Archive for 'Ig Nobel'

A celebration of Italy’s Ig Nobel Prize winners

Monday, August 18th, 2014

NanoPress published a fond profile of all the Italian winners of the Ig Nobel Prize: “IG Nobel italiani: i vincitori di tutte le edizioni“.

Here is one of them, 2013 Ig Nobel Physics Prize co-winner Alberto Minetti:


Throughout Italy, people will be staying up late to watch the live webcast of this year’s Ig Nobel Prize ceremony, on September 18 — to see the new crop of Ig Nobel Prize winners. (In Italy, the webcast will be happening during the magical middle-of-the-night hours as Thursday, September 18 becomes Friday, September 19).

The man who drove, blinding himself, on Route 128 — for your safety

Friday, August 15th, 2014

[Ig Nobel Prize winner] John Senders led a series of safety experiments in which he drove an automobile on Route 128 — the major highway that circles Boston to the west — while a visor repeatedly flapped down over his face, blinding him….

—so begins another Improbable Innovation nugget, which appears in its entirety on BetaBoston.

A (or an) historian muses about history and the Ig Nobel Prizes

Wednesday, August 13th, 2014

Historian William G. Pooley, in his blog, muses about history and the Ig Nobel Prizes:

Who cares about the funny little people you spend your time researching? What do you think people really learn from studying the family lives, emotions, or sexuality of our ancestors, beyond soft ideas of cultural relativity or platitudes about the importance of tolerance, reason, and understanding? Whose life are you saving with your ‘research’? Who will even read it? ….

[My thoughts wandered] to the one of my favourite annual silly stories: the igNobel awards. These alternatives to the Nobel science prizes, in the words of their website, honour ‘Research that makes people laugh, and then think’ .

I think there would be quite a lot of interest in a similar kind of thing for history (or indeed other humanities). Just think of the number of times people in social situations comment to you about how ‘specific’ your research is, often meaning irrelevant and unimportant. Yet when I tried to think of a list of works of ‘bad history’, I quickly found my brain racing to find explanations for why apparently inconsequential topics are actually vitally important.

Think of the weird mind of the sixteenth-century miller, Menocchio, which Carlo Ginzburg used to probe how humble people in the Renaissance read books, and how oral and print cultures mingled in the worldviews of ordinary people.

A different example: forty years ago, who would have been interested in the bizarre records that nineteenth-century schools, prisons, and other institutions kept about waist and height measurements? But the booming field of historical anthropometrics has revolutionized historians’ understanding of poverty and exploitation in the recent past by using these records to work out how well-fed and how healthy men, women, and children were….

NOTE: Happy news for investigator Pooley! The Ig Nobel Prizes are in fact given for achievements, not just in science, but in any field of human endeavor or happenstance. Here’s the complete list of winners.

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.