Archive for 'Ig Nobel'

Master bullshit analyst graduates, heads off to Yale

Friday, October 21st, 2016

The University of Waterloo celebrated the graduation of Gordon Pennycook, who last month, together with his colleagues, was awarded the Ig Nobel Peace Prize. The university writes:


Psych scholar whose research gained global attention graduates
Gordon Pennycook published research on everything from BS to how smartphone use is linked to lazy thinking. Now he’s on a postdoctoral fellowship at Yale University

…Pennycook, who graduates this week with a doctorate in psychology from Waterloo, is currently at Yale University on a prestigious Banting postdoctoral fellowship. He will receive the Alumni Gold Medal for outstanding academic achievement at Waterloo’s 113th convocation ceremonies taking place on Friday October 21 and Saturday October 22.

The numerous studies he led and co-authored while a graduate student explore topics such as religious belief, moral judgments and values, creativity, smartphone use, health beliefs, science communication, and bullshit receptivity. The last of these studies, titled “On the reception and detection of pseudo-profound bullshit,” won a 2016 Ig Nobel Peace Prize, awarded to Pennycook and his co-authors just last month at Harvard University.

“We are not nearly as good at detecting bullshit as we think,” wrote Pennycook in a non-academic online publication.

The BS paper attracted plenty of media coverage and interviews, most recently on the current US election….

Shadows Cast by Spider Legs, Used in Physics Calculations

Thursday, October 20th, 2016

Anticipating Halloween, the American Chemical Society has published a study about using the shadows cast by (kinda sorta) spider legs, for scientific purposes. The paper is:

Elegant Shadow Making Tiny Force Visible for Water-Walking Arthropods and Updated Archimedes’ Principle,” Yelong Zheng, Hongyu Lu, Wei Yin, Dashuai Tao, Lichun Shi, and Yu Tian, Langmuir, 2016, 32 (41), pp. 10522–10528.  The authors, at Tsinghua University, China, report:


“Forces acted on legs of water-walking arthropods with weights in dynes are of great interest for entomologist, physicists, and engineers. While their floating mechanism has been recognized, the in vivo leg forces stationary have not yet been simultaneously achieved. In this study, their elegant bright-edged leg shadows are used to make the tiny forces visible and measurable based on the updated Archimedes’ principle. The force was approximately proportional to the shadow area with a resolution from nanonewton to piconewton/pixel. The sum of leg forces agreed well with the body weight measured with an accurate electronic balance, which verified updated Archimedes’ principle at the arthropod level”

(Thanks to Tony Tweedale for bringing this to our attention.)

BONUS: An earlier study that used shadow calculation: the MIT study “The hydrodynamics of water-walking arthropods“, by Ig Nobel Prize winner David Hu, and John Bush. Here’s a bit of detail from that study:


Upside-down crotch-peeping tourists in Japan

Sunday, October 16th, 2016

“The observatory crotch peep platform is being installed, a lot of tourists to experience the crotch peeping.” — one highlight from NHK Zero’s TV report about the 2016 Ig Nobel Prize winners.


The image you see here, from the TV program, shows how people have been influenced by the winner of the 2016 Ig Nobel Prize for perception. That prize was awarded to Atsuki Higashiyama and Kohei Adachi, for investigating whether things look different when you bend over and view them between your legs.

They documented their research, in the study “Perceived size and Perceived Distance of Targets Viewed From Between the Legs: Evidence for Proprioceptive Theory” [by Atsuki Higashiyama and Kohei Adachi, published in the journal Vision Research, vol. 46, no. 23, November 2006, pp. 3961–76].

Video of the peace prize winner discussing bullshit and people who crave bullshit

Saturday, October 15th, 2016

The 2016 Ig Nobel Peace Prize was awarded to Gordon Pennycook, James Allan Cheyne, Nathaniel Barr, Derek Koehler, and Jonathan Fugelsang for their scholarly study called “On the Reception and Detection of Pseudo-Profound Bullshit”.

The study is: “On the Reception and Detection of Pseudo-Profound Bullshit,” Gordon Pennycook, James Allan Cheyne, Nathaniel Barr, Derek J. Koehler, and Jonathan A. Fugelsang, Judgment and Decision Making, vol. 10, No. 6, November 2015, pp. 549–563. The authors were all at the University of Waterloo. Nathaniel Barr is now at at Sheridan College, Gordon Pennycook at Yale University.

Gordon Pennycook, Nathaniel Barr, Derek Koehler, and Jonathan Fugelsang attended the Ig Nobel Prize ceremony at Harvard University. Two days later, at the Ig Informal Lectures, at MIT, Nathaniel Barr gave this five-minute talk. The video here also includes his subsequent Q & A with the audience:

A Financial Times-ly look at the prizes

Wednesday, October 12th, 2016

Tim Harford wrote a lovely essay in the Financial Times, about the Ig Nobel Prizes. Here’s a chunk of it:

The Ig Nobel prizes: in praise of ridiculous research

…one of the Ig Nobel’s charms is that this ridiculous research might actually tell us something about the world. David Dunning and Justin Kruger received an Ig Nobel prize in psychology for their discovery that incompetent people rarely realise they are incompetent; the Dunning-Kruger effect is now widely cited. Dorian Raymer and Douglas Smith won an Ig Nobel in physics for their discovery that hair and string have a tendency to become tangled — potentially an important line of research in understanding the structure of DNA. Most famously, Andre Geim’s Ig Nobel in physics for levitating a live frog was promptly followed by a proper Nobel Prize in the same subject for the discovery of graphene.


A whimsical curiosity about the world is something to be encouraged. No wonder that the credo of the Ig Nobel prizes is that they should make you laugh, then make you think. In 2001, the Ig Nobel committee did just that, awarding the economics prize to Joel Slemrod and Wojciech Kopczuk, who demonstrated that people will try to postpone their own deaths to avoid inheritance tax. This highlights an important point about the power of incentives — and the pattern has since been discovered elsewhere.

Alas, most economics Ig Nobel prizes provoke little more than harsh laughter. They’ve been awarded to Nick Leeson and Barings Bank, Iceland’s Kaupthing Bank, AIG, Lehman Brothers, and so on. The first economics prize was awarded to Michael Milken, one of the inventors of the junk bond. He was in prison at the time.

Fair game. Still, surely there is something in economics that is ludicrous on the surface yet thought-provoking underneath? (The entire discipline, you say? Very droll.)…