Archive for 'Ig Nobel'

The ‘godfather of graphene’, the frog, and the spoon

Tuesday, August 12th, 2014

Intelligent Life magazine profiled Ig Nobel Prize winner (and also Nobel prize winnerAndre Geim, under the headline “The Godfather of Graphene“. Here’s a snippet:

IL_Cover_Sept_Oct_14_RGB“Somehow I measure my life and longevity not in years but in the number of accumulated experiences,” he says. Many of these experiences are mountains he has climbed. One is finding a use for an extremely powerful magnet at a university in Holland in the late 1990s. He levitated a frog, and even though this demonstrated nothing new about magnetism, it attracted grants, attention and job offers. It marked him out as a prankster and earned him an Ig Nobel prize from Harvard. Against the advice of more self-important scientists he showed up to collect the prize and, the organisers remember, “was constantly running around telling dirty jokes”. He was especially fond of showing the kind of imagery to be obtained from the reflection of two fingers in a spoon.

The new Improbable book, reviewed in USA Today, too

Sunday, August 10th, 2014

Kim Painter did a nice review of the new book, in USA Today today, with the headline “‘Improbable’ studies may make you laugh and think“. Painter also kindly mentions, at the end of her review:

Abrahams’ U.S. book tour this fall will feature “dramatic readings” – by scientists, journalists and others – from some of his favorite studies. The first is at Harvard Book Store in Cambridge at 7 p.m. ET on Sept. 5.

The 24th annual Ig Nobel Prizes (with a food theme) will be live-cast from Harvard University on Sept. 18 at 6 p.m. ET.

The book is, of course, This Is Improbable Too. It’s been getting some attention in other interesting places, too.

You can get the book from Amazon and at most good bookstores.


The new Improbable book, and its first American review

Saturday, August 9th, 2014

My new book — This Is Improbable Too (OneWorld Publications, 2014, ISBN 978-1780743615) — is now available in America (it was published in the UK this past March). The first US review has appeared, by Steven Poole, in The Wall Street Journal:

The éminence grise behind the Ig Nobels is Marc Abrahams, and for those of us who have heard of only the silliest prize winners, his second compilation of results from the wilder fringes of science suggests that the prize is, after all, rather unkindly named. It is not “ignoble” or entirely stupid and humiliating research but rather, as Mr. Abrahams describes it, research that first makes you laugh and then makes you think….

A prominent thread is a kind of mania for measurement. Readers are likely to think that even the gentle modesty of one researcher is an unwarranted exaggeration when he claims: “The sitting height, leg length, and sitting height index of several groups of Old Virginians is of some interest.” Perhaps the craze for measurement—mensuraphilia? metripathy?—runs in families: The son of the man who measured Old Virginians published a study summing up 35 years of measurements of how fast his fingernails grew.

Then there is the baffling wealth of “2D:4D” research, investigating how the ratio between your second and fourth finger predicts attractiveness or braininess. (Not very reliably, it seems.) Happily, at least, some indefatigable measurers have confirmed the notion that your ears never stop growing throughout your life. The lesson to be drawn from all this is, arguably, optimistic. You can’t have world-changing discoveries without allowing apparently pointless research—not only because the latter sometimes turns into (or at least inspires) the former but because there’s no way to tell what will be important before the results are in….

My favorite British review appeared in The Daily Mail. That review, too, was fairly lengthy. But the tone was different. Here’s my very most favorite part: “It’s almost dementedly inconsequential“.


Also this past week, I was interviewed on The Bob Edwards ShowWithout intending to, I shocked Bob. At the end of the interview he asked me a very general question, to which I gave a very particular answer. The answer involved a historic duck.

You can get the book from Amazon and at most good bookstores.

BOOK TOUR: I will be doing a book tour of sorts in connection with the new book. At some events, I will be joined by colorful scientists, journalists, actors, etc., who will do brief dramatic readings from some of my favorite scientific studies. For details, see the full schedule of events. If you would like to host an event in Boston, NYC, Washington, or elsewhere, please get in touch with us ASAP.

Some of the highlights:

UPDATE (August 10, 2014): Kim Painter did a nice review of  the book, in USA Today today.

THE FIRST ‘THIS IS IMPROBABLE” BOOK: Don’t forget this book’s older sibling, the almost-new Improbable book:

This Is Improbable, by Marc Abrahams, OneWorld Publications, 2012, ISBN 978-1851689316.

Rationalism taken to intoxicating extremes“—The Guardian


Buy a copy (or several!) on

A favorite Ig Nobel moment: The prize for inventing karaoke

Tuesday, August 5th, 2014

Here’s a look back to one of our favorite moments from the first 23 Ig Nobel Prize ceremonies: The awarding, in the year 2004, of the Ig Nobel Peace Prize to Daisuke Inoue, of Hyogo, Japan.

Mr.  Inoue was honored for inventing karaoke, thereby providing an entirely new way for people to learn to tolerate each other.

Here’s video of that prize announcement, and Mr. Inoue’s acceptance speech, and what happened immediately after that.


Later, Mr Inoue looked back at that moment, in an interview republished last year in The Appendix (which came to wider attention via an appreciation in The New Yorker).

This year’s Ig Nobel Prize ceremony, the 24th First Annual Ig Nobel Prize ceremony, will happen on Thursday evening, September 18, at the usual location: Harvard University’s Sanders Theatre. We hope you will join us, either in person at the theater or via the live webcast.

NOTE: Tickets for Sanders Theater are sold out. There’s a chance that a very few seats will become available shortly before the ceremony. If that happens, we will announce it via the @ImprobResearch twitter stream and on the Improbable Research Facebook page.


Ig Nobel winner Chabris: “Why Psychologists’ Food Fight Matters”

Friday, August 1st, 2014

Ig Nobel Prize winner Chris Chabris and colleague Michelle N. Mayer wrote an essay, in Slate, called “Why Psychologists’ Food Fight Matters“. It begins:

Psychologists are up in arms over, of all things, the editorial process that led to the recent publication of a special issue of the journal Social Psychology. This may seem like a classic case of ivory tower navel gazing, but its impact extends far beyond academia. The issue attempts to replicate 27 “important findings in social psychology.” Replication—repeating an experiment as closely as possible to see whether you get the same results—is a cornerstone of the scientific method. Replication of experiments is vital not only because it can detect the rare cases of outright fraud, but also because it guards against uncritical acceptance of findings that were actually inadvertent false positives, helps researchers refine experimental techniques, and affirms the existence of new facts that scientific theories must be able to explain….

Chabris, together with Dan Simons, was awarded the 2004 Ig Nobel Prize for psychology, for demonstrating that when people pay close attention to something, it’s all too easy to overlook anything else — even a woman in a gorilla suit. [They documented that experiment, in the study "Gorillas in Our Midst," Daniel J. Simons and Christopher F. Chabris, vol. 28, Perception, 1999, pages 1059-74.]