Archive for 'Ig Nobel'

A winning “Smiling”, from the man behind “Swearing as a Response to Pain”

Monday, December 22nd, 2014

RStephens200x200The prize-winning essay about smiling, written by a professor who won an Ig Nobel Prize for his research on swearing and pain , appears in today’s issue of The Guardian. It begins:

How we grin to bear it – the science of smiling

The winning article of the 2014 Wellcome Trust science-writing prize looks at smile research – how they make us feel better, how to fake them and why you should say ‘cheeks’ not ‘cheese’

‘The curve that sets everything straight” was how comedian Phyllis Diller once described the smile. And it’s true that there’s something charming, trustworthy and disarming about a smile – but this can be misleading. Dig a little deeper and you will understand a much less wholesome side. Because, ladies and gentleman, the smile is one of the biggest fakes going.

I know what you’re thinking: we all pull a false smile now and again to appease our fellows and avoid unnecessary conflict. On the other hand, a genuine smile of true enjoyment is something different. Psychologists have named such a smile after the French neurologist Guillaume-Benjamin-Amand Duchenne de Boulogne. The Duchenne smile, utilising the muscles around the eyes that lift the cheeks to produce crow’s feet, has long been held as an inimitable sign of true human emotion. Or at least it was until 2013, when a team of researchers from Northeastern University, Boston, broke that hoodoo.

The 2010 Ig Nobel Peace Prize was awarded to Richard Stephens [pictured here], John Atkins, and Andrew Kingston of Keele University, UK, for confirming the widely held belief that swearing relieves pain. [They published a paper describing their research: “Swearing as a Response to Pain,” Richard Stephens, John Atkins, and Andrew Kingston, Neuroreport, vol. 20 , no. 12, 2009, pp. 1056-60.]

Ig Nobel Prize winners supply two of the ten “weirdest” TED Talk moments

Sunday, December 21st, 2014

The TED Blog lists “The 10 weirdest things that have happened in TED Talks“. Two of those “weirdest things” involve Ig Nobel Prize winners.

Kees Moeliker was awarded the 2003 Ig Nobel Prize for biology, for documenting the first scientifically recorded case of homosexual necrophilia in the mallard duck. Here’s what TED Blog says:


3. The story of a man and his dead duck. Ornithologist Kees Moeliker won the Ig Nobel prize for inspiring future generations of scientists with a strange but serious paper about the mallard’s inclination toward homosexual necrophilia. During his talk at TED2013, Moeliker shared the odd story behind his research… and handed an audience member the stuffed dead duck that inspired it. Before leaving the stage, he politely asked for the duck back, as it is technically a museum specimen.

Bart Knols was awarded the 2006 Ig Nobel Prize for biology, for showing that the female malaria mosquito Anopheles gambiae is attracted equally to the smell of limburger cheese and to the smell of human feet.. Here’s what TED Blog says:


Bart Knols gives his talk… in his underwear. What’s more annoying than a mosquito bugging you while you’re in bed? To remind us of this, malariologist Bart Knols started his TEDx talk from a bed onstage. He emerged from under the covers to share the details of his research on the spread of malaria … aaaand he never stopped to put on pants. Also notable: watching hundreds of mosquitoes feed on his arm in a metal box on stage, at the 8:09 mark.


In the midst of important things: SVT’s Ig Nobel snippets

Tuesday, December 9th, 2014

This year, Swedish live TV coverage of Nobel Week is spiced with (unrelated but delightful) Ig Nobel snippets.

Interspersed in their traditional dignified, lengthy coverage of the grand Nobel Week events in Stockholm, the Swedish television network SVT is broadcasting bits of something rather different, unrelated, and delightful-if-not-exactly-pertinent: brief reports about several of this year’s Ig Nobel Prize winners.

Take a look at part of it. Click this link (or the image below) to go to SVT’s web site. An Ig Nobel segment begins around the 27 minute point in the recording:


Arisia: Nominate a reader for our Jan. 17th event

Tuesday, December 9th, 2014


Calling all Arisia fen: Improbable Research will return to Arisia on January 17, 2015 and we’re asking the fen to help us find the best people to present some of our research papers.

What qualities should the person you nominate have to be a reader at this event?

  • Charismatic stage presence
  • A good speaking voice
  • Able to read clearly into a microphone
  • Not easily rattled when asked strange questions about a research paper they have only just read themselves
  • (and most importantly) Attending Arisia on Saturday Jan 17, 2015

The event at Arisia will include a number of brief, dramatic readings from studies and patents that have won an Ig Nobel prize. Shortly before this event begins, we supply our Readers a selection of papers to choose between.

James Bacon, illuminated by Human Spotlight, Dr. Jim Bredt (photo by D. Kessler)

Do you know someone who should be illuminated by The Human Spotlight? (photo by D. Kessler)

They choose one, and then find the portions of it they want to read – or present in some other dramatic manner – to the audience.

Each presentation will be 2 minutes long, after which the Reader may (if they wish) entertain questions from the audience. In answering these questions, they may draw from the paper or from their personal experience. They may surmise or deflect, but they must not lie.


If you know people like this then please go to our nomination page and tell us that they would be good readers for this Ig-Arisia event.

If you would like to know people like this, then head to our nomination page to see who has already been nominated.

We encourage you to nominate attendees, staff, vendors, or other unexpected people who would do a good job (see the list of qualities, above).

Sharp look at Iggy fluid-dynamics

Monday, December 8th, 2014