Archive for 'Ig Nobel'

Podcast 26: A look back at the 2014 Ig Nobel Prize winners (PART 1)

Tuesday, August 25th, 2015

Trod-upon banana peels; deities in toast; late night psychopaths; cat hazards; dog alignment; really, really, really heavy marijuana users; fat people’s shoes; spearmint tea and hairy women; and someone who swallowed a fork — all these all turn up in this week’s Improbable Research podcast.

Click on the “Venetian blinds” icon — at the lower right corner here — to select whichever week’s episode you want to hear:

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This week, Marc Abrahams tells about:

The mysterious John Schedler perhaps did the sound engineering this week.

The Improbable Research podcast is all about research that makes people LAUGH, then THINK — real research, about anything and everything, from everywhere —research that may be good or bad, important or trivial, valuable or worthless. CBS distributes it, both on the new CBS web site, and on iTunes and Spotify).

1997 Ig Nobel Prize winner Sanford Wallace keeps on spamming

Tuesday, August 25th, 2015

Sanford Wallace, who in 1997 was awarded an Ig Nobel Prize for his seminal role in manufacturing and distributing spam, has reportedly been convicted yet again on spam-related legal charges.

The Associated Press reports, on August 25, 2015:

Nevada man pleads guilty to sending spam to Facebook users

A Nevada man pleaded guilty Monday to sending more than 27 million spam messages to Facebook users, federal officials said.

U.S. Attorney Melinda Haag said Sanford Wallace, of Las Vegas admitted in federal court in San Jose, California, to accessing about 500,000 Facebook accounts and sending unsolicited ads disguised as friend posts over a three-month span.

Wallace collected Facebook user account information by sending “phishing” messages that tricked users of the social networking site into providing their passwords, prosecutors said.

He then used that information to log into their accounts and post spam messages on their friends’ Facebook walls, according to the indictment. Those who clicked on the link, thinking it came from a friend, were redirected to websites that paid Wallace for the Internet traffic.

In 2009, Palo Alto-based Facebook sued Wallace under federal anti-spam laws known as CAN-SPAM, prompting a judge to issue a temporary restraining order banning him from using the website.

Wallace, 47, acknowledged accessing Facebook’s computer network in order to send the spam messages on three occasions between November 2008 and February 2009.

Wallace also admitted that he violated a court order not to access Facebook’s computer network. He was charged with fraud and criminal contempt, Haag said.

Wallace is free on bond and scheduled to be sentenced in December. He faces a $250,000 fine and up to three years in prison.

In 2013, Nate Anderson wrote, for Ars Technica, a history of Mr. Wallace’s spam-related achievements:

Sanford Wallace [selfie]

Sanford Wallace [selfie]

The decade-long quest to stop “Spamford” Wallace
After a spate of lawsuits dating back to the late ’90s, the feds step in

[He found] monetary success—and public notoriety—during the mid-1990s with his Pennsylvania company Cyber Promotions. As a heavyset twentysomething with close-cropped hair and glasses, Wallace first spammed fax machines and then moved on to e-mail, believing that he had a legal right to market his wares as he saw fit. Dubbed “Spamford” by opponents, he eventually embraced the nickname and even registered the domain (In 1997, Hormel sent him a letter objecting to the name on the grounds that it used the company’s potted meat SPAM trademark). Unlike other spammers who hid their identities, Wallace regularly tangled in public with antispam crusaders.

Cyber Promotions quickly became so hated that a dozen Internet service providers, including AOL, sued Wallace in the late 1990s, each hoping to halt his flood of junk e-mail despite the lack of antispam laws at the time. Wallace pressed on…

The Ig Nobel citation, in 1997, said the Ig Nobel Prize for communications was awarded to “Sanford Wallace, president of Cyber Promotions of Philadelphia — neither rain nor sleet nor dark of night have stayed this self-appointed courier from delivering electronic junk mail to all the world.”

[NOTE: The other, older kind of Spam was the subject of the 1992 Ig Nobel prize for nutrition. That prize was awarded to “The utilizers of Spam, courageous consumers of canned comestibles, for 54 years of undiscriminating digestion.”

Wikipedia provides a handy, if not entirely up-to-date, list of links to documents pertaining to some of Mr. Wallace’s many court proceedings.

BONUS: Monty Python’s tribute to Spam:

Dung Beetle insights: The Milky Way, and now the sun

Monday, August 24th, 2015

The team that won an Ig Nobel Prize for discovering how dung beetles relate to the Milky Way has now, plus or minus some colleagues, discovered how the those beetles and their cousins relate, also, to the sun.

basil_eljundiThey tell about it in a new study: “Neural coding underlying the cue preference for celestial orientation,” Basil el Jundi [pictured here], Eric J. Warrant, Marcus J. Byrne, Lana Khaldy, Emily Baird, Jochen Smolka, and Marie Dacke, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, epub August 24, 2015. The team is based at Lund University, Sweden, and the University of the Witwatersrand, South Africa

The 2013 Ig Nobel Prize for biology and astronomy (a joint category!) was awarded to Marie Dacke, Emily Baird, Marcus Byrne, Clarke Scholtz, and Eric J. Warrant, for discovering that when dung beetles get lost, they can navigate their way home by looking at the Milky Way. They wrote up that research, in this paper: “Dung Beetles Use the Milky Way for Orientation,” Marie Dacke, Emily Baird, Marcus Byrne, Clarke H. Scholtz, Eric J. Warrant, Current Biology, epub January 24, 2013.

Rachel A. Becker describes the new work, in a National Geographic article called “Why Dung Beetles Watch the Sky While Rolling Poop Balls“.

In this video made in 2013, Eric Warrant discusses the dung beetles and the Ig Nobel Prize:

In this video, made earlier that same year, Marie Dacke introduces people to the world od dung beetles and navigation:


Marie Curie, radium, and cows lying down and standing up

Tuesday, August 18th, 2015

Wim De Villiers, Rector and Vice-Chancellor of Stellenbosch University, says:

And in all aspects we have to maximise our social impact…. research must be relevant and meaningful. This refers to its applicability and usefulness.

Let me provide examples. In 1903, Marie Curie was awarded a Nobel Prize in Physics together with her husband, Pierre, and fellow researcher, Henri Becquerel.

But Marie had written up the bulk of the research in her doctoral thesis earlier that same year – the same output that earned her a second Nobel Prize – this time for Chemistry, in 1911 – for discovering two new elements, radium and polonium.

deVilliersNow, there is another award which sounds quite similar – the Ig Nobel Prize, designed to make people laugh but also think. Take the Ig Nobel Probability Prize that went to Tolkamp, Haskell, Langford, Roberts and Morgan in 2013 for making two related discoveries.

First, “that the longer a cow has been lying down, the more likely that cow will soon stand up”. And second, “that once a cow stands up, you cannot easily predict how soon that cow will lie down again”.

Their research sounds silly, but it was published in 2010 by Elsevier in Applied Animal Behaviour Science, a reputable international journal reporting on the study animals managed by humans. We might consider it trivial, but dairy and cattle farmers would probably find it useful – not to mention animal rights campaigners who might want to take them on!

This is part of an article in the Cape Times, on August 17, 2015, with this attribution: “Professor De Villiers is Rector and Vice-Chancellor of Stellenbosch University (SU). This article is based on his talk at the annual academic day of SU’s Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences on August 13.”

Next month: the 25th First Annual Ig Nobel Prize Ceremony

Monday, August 17th, 2015

The 25th First Annual Ig Nobel Prize ceremony happens one month from today. On Thursday, September 17, 2015, come to the Ig Nobel ceremony at Harvard if you have tickets, or watch the live webcast here at