Archive for 'Ig Nobel'

Marie Curie, radium, and cows lying down and standing up

Tuesday, August 18th, 2015

Wim De Villiers, Rector and Vice-Chancellor of Stellenbosch University, says:

And in all aspects we have to maximise our social impact…. research must be relevant and meaningful. This refers to its applicability and usefulness.

Let me provide examples. In 1903, Marie Curie was awarded a Nobel Prize in Physics together with her husband, Pierre, and fellow researcher, Henri Becquerel.

But Marie had written up the bulk of the research in her doctoral thesis earlier that same year – the same output that earned her a second Nobel Prize – this time for Chemistry, in 1911 – for discovering two new elements, radium and polonium.

deVilliersNow, there is another award which sounds quite similar – the Ig Nobel Prize, designed to make people laugh but also think. Take the Ig Nobel Probability Prize that went to Tolkamp, Haskell, Langford, Roberts and Morgan in 2013 for making two related discoveries.

First, “that the longer a cow has been lying down, the more likely that cow will soon stand up”. And second, “that once a cow stands up, you cannot easily predict how soon that cow will lie down again”.

Their research sounds silly, but it was published in 2010 by Elsevier in Applied Animal Behaviour Science, a reputable international journal reporting on the study animals managed by humans. We might consider it trivial, but dairy and cattle farmers would probably find it useful – not to mention animal rights campaigners who might want to take them on!

This is part of an article in the Cape Times, on August 17, 2015, with this attribution: “Professor De Villiers is Rector and Vice-Chancellor of Stellenbosch University (SU). This article is based on his talk at the annual academic day of SU’s Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences on August 13.”

Next month: the 25th First Annual Ig Nobel Prize Ceremony

Monday, August 17th, 2015

The 25th First Annual Ig Nobel Prize ceremony happens one month from today. On Thursday, September 17, 2015, come to the Ig Nobel ceremony at Harvard if you have tickets, or watch the live webcast here at


More and more and more co-authors…

Sunday, August 9th, 2015

Co-authors, co-authors, everywhere. Robert Lee Hotz reports, in the Wall Street Journal:

How Many Scientists Does It Take to Write a Paper? Apparently, Thousands
Scientific journals see a spike in number of contributors; 24 pages of alphabetized co-authors

A Frenchman named Georges Aad [pictured here] may have the most prominent name in particle physics.

aadIn less than a decade, Dr. Aad, who lives in Marseilles, France, has appeared as the lead author on 458 scientific papers. Nobody knows just how many scientists it may take to screw in a light bulb, but it took 5,154 researchers to write one physics paper earlier this year—likely a record—and Dr. Aad led the list.

His scientific renown is a tribute to alphabetical order.

Almost every paper by “G. Aad et al.” involves so many researchers that they decided to always list themselves in alphabetical order. Their recent paper, published in the journal Physical Review Letters, features 24 pages of alphabetized co-authors led by Dr. Aad….

Things have accelerated. The 1993 Ig Nobel Prize for literature was awarded to Eric Topol, R. Califf, F. Van de Werf, P. W. Armstrong, and their 972 co-authors, for publishing a medical research paper which has one hundred times as many authors as pages. [The study was published in The New England Journal of Medicine [NEJM], vol. 329, no. 10, September 2, 1993, pp. 673-82. The authors are from the following countries: Australia, Belgium, Canada, France, Germany, Ireland, Israel, Luxembourg, The Netherlands, New Zealand, Poland, Spain, Switzerland, United Kingdom, United States. NEJM Executive editor Marcia Angel attended the Ig Nobel ceremony, accepting the prize on behalf of the co-authors, who could not agree on the wording of an acceptance speech. Click here for additional details of the paper.]

Ig Nobel-winning Indian murder trick can be adapted for the Internet

Saturday, August 8th, 2015

The non-biologically-murderous trick that led to an Ig Nobel Peace Prize for the living dead can be easily adapted for the Internet age, suggests an AFP report.

The 2003 Ig Nobel Peace Prize was awarded to Lal Bihari, of Uttar Pradesh, India, for a triple accomplishment: First, for leading an active life even though he has been declared legally dead; Second, for waging a lively posthumous campaign against bureaucratic inertia and greedy relatives; and Third, for creating the Association of Dead People.

The AFP reports, today, on a high-tech version of this form of murder:

Def Con: Hackers can virtually kill people, manipulate death records, Australian security expert says

A rush to make registering deaths digital has made it simple for maliciously-minded hackers to have someone who is alive declared dead by authorities, an Australian computer security expert says.

Getting birth certificates for virtual babies was demonstrated to be even easier than killing off people in the digital world, because registering births online only involves doctors and parents.

Hackers at the infamous annual Def Con gathering in Las Vegas on Friday got schooled in how to be online killers.

“This is a global problem,” Australian computer security specialist Chris Rock said, as he launched a presentation titled I Will Kill You….

You can learn more about the original, low-tech murder method — and about the prize-winning response of some of the murder victims — on Improbable Research podcast #11: The Knight of the Living Dead.

Click on the “Venetian blinds” icon — at the lower right corner here — and then select “EPISODE 11: The Knight of the Living Dead”:

(Thanks to Kurt Verkest for bringing this to our attention.)

BONUS: A Times of India report about how some of the living dead are standing for election to political office.


“An opera set to ruffle a few feathers”

Monday, August 3rd, 2015

Excitement, perhaps spiced with dread and ornamented with down, mounts in London anticipating the performances of the Homosexual Necrophiliac Duck Opera, on 8 and 9 August.

Tom Whipple reports, in The Times, under the headline “An opera set to ruffle a few feathers“:



See here for background, and here to get tickets (if any are still available).

As you likely are full-well aware, the incident on which the opera is based resulted in, among other things, the 2003 Ig Nobel Prize for biology.