Archive for 'Ig Nobel'

Troy Hurtubise is upping his game

Saturday, June 3rd, 2017

Troy Hurtubise, whose early fame came from his quest to build a suit of armor that would protect him against grizzly bears — a years-long effort that was documented in the film Project Grizzly, and which led to Troy being awarded the 1998 Ig Nobel Prize in the field of safety engineering, and who has had many subsequent adventures, and who has written adventure-filled books — is upping his game.

Troy’s new announcement:

I am North Bay inventor Troy Hurtubise and I am looking to raise money for a new project. Pandora’s Box is the code name for my latest invention with the goal of harvesting dark matter. All proceeds will go towards the research and development of this project.

In a world where many people think small (and some people hardly think at all), Troy always thinks big.

Troy made a short video to explain his new quest. It begins with Troy’s simple admission: “What I’ve done is something science would never think of”:

Here’s Project Grizzly:

Profile of the first double-Ig Nobel Prize winner, Jacques Benveniste

Sunday, May 28th, 2017

Jacques Benveniste [pictured here] was the first person (but not the last!) to be awarded more than one Ig Nobel Prize. John Welford the renowned “professional librarian, now semi-retired, who writes articles based on material gleaned from obscure books and journals,” crafted a profile of Benveniste. Here are some highlights:

“… Having – as he thought – produced convincing proof of the memory-retaining capacity of water, Jacques Benveniste thought he saw a way of cashing in on his work. He left Inserm (it is possible that he was pushed out rather than resigning his post voluntarily) and founded a company named the Digital Biology Laboratory, through which he hoped a make a vast fortune by completely revolutionizing the world of medicine.

“His new idea was that the memory retained by a quantity of water could be digitized and then transmitted to another body of water via a telephone line or the Internet. If one assumed that the first flask of water contained the cure to a particular ailment – which might well be assumed by a convinced homeopath – then the digitized memory of that cure could be sent anywhere in the world and transfer its miraculous powers to patients who would only need a glass of water and a computer (these days, a smartphone would probably have been sufficient). Presumably, a certain amount of money would also have flowed into the coffers of the Digital Biology Laboratory….

“Jacques Benveniste had the unique honor of winning two Ig Nobels, the first being in 1991. This was the first such award in the field of Chemistry. However, his persistence in continuing to astonish the scientific world earned him a second Ig Nobel, in 1998. He did not collect either award in person, but said that he was happy to be recognized in this way because it proved that the people making the awards did not understand the first thing about anything.

“Unfortunately, there was no possibility of Jacques Benveniste ever collecting a third Ig Nobel because he died in 2004 at the age of 69, with his revolutionary claims still unproven.”

Foster’s six defenses for legal obscurity

Monday, May 8th, 2017

“There are many bad reasons for legal writing that is impenetrable to the layman (e.g., where writing is made impenetrable in order to necessitate recourse to lawyers which would otherwise be unnecessary, or where impenetrability is a consequence of antiquated language perpetuated purely out of sentimental conservatism).”

– writes Charles Foster (co-recipient of the 2016 Ig Nobel Biology Prize). Nevertheless, he also alerts us to possible defenses for legal obscurity. Six in all – which are:

▪ IT CAN CONVEY MEANING SUCCINCTLY

▪ IT ENABLES NUANCED REGULATION OF COMPLEX SOCIETIES

▪ IT CAN HELP TO CONVEY MEANING ACCURATELY, AND THUS AVOID LITIGATION

▪ IT CAN ENCOURAGE LAY PEOPLE TO TAKE LEGAL ADVICE IN CIRCUMSTANCES WHERE THAT IS BENEFICIAL

▪ IT ENCOURAGES EFFICIENT COMMUNICATION BETWEEN LAWYERS

▪ IT EMPHASIZES THE AUTHORITY AND OBJECTIVITY OF THE LAW

See: ‘In Defense of Legal Obscurity’ published in the journal AJOB Neuroscience, volume 8, 2017, Pages: 39-41.

For another view on language clarity (or otherwise) see ‘Say no to unclear language, don’t believe the hype’ by Anu Vallinkoski,  as featured in the Journal of the University of Helsinki, 24.2.2017.

Surprising end-results from prize-winning urination-duration researchers

Tuesday, April 25th, 2017

A new study called “Hydrodynamics of Defecation,” published in the research journal Soft Matter, emerges from the same laboratory at Georgia Tech that produced the Ig Nobel Prize-winning study “Duration of Urination Does Not Change With Body Size.” The earlier, urination study was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Co-authors Patricia Yang and David Hu shared the Ig Nobel Prize for biology, in the year 2015, as did their urination co-authors Jonathan Pham and Jerome Choo. In the new, defecation study, Yang and Hu are joined in co-authorship by Morgan LaMarca, Candice Kaminski, and Daniel I Chu.

Here’s detail from the new study:

The above three-part illustration shows:

(A) The relationship between body mass M and the mass flow rates of food intake and excreted feces. Symbols represent experimental measurements, and dashed lines represent best fits to the data. (B) Schematic of the flow rate of energy in mammals. (C) Pie chart of the distribution of energy intake.

The authors introduce the underlying mathematics of their work with another simple illustration. They explain:

We present a mathematical model for defecation. Our system consists of a pipe whose length consists of the rectum and the colon, illustrated [here]. We model cylindrical feces of diameter D and total length L, consisting of several pieces joined like sausages. The walls of the cylinder are coated with a mucus layer of thickness h, which is considerably less than D. We parameterize the motion of feces and mucus using cylindrical coordinates…  in which z represents the horizontal direction along the cylinder and r the radial direction from the center of the feces to the walls.

The paper reduces the entire flow of its argument into this dense nugget:

Animals discharge feces within a range of sizes and shapes. Such variation has long been used to track animals as well as to diagnose illnesses in both humans and animals. However, the physics by which feces are discharged remain poorly understood. In this combined experimental and theoretical study, we investigate the defecation of mammals from cats to elephants using the dimensions of large intestines and feces, videography at Zoo Atlanta, cone-on-plate rheological measurements of feces and mucus, and a mathematical model of defecation. The diameter of feces is comparable to that of the rectum, but the length is double that of the rectum, indicating that not only the rectum but also the colon is a storage facility for feces. Despite the length of rectum ranging from 4 to 40 cm, mammals from cats to elephants defecate within a nearly constant duration of 12 ± 7 seconds.

The Ig Nobel Prize citation for the earlier, urination study, explains that that earlier study tested “the biological principle that nearly all mammals empty their bladders in about 21 seconds (plus or minus 13 seconds).” The results of the new study, combined with the results of the new study, provide an enriched understanding of how mammalian output functions relate to time.

UPDATE: New Scientist magazine made a short video (and did a writeup) about this, complete with background excretion music:

UPDATE: Co-authors Patricia Yang and David Hu write about their research, in The Conversation: “Physics of poo: Why it takes you and an elephant the same amount of time

Highlights from the spring Ig Nobel EuroTour

Tuesday, April 25th, 2017

Here are highlight reels from the recent Ig Nobel shows at the University of Graz and at the University of Stockholm:



Those shows were part of this year’s Ig Nobel Spring Eurotour. This was the full tour schedule:

NOTTINGHAM TRENT UNIVERSITY, England
IMPERIAL COLLEGE LONDON, England
EPFL, Lausanne, Switzerland
UNIVERSITY OF OSLO, Norway
STOCKHOLM UNIVERSITY, Stockholm, Sweden
KAROLINSKA INSTITUTE, Stockholm, Sweden
FRI TANKE FÖRLAG, Stockholm, Sweden
ORF (television debate), Vienna, Austria
UNIVERSITY OF GRAZ, Austria
UNIVERSITY OF CATANIA, Italy
NATUURHISTORISCH MUSEUM ROTTERDAM, The Netherlands
EDINBURGH, Scotland

The shows featured MARC ABRAHAMS (founder of the Ig Nobel Prize ceremony) and different combinations of these Ig Nobel Prize winners:

  • MINNA LYONS (psychopaths and night owls)
  • KADER ALLOUNI (using speed bumps to diagnose appendicitis)
  • ELIZABETH OBERZAUCHER (mathematical analysis of the man who fathered 888 children)
  • RAGHAVENDRA RAU (some business leaders acquire a taste for disasters that do not affect them personally)
  • THOMAS THWAITES (living as a goat)
  • LUDWIG HUBER (absence of contagious yawning in tortoises)
  • ALESSANDRO PLUCHINO, ANDREA RAPISARDA, CESARE GAROFALO (organizations would become more efficient if they promoted people at random)
  • HYNEK BURDA (defecating dogs align their body axis with Earth’s north-south geomagnetic field lines)
  • KEES MOELIKER (homosexual necrophilia in the mallard duck)
  • PIERS BARNES (how many group photos are needed to ensure at least one in which nobody blinks)
  • FREDRIK SJÖBERG (three-volume autobiographical work about the pleasures of collecting flies that are dead, and flies that are not yet dead)
  • LAURENT BÈGUE (people who think they are drunk also think they are attractive)

HAIR NOTE: The show at the University of Oslo, on Friday, March 24, included the public introduction of the Luxuriant Flowing Hair Club for Scientists (LFHCfS) Woman of the Year: Anneleen Kool.

INCOMPETENCE NOTE: The tour also featured tributes to the Ig Nobel Prize-winning (in the year 2000) study of the Dunning-Kruger effect. That study is called “Unskilled and Unaware of It: How Difficulties in Recognizing One’s Own Incompetence Lead to Inflated Self-Assessments.”