Ig Nobel winner triumphs: “Italy lifts out of recession thanks to hookers, drugs”

October 15th, 2014

istatCongratulations to this year’s Ig Nobel economics prize winner — ISAT — both on its Ig Nobel Prize and on ISTAT’s influence on the Italian economy.

The AFP news agency reports, on October 15, 2014:

Italy lifts out of recession thanks to hookers, drugs

Italy learnt it was no longer in a recession on Wednesday thanks to a change in data calculations across the European Union which includes illegal economic activities such as prostitution and drugs in the GDP measure.

Adding illegal revenue from hookers, narcotics and black market cigarettes and alcohol to the eurozone’s third-biggest economy boosted gross domestic product figures.

GDP rose slightly from a 0.1 percent decline for the first quarter to a flat reading, the national institute of statistics said.

Although ISTAT confirmed a 0.2 percent decline for the second quarter, the revision of the first quarter data meant Italy had escaped its third recession in the last six years….

This comes just four weeks after this year’s Ig Nobel Prize winners were announced at the Ig Nobel Prize ceremony, at Harvard University. The 2014 Ig Nobel Prize for economics was awarded to ISTAT — the Italian government’s National Institute of Statistics, for proudly taking the lead in fulfilling the European Union mandate for each country to increase the official size of its national economy by including revenues from prostitution, illegal drug sales, smuggling, and all other unlawful financial transactions between willing participants.

The relevant documents, in the awarding of that prize, are “Cambia il Sistema europeo dei conti nazionali e regionali – Sec2010” (ISTAT, 2014) and “European System of National and Regional Accounts (ESA 2010)” (Luxembourg: Publications Office of the European Union, 2013).

BONUS: “Droghe e prostituzione nel Pil, all’Istat il premio IgNobel per l’Economia” [La Repubblica]

Jumping beans (the locomotion of)

October 15th, 2014

The US-based Georgia Institute of Technology (Gatech) isn’t just known for undertaking research into lethal weapons systems – far from it – it also investigates, for example, the locomotion and ‘navigation’ abilities of Mexican Jumping Beans. The beans, which are inhabited by the larvae of the moth Laspeyresia saltitans (or sometimes Cydia deshaisiana) have an unusual way of getting from A to B.


“The locomotion of the Mexican jumping bean relies on rolling, which is rare in the natural world.” explain a Gatech research team in a 2012 paper – noting too that : “Few animals rely on wheels rather than appendages …” [see bonus question below]

Observations such as these provided the impetus for a combined experimental, numerical and robotic study which investigated the beans’ unique means of rolling locomotion and their possible applicability to biomimetic micro-scale navigation systems. See:Locomotion of Mexican jumping beans’ in: Bioinspiration & Biomimetics, 7, 036014 (12pp)

Bonus Question : Which (non-cyborg) animals do rely on wheels rather than appendages?

mini-AIR (October issue): Monsters at the Royal Society, etc.

October 14th, 2014

The October issue of mini-AIR (our monthly e-mail newsletter just went out. (mini-AIR is a wee little supplement to the magazine). Topics include:

  • Vampires and Rabies
  • Monsters at the Royal Society
  • Dam, Bloodsucking Blackflies Limerick Competition
  • and more
It also has info about upcoming events.

Mel [pictured here] says, “It’s swell.”

mini-AIR is the simplest way to keep informed about Improbable and Ig Nobel news and events.

Want to have mini-AIR e-mailed to you every month? Just add yourself to the mini-AIR list.

BONUS: Investigator Paul Tomblin, who reads mini-AIR, send us this note: “Not an entry [in the limerick contest], but no discussion of dams and bloodsucking blackflies is complete without a reference to Wade Hemsworth‘s Blackfly Song:

A complicated way to say: ‘Flip a coin’

October 14th, 2014

Considerable expense and effort are thrown at the question: What will people choose?

Which cell phone? Which features? Which dinner entrée? Which school?  Which local political candidate? Which stock or bond? Which financial advisor? Which job candidate? Which job? Which hole to stick your nose in, if you’re offered a choice?

BUT BUT BUT sometimes, maybe much of the time, people choose at random. (You can say that in a more impressively academic-sounding way:  Sometimes people choose stochastically.)

A new study suggests that it’s not just a people thing, this choosing at random. Sometimes rats do it, too….

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

Here’s detail from that study:


The swallowed objects amassed by Chevalier Jackson

October 14th, 2014

The Mutter Museum has, among its protected treasures, one of Philadelphia’s largest collections of swallowed (and eventually retrieved, by medical personnel) objects. (Thanks to Paige Williams for bringing this to our attention.) The museum explains:

Chevalier Jackson Collection

Chevalier Jackson, MD (1865-1958), was a renowned Philadelphia otolaryngologist and Fellow of The College of Physicians of Philadelphia. He developed methods and tools for removing foreign objects from human airways. The Jackson Collection includes 2,374 inhaled or swallowed foreign bodies that Dr. Jackson extracted from patients’ throats, esophaguses, and lungs during his almost 75-year-long career. Most of the items are on display….


The collector, the now-late Dr. Chevalier Jackson, is the same Chevalier Jackson three of whose works were celebrated in last month’s issue of mini-AIR.