Sam the student’s view of the 2005 Ig Nobel ceremony

August 28th, 2014

Back in 2005, a Massachusetts Institute of Technology student named Sam went to that year’s Ig Nobel Prize ceremony and then to the Ig Informal Lectures. Sam wrote up his impressions:

Last Thursday, I had the pleasure of attending the Ig Nobel awards ceremony in H****** Square. The “Igs,” sponsored by a bunch of Mensa nerds actual Nobel Laureates from both H****** and MIT, celebrate nontraditional research in a variety of disciplines. This year, awards were bestowed upon ten leading researchers from four different continents for answering some of the following questions:

1. Do people swim faster in water or in syrup?
2. What internal pressures are observed upon penguin defecation?
3. Are neutered pets somehow less happy than regular pets?
4. What about Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope is most appealing to a common cricket?
5. How can we best improve our nation’s economy?
6. Why bother to photograph and retrospectively analyze every meal you’ve eaten over a period of 34 years?…

6. Why bother to photograph and retrospectively analyze every meal you’ve eaten over a period of 34 years?

Well, I’m not sure this one has a clear answer, really. Dr. Yoshiro Nakamats, winner of the Ig Nobel in Nutrition, delivered perhaps the most inspiring and concise acceptance speech at the Ig Nobel ceremony:

“Life is long … should be longer … speech … should be shorter … Good night.”

Or perhaps this profound, almost poetic summation of the human condition merely seemed to be a brief moment of clarity amidst an opera dedicated to counting to infinite, programs being folded into paper planes and thrown at the stage (sometimes during the speeches of actual Nobel Laureates) and 24/7 speeches on animal morphology, primate locomotion, the purpose of life. The lattermost of these consist of speeches of 24 seconds that convey “everything there is to know” about a topic and then 7 words that summarize it in a manner that is “understandable to everyone.” Anyway, all this commotion left me with quite a favorable impression of Dr. Nakamats.

Then some other people on my floor went to the free Ig Informal lectures and discovered some more about Dr. Nakamats, as well as getting the distinguished scientist to autograph their program for him….


Read Sam’s entire assessment, on the MIT Admissions Blog.

Dr. Nakamats will be returning this year, to give the keynote address at the 2014 Ig Nobel Prize Ceremony on September 18, and then to do a brief talk at the Ig Informal Lectures on September 20.

(We do not know what Sam is doing these days, or where he is doing it.)

Here’s video of the entire 2005 Ig Nobel ceremony. Dr. Nakamats is awarded his prize at about the 1:08:40 mark:

How to begin a scientific paper: “Gears are found rarely in animals…”

August 28th, 2014

This research paper, published in the journal Science, demonstrates that yes, it is possible to begin a scientific paper with a colorful thought. The very first sentence begins with these words:

“Gears are found rarely in animals…”

Dishonesty and creativity can spur each other, says study

August 27th, 2014

A little dishonesty can, maybe, in the right hands, used judiciously, be a tool that brings creativity to your business, suggests a study by Professor Francesca Gino of Harvard Business School and Scott S. Wiltermuth of the University of Southern California’s Marshall School of Business.

(The video you see here shows Duke University [and former MIT] professor Dan Ariely, who has conducted much related research with Gino. One of their joint papers is a corker called “The dark side of creativity: original thinkers can be more dishonest.” In this video, Ariely pokes into the happy troika of lies, cheating, and creativity.)

Gino and Wiltermuth did some little experiments…

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

Crying Infant Assuager (new patent)

August 27th, 2014


“Crying babies are the source of great frustration for adults, particularly for their parents. Because they cannot speak, infants cry as their primary means of communication and they do it with great frequency. Babies cry as a means to communicate that they are in pain, unhappy, tired, hungry or generally in need of attention. Sometimes babies cry to block external stimuli in an attempt to calm down. Regardless of the reason, crying is disturbing and gets the attention of those within earshot.”

explain Californian inventors Richard Shane and Chris Tacklind in their newly issued patent Infant Soothing Device Having an Actuator, which is, in a nutshell:

“A device to assuage distressed infants via an adjustable vertical motion combined with an adjustable orientation.”


“In an embodiment of the invention, the device utilizes springs to assist the motion generated by the motor, thereby reducing the power requirements of the motor. In other embodiments of the invention, different types of devices are used to enable the motion of the invention, such as air bellows, pneumatic pumps, hydraulic or magnetic devices and the like.”

Also see: (somewhat related) ‘I was not a lab rat’  by Deborah Skinner Buzan (daughter of Burrhus Frederic Skinner)

skinner_box“Call it what you will, the ‘aircrib’ ,’baby box’, ‘heir conditioner’ (not my father’s term) was a wonderful alternative to the cage-like cot.”

Urination, free will, and the John Templeton Foundation

August 26th, 2014

What kind of research is funded by the John Templeton Foundation, you might ask. This kind:

Embodied free will beliefs: Some effects of physical states on metaphysical opinions,” Michael R. Ent, Roy F. BaumeisterConsciousness and Cognition, vol. 27, July 2014, pp. 147–154. The authors write:

The present research suggests that…  The more intensely people felt… the urge to urinate, the less they believed in free will….

This work was supported by the John Templeton Foundation.