Making us laugh... all for science

Making us laugh... all for science

Wednesday May 12th 2004

Deep in the heart of every science academic, there's an Einstein screaming to get out. In just about every university new 'findings' are sought after by little-known science boffins, keen to imprint the results of their research on the DNA of our understanding of how the world works.

Vast treatises on the mysterious workings of life as we know it are churned out every week by scientific monomaniacs from San Francisco to Shanghai. In America a tongue-in-cheek celebration of some of the more amusing and downright daft scientific discoveries is featured in science humour journal Annals of Improbable Research.

And so to Stockholm where scientists at the local university trained chickens to react to male faces and, separately, to female faces. In their subsequent test they found the chickens preferred beautiful humans, as long as the human was of a different sex to the chicken.

The enduring allure of beauty appears to fascinate science boffins. A survey of Shanghai residents found that beauty raises women's earnings and, to a lesser extent, men's. Using a sample of Dutch advertising firms, another study found that firms with better-looking executives had higher turnovers. A study in Canada found that men with beautiful female partners are inspired to be less financially-fixated. In short, a beautiful bird in the hand is worth two in the bush.

Every year Annals of Improbable Research presents the Ig Nobel Awards "for achievements that first make people laugh, then make them think". One of the awards was given posthumously to Colonel John Paul Stapp for giving birth to Murphy's Law. Stapp's less-well-known 'Ironical Paradox' states: "The universal aptitude for ineptitude makes any human accomplishment an incredible miracle."

Sheep-shearing in Australia provided the inspiration for the award-winning scientific study 'An analysis of the Forces Required to Drag Sheep over Various Surfaces'.

A scientific evaluation from America's Stanford University, entitled 'Politicians' Uniquely Simple Personalities', discovered what most of us already knew. But the study also seems to provide scientific proof for the maxim that we get what we vote for: when we judge ourselves or others, we use five personality factors; but when we judge politicians, that gets reduced to two. So, while politicians may think they're complex, they're quite simple.

And in Rotterdam a museum curator penned a treatise documenting the first scientifically recorded case of homosexual necrophilia of a mallard duck by a former associate.

Last year an Ig Nobel award went to Lal Bihari for founding the Association of Dead People. When he was a teenager Bihari's uncles found a clever way to steal his family property: they had him declared legally dead. Being officially deceased, he could not get a job or any government help. He couldn't get a court hearing. He couldn't even get arrested. To draw attention to his plight, he engaged in protests and even ran for political office. Eventually, 18 years later, he succeeded in his fight to be declared alive. Since then, he has continued the struggle for the rights of all the living dead in India.

Previous award winners include the Southern Baptist Church of Alabama for their county-by-county estimate of how many Alabama citizens will go to Hell if they don't repent.

In the same year two medical men of mercy won for their painstaking research report 'Acute Management of the Zipper-Entrapped Penis'. Ouch!

Eddie Lennon

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