Archive for 'Ig Nobel'

Ig Nobel day-after-Thanksgiving broadcast on Science Friday

Friday, November 27th, 2015

Spread the word, please! Today, Friday, November 27, the Science Friday radio program will broadcast its specially edited highlights from the 2015 Ig Nobel Prize ceremony. It’s SciFri’s 24th annual broadcast (SciFri began this day-after-Thanksgiving tradition in 1992, the Ig Nobel ceremony’s second year).

Listen to it on a public radio station, if you’re near one, or on the Internet. (Science Friday is broadcast as two separate, hour-long programs. The Ig Nobel broadcast comprises the entire SECOND HOUR of Science Friday. HOWEVER — Boston is going to be an exception; in Boston, WBUR (90.0 FM) broadcasts only one hour of the two-hour-long Science Friday program, and by special arrangement, today WBUR plans to broadcast the Ig Nobel ceremony special at 2:00 pm.)

This photo shows a moment at the ceremony: Justin Schmidt and Michael Smith, co-winners of the 2015 Ig Nobel Prize for physiology and entomology, finish their acceptance speech at the urging of eight-year-old Miss Sweetie Poo (who is assisted by many of the former Miss Sweetie Poos, who were on hand for a reunion at this, the 25th First Annual Ig Nobel Prize ceremony. Alexey Eliseev took the photo:


BONUS: Download your own copies of IgBill, the printed program for the 2014 ceremony, and the 2014 ceremony poster.

BONUS: From SciFri archives, here’s last year (2014)’s Ig Nobel broadcast.

BONUS: Subscribe to the magazine — the Annals of Improbable Research, and you will receive the special Ig Nobel issue, as well as five other improbable issues!

Ig Nobel Prize winner ponders and muses on how to win one

Monday, November 23rd, 2015

Len Fisher, who won an Ig Nobel physics prize in 1999, for calculating the optimal way to dunk a biscuit, wrote an essay about what wins people an Ig. That essay begins more or less:

…I suggested that the use of blue light to stimulate erections was a sure-fire candidate for an Ig Nobel Prize. But what is an Ig Nobel Prize? How does one go about winning one? And should one want to win one?

When they were initiated in 1991 as a parody of the real Nobel Prizes, the answer to the last question was “certainly not!” When Marc Abrahams from Harvard University created the prizes, part of his intention was to vilify pseudoscience and unscientific thinking, and the motto was “for research that cannot or should not be reproduced.”

But this was not the only intention, although many people interpreted it in that way. According to Marc: “That original phrase was the best short summary we managed to come up with at the beginning, but we were not entirely happy with it — because some people interpreted it ONLY [in that] the way … . Whenever I would TALK with someone, or had a more extensive email (or whatever) exchange, I’d explain that the “Cannot be reproduced” part included “cannot be the FIRST to LEGITIMATELY claim FIRSTNESS,” and thus the prizes could honor pretty much anything, good or bad.

But it took about seven frustrating years or so to come up with a reliably better phrase.


BONUS: Theo Gray, who was awarded the 2002 Ig Nobel chemistry prize, for inventing the four-legged periodic table table, later developed a set of periodic table flash cards. Those cards have drawn some attention.

Urination-duration Ig winner: physics of animals keeping clean

Tuesday, November 10th, 2015

David Hu, 2015 Ig Nobel physics prize winner (together with several colleagues, for testing the biological principle that nearly all mammals empty their bladders in about 21 seconds, plus or minus 13 seconds ) has a new paper out, written with colleague Guillermo Amador. Their institution, Georgia Tech, describes it:


Researchers have combed through more than two dozen studies and taken surface measurements of 27 mammals and insects to better understand how animals are able to clean themselves.

The findings could have implications for keeping structures built by humans—such as sensors, robots, and drones—free from pollutants, pollen, and dirt.

The research team focused on the many ways hair allows animals to both get dirty and remain dirt-free. The researchers found that a honeybee has the same number of hairs as a squirrel: 3 million. That’s nothing compared to butterflies and moths—each has nearly 10 billion hairs. The human head, as a comparison, has just 100,000….

Here is a four-minute-long video of a cat cleaning itself:

The study itself is “Cleanliness is next to godliness: mechanisms for staying clean,” published in the Journal of Experimental Biology (2015, 218, pp. 3164-3174).

Here’s a photo of David Hu (the photo was taken by Alexey Eliseev) at the 2015 Ig Nobel Prize ceremony, receiving his prize from Nobel laureate Dudley Herschbach:


MATHEMATICAL BONUS: How to integrate over the surface of a horse, by Ig Nobel Prize winner (with colleague Andre Geim, for using magnets to levitate a frog) Michael Berry.

horse calculus

Peaceful punching of politicians, by politicians

Tuesday, November 10th, 2015

In 1995, the Ig Nobel Peace Prize was awarded to the Taiwan National Parliament, for demonstrating that politicians gain more by punching, kicking and gouging each other than by waging war against other nations.

In the subsequent two decades, Taiwan has kept up its tradition. Here’s a 2009 Spike TV video highlights reel looking back at some of the best fighting moments from Taiwan’s legislators:

Many other nations have learned from Taiwan’s example. This week (in early November, 2015), Slate put together video clips of many subsequent performances by legislatures in many nations:

The Impossible Expertise of Self-Perceived Experts

Sunday, November 8th, 2015

David Dunning, who won an Ig Nobel Prize for his landmark study of incompetent people who believe themselves to be competent, has now done a study about people who believe themselves to be experts. The new study is:

DunningNew-150x150When Knowledge Knows No Bounds — Self-Perceived Expertise Predicts Claims of Impossible Knowledge,” Stav Atir, Emily Rosenzweig, David Dunning [pictured here], Psychological Science, vol. 26 no. 8, 2015, pp. 1295-1303. The study explains:

“People overestimate their knowledge, at times claiming knowledge of concepts, events, and people that do not exist and cannot be known, a phenomenon called overclaiming. What underlies assertions of such impossible knowledge? We found that people overclaim to the extent that they perceive their personal expertise favorably. Studies 1a and 1b showed that self-perceived financial knowledge positively predicts claiming knowledge of nonexistent financial concepts, independent of actual knowledge. Study 2 demonstrated that self-perceived knowledge within specific domains (e.g., biology) is associated specifically with overclaiming within those domains. In Study 3, warning participants that some of the concepts they saw were fictitious did not reduce the relationship between self-perceived knowledge and overclaiming, which suggests that this relationship is not driven by impression management. In Study 4, boosting self-perceived expertise in geography prompted assertions of familiarity with nonexistent places, which supports a causal role for self-perceived expertise in claiming impossible knowledge.”

The 2000 Ig Nobel Prize for psychology was awarded to David Dunning and Justin Kruger, for their modest report, “Unskilled and Unaware of It: How Difficulties in Recognizing One’s Own Incompetence Lead to Inflated Self-Assessments.” [The study was published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, vol. 77, no. 6, December 1999, pp. 1121-34.]

Since that time, the “Dunning-Kruger Effect” has gained wide recognition, and helped many persons cope with the supposedly competent people who surround them.

BONUS: John Cleese opines to great effect on Dunning and on Kruger