benno Meyer-Rochow and Hungarian Jozsef Gal for taking the Ig Nobel for fluid dynamics. The duo used basic physics to calculate the pressure that builds up inside a penguin, as outlined in their report, Pressures Produced When Penguins Pooh - Calculations on Avian Defaecation. Missouri’s Gregg A. Miller won the medicine Ig Nobel for his invention Neuticles - artificial replacement testicles for dogs, "available in three sizes, and three degrees of firmness." Read more about it in Miller’s opus Going Going NUTS!

There’s even an Ig Nobel Peace Prize. Winners were England’s Claire Rind and Peter Simmons for monitoring the activity of a brain cell in a locust while said locust was screening selected highlights from Star Wars. But pity that poor locust if it was forced to sit through Episode III - Revenge of the Sith.

[email protected] © The Gazette (Montreal) 2006

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