Archive for 'Ig Nobel'

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.)…

Those peculiar Harvard Sentences, developed in a basement

Tuesday, October 11th, 2016

Sarah Zhang writes, in Gizmodo, about how “The ‘Harvard Sentences’ Secretly Shaped the Development of Audio Tech“:

During World War II, the boiler room under Harvard’s Memorial Hall was turned into a secretive wartime research lab. Here, volunteers were subjected to hours of noise as scientists tested military communications systems. Out of this came the Harvard sentences, a set of standardized phrases still widely used to test everything from cellphones to VoIP.

Few know about the sentences themselves other than speech scientists and audio engineers, but the technologies they’ve helped build are everywhere. Verizon’s real-life “Can you hear me now?” guy uses them. Speech-to-text software engineers use them. Speech scientists studying cochlear implants say them out loud all the time. “These materials have been the gold standard,” says David Pisoni, director of the Speech Research Laboratory at Indiana University.

Here are some of the Harvard Sentences:

  • The birch canoe slid on the smooth planks.
  • Glue the sheet to the dark blue background.
  • It’s easy to tell the depth of a well.
  • These days a chicken leg is a rare dish.
  • Rice is often served in round bowls.
  • The juice of lemons makes fine punch.
  • The box was thrown beside the parked truck.
  • The hogs were fed chopped corn and garbage.
  • Four hours of steady work faced us.
  • Large size in stockings is hard to sell.

Memorial Hall, by the way, is the building in which the Ig Nobel Prize ceremony happens every year.


Additional co-winners of the 2009 Ig Nobel economics prize have been convicted

Monday, October 10th, 2016

Two more of the many co-winners of the 2009 Ig Nobel economics prize have achieved special recognition from the Icelandic government: they have been pronounced guilty in legal proceedings.

BACKGROUND: The 2009 Ig Nobel Prize for economics was awarded to the directors, executives, and auditors of four Icelandic banks — Kaupthing Bank, Landsbanki, Glitnir Bank, and Central Bank of Iceland — for demonstrating that tiny banks can be rapidly transformed into huge banks, and vice versa — and for demonstrating that similar things can be done to an entire national economy. (REFERENCE: Report of the Special Investigation Commission, issued April 12, 2010.)

Last year, 2015, 26 co-winners of the 2009 Ig Nobel economics prize were sentenced to prison.

Now, in October 2016, the Icelandic Monitor reports:

Iceland’s Supreme Court has return a guilty verdict for all nine defendants in the Kaupþing market manipulation case, the court trial for which began in April 2015.

Back in June last year, the Reykjavik District Court found seven of the nine defendants guilty, acquitting two…. The Supreme Court has now overturned the acquittals, finding Björk Þórarinsdóttir (credit representative at Kaupþing) and Magnús Guðmundsson (former CEO of Kaupthing Luxembourg) also guilty alongside the other seven.

The Icelandic Monitor published these photos of the lucky winners:


(Thanks to Beccanalia for bringing this to our attention.)


“Most people don’t lie very often but a few people lie a lot”

Monday, October 10th, 2016

“Most people don’t lie very often but a few people lie a lot.” That’s one of the insights honored by this year’s Ig Nobel Prize for psychology. The Vanderbilt University Research newsletter explains:

Study about how lying varies with age receives Ig Nobel Prize

loganCentennial Professor of Psychology Gordon Logan [pictured here] is co-author of a paper on deception and lying that has received the 2016 Ig Nobel Prize for psychology.

According to the award website, “Ig Nobel Prizes honor achievements that make people LAUGH, and then THINK. The prizes are intended to celebrate the unusual, honor the imaginative — and spur people’s interest in science, medicine, and technology.”

This year’s awards were announced at the 26th First Annual Ig Nobel Prize ceremony held on Sept. 22 at Harvard University. The prizes are given by the Improbable Research group, which publishes a magazine, books, videos, a newsletter, newspaper column, podcast and blog.

“I don’t know why they selected this for the Ig Nobel prize,” Logan said. “It’s supposed to make you laugh and then think. Maybe the laughing is ‘why would anyone study lying?’ and the thinking is ‘because lying presents interesting cognitive challenges that liars must overcome.’”

The paper “From junior to senior Pinocchio: A cross-sectional lifespan investigation of deception” appeared in the Sept. 2015 issue of the journal Acta Psychologica. Logan’s co-authors were Evelyne Debey, Maarten De Schryver, Kristina Suchotzki and Bruno Verschuere at Ghent University in Belgium. The paper reports the results of a study of age-related differences in lying proficiency and lying frequency….

The researchers conclusion, which probably won’t come as a great surprise to parents, is that lying accuracy and proficiency improves throughout childhood, peaks in young adults and then decreases during adulthood. They also found that most people don’t lie very often but a few people lie a lot….