Archive for 'Ig Nobel'

From ostrich-human courtship to squid possible gigantic-ness

Wednesday, June 1st, 2016

Charles Paxton, the University of St. Andrews professor who shared the 2002 Ig Nobel biology prize for study called “Courtship Behaviour of Ostriches Towards Humans Under Farming Conditions in Britain” (published in British Poultry Science, vol. 39, no. 4, September 1998, pp. 477-481) has a new study out, about giant squid.

The new study seems to have enraged certain persons (see below).

The study is: “Unleashing the Kraken: on the maximum length in giant squid (Architeuthis sp.),” Charles G.M. Paxton, Journal of Zoology, epub 17 May 2016. Here’s what it says:

Giant squid are among the largest invertebrates known, but a consensus on their maximum size is lacking. Statistical investigation of various measures of body length and beak size in Architeuthis suggests that squid of at least 2.69 m (99.9% prediction interval: 1.60–3.83 m) mantle length (ML) may be handled by large bull sperm whales but perhaps not females. Given the relationship of squid ML to standard (from tip of mantle to end of arms) and total (from tip of mantle to end of tentacles) length, the observed spread of individual lengths, along with a longest reliably measured ML of 2.79 m, purported squid of 10 m standard length and even 20 m total length are eminently plausible.


Michael Greshko writes, for National Geographic, about the study and the varied reactions to it:

Giant Squid Could Be Bigger Than a School Bus

The deep-dwelling creatures could reach lengths of at least 66 feet, says a provocative new study—but not everyone is convinced….

Paxton’s results, published on May 17 in the Journal of Zoology, have released a kraken of controversy: At present, there’s no physical evidence that the giant squid (Architeuthis dux) actually gets as large as Paxton is claiming, leading some to doubt the study’s real-world relevance. (See National Geographic’s squid pictures.)

“This paper will certainly boost his citation indices, but probably for all the wrong reasons,” wrote giant squid expert Steve O’Shea, who wasn’t involved with the study….

Rebecca Goldin, a professor of mathematics at George Mason University and director of, finds Paxton’s statistical arguments to be sound, though recommends caution in applying the results.

“My takeaway is that the author has a point: The variability is high enough that whales may have eaten larger squid than so far found,” Goldin, who wasn’t involved with the study, said by email.

BONUS: Charles Paxton’s discoveries are wide-ranging. A few years ago, he published a study pointing out that one celebrated historical account of a “sea monster” may have been a misunderstanding on the part of the observer. What the observer saw was (the study explains) most likely a whale’s erect penis.

The senator whose method is: Make people LAUGH, NOT THINK

Tuesday, May 31st, 2016

U.S. Senator Jeff Flake has appropriated and dismembered our basic goal and method, which is to make people LAUGH, and then THINK. The senator lopped off the “think” part, to produce his own basic goal and method: to make people Laugh, and NOT think. You can see this on display in Senator Flake’s recent colorful press release and booklet, which ridicules scientific research.

We invented the phrase “make people LAUGH, then THINK”. It’s the essence of our magazine, the Annals of Improbable Research. It’s the essence of the Ig Nobel Prize Ceremony, which we administer, and which is now in its 26th year. Each year ten Ig Nobel Prizes are awarded for achievements that make people LAUGH, then THINK. Much of the research ridiculed in Senator Flake’s booklet has won Ig Nobel Prizes.

Senator Flake's booklet

Senator Flake’s booklet

Senator Flake’s Cartoon Book

Senator Flake’s press release says: “U.S. Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) today released Twenty Questions: Government Studies That Will Leave you Scratching Your Head, an oversight report highlighting 20 hard-to-justify, taxpayer-funded studies that diverted more than $35 million that could have been better spent researching treatments for cancer, Alzheimer’s disease, and viral infections such as Zika and Ebola….”

Senator Flake’s booklet uses a cartoon style that’s usually meant to appeal to small children. You can download a copy of the the booklet by clicking on the image here.

Hard to Justify

The studies mentioned in Senator Flake’s booklet really are, as Senator Flake says, “hard-to-justify” — if, like Senator Flake, you insist on not justifying them.

Senator Flake and Einstein

Senator Flake’s booklet builds, it says, on the work of Einstein:

“The important thing is not to stop questioning,” urged Albert Einstein, one of the greatest minds of all time. That’s great advice for taxpayers.

Here’s what Senator Flake’s booklet does not mention: Einstein would ask lots of funny questions, and then Einstein would work to FIND THE ANSWERS to those questions.

Senator Flake’s funny booklet just asks a funny question, then laughs, then asks some other funny question, then laughs, then asks some other funny question, and so on, and so on.

Senator Flake’s booklet asks 20 questions. About one third of those questions concern research that was honored with Ig Nobel Prizes, or scientists who earned Ig Nobel Prizes for other research.


Senator Flake’s booklet uses a technique that makes things appear horribly expensive. The table of contents lists a BIG RED DOLLAR AMOUNT next to each research item. You might mistakenly think that that this BIG RED DOLLAR AMOUNT is what the research item cost. You would be wrong. The booklet diligently explains — on a different page, in small, dense text — that the BIG RED DOLLAR AMOUNT is just a BIG RED DOLLAR AMOUNT:

METHODOLOGY. Specific dollar amounts expended to support each study were not available for the projects profiled in this report. Most were conducted as parts of more extensive research funded with government grants or financial support. The costs provided, therefore, represent the total amount of the grant or grants from which the study was supported and not the precise amount spent on the individual studies. This is not intended to imply or suggest other research supported by these grants was wasteful, unnecessary or without merit.

Here are some of the first items in Senator Flake’s booklet. (Each of these was awarded an Ig Nobel Prize, by the way!):




If you apply this same BIG RED DOLLAR AMOUNT technique to Senator Flake’s own booklet, here’s what you get:


What’s It All About?

Three of the items in Senator Flake’s booklet are research performed by Professor David Hu of Georgia Tech:




The logo of Improbable Research and of the Ig Nobel Prizes

The logo of Improbable Research and of the Ig Nobel Prizes

Professor Hu and his team were awarded an Ig Nobel Prize for that pee research. Professor Hu wrote an essay about this, for Scientific American. What he wrote will probably make you laugh, then think. We suggest you read it:

Confessions of a Wasteful Scientist

Three of my projects appeared last week on a senator’s list of questionable research. Allow me to explain

But, if you like to ridicule things because those things are unfamiliar, don’t read Professor Hu’s writing. And don’t look at the actual work of the other Ig Nobel Prize winners or any of the other people on Senator Flake’s list.

If you want to laugh, but not think, pay attention to Senator Flake.

Dead Duck Day, June 5th, honoring homosexual necrophilia in the mallard

Saturday, May 28th, 2016

DeadDuckDay-logoSunday, June 5th, 2016 is the 21st edition of Dead Duck Day, arriving precisely one year after last year’s Dead Duck Day. At exactly 17:55 h [Rotterdam time] we will honor the mallard duck that became known to science as the first (documented) ‘victim’ of homosexual necrophilia in that species, and earned its discoverer the 2003 Ig Nobel Biology Prize.

Dead Duck Day also commemorates the billions of other birds that die from colliding with glass buildings, and challenges people to find solutions to this global problem.

Please join the free, short open-air ceremony next to the new wing of the Natural History Museum Rotterdam (the Netherlands), right below the new Dead Duck Memorial Plaque— the very spot where that duck (now museum specimen NMR 9989-00232) met his dramatic end.

Sarah Forbes

Sarah Forbes

This is what will happen:

  • The traditional Ten Seconds of Silence.
  • Review of this year’s necrophilia news: two new clear cases in birds became known to science, and the first case in a Dutch mammal (!) will be revealed.
  • The reading of the special ‘Dead Duck Day Message’. This years message is send in by Sarah Forbes, former curator of the Museum of Sex (MoS) in New York and author of the book ‘Sex in the Museum’.
  • The announcement of the second performance of ‘The Homosexual Necrophiliac Duck Opera’ in London, on sacred grounds, June 24th, 2016.
  • The first-ever Dead Duck Day Fashion Show. The first batch of t-shirts, designed by Mark Prinsen, will be for sale.
  • A six-course duck dinner, after the ceremony.

The traditional six-course (dead) duck dinner at the famous Tai Wu Restaurant is also open to the public (at your own expense).  Reserve you seat by e-mailing to: info [at]


BONUS: More on the history of Dead Duck Day on the official Dead Duck Day website:

BONUS: Here is Kees Moeliker’s TED Talk about the dead duck:

The further future adventures of Troy Hurtubise and a grizzly bear

Friday, May 20th, 2016

proxyTroy Hurtubise, who was awarded an Ig Nobel Prize in 1998 in the field of safety engineering — for developing, and personally testing a suit of armor that is impervious to grizzly bears — is again hard at work pursuing a better way to pursue a better meeting with a grizzly bear.

The Hamilton Spectator reports:

Troy Hurtubise wants Project Grizzly to roar one more time with better armour and a new movie

Quixotic inventor Troy Hurtubise is rebooting his Project Grizzly, a curious crusade to build a RoboCop-looking protective suit to stand up to an angry bear.

The 52-year-old former Hamiltonian wants to take one more try at his lifetime goal, to go mano a grizzo in self-designed armour, and live to talk about it. He’s been working away in his North Bay workshop on an eighth version of a suit and he is also in discussions with a filmmaker to produce a sequel to the 1996 National Film Board cult classic “Project Grizzly.” …

Troy is crowdfunding this project, seeking $700,000. This promotional video explains:

And as Troy follows his calling, you can follow Troy’s tweeting, on Twitter.

LITERARY BONUS: In this video, Troy reads from his new book, Shards of Time:

TACTICAL BONUS: Here’s video of Troy with one of his recent inventions, which he calls the “Apache Long Arm”, which he optimizes for SWAT teams:

ELECTROMAGNETICAL BONUS: Here’s video of Troy and another of his recent inventions, which he calls the “EMR pod”:

Further adventures in dung-beetle-navigation research

Thursday, May 12th, 2016

Rachel Feltman chronicles, in the Washington Post, some further adventures of the Ig Nobel Prize-winning dung beetle navigation researchers:

The humble dung beetle has a fantastic way of navigating the world


If you’re a dung beetle, you spend a good portion of your life dancing around on top of a ball made of poop – a ball of poop that, with any luck, will eventually become dinner. But the researchers who’ve devoted their lives to studying these coprophagic critters say the insects have a surprising adaptation: According to a study published Thursday in Current Biology, dung beetles can take “snapshots” of their surroundings and use them to navigate.

First, a dung beetle factoid you might not know: Scientists believe that they navigate at night using the visible portion of the Milky Way – that gorgeous strip of stars and dust that appears in a sky sans light pollution. Unsurprisingly, the finding that dung beetles stare at the stars was honored with an Ig Nobel Award