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Archive for 'Ig Nobel'

The mystery of how some animals lock themselves into place

Wednesday, January 22nd, 2020

Benno Meyer-Rochow, who won an Ig Nobel Prize in 2005 for calculating the pressures produced when penguins poo [see diagram, below] is now investigating a different kind of biological mystery.

Meyer-Rochow wrote an essay that begins:

You can lock arms with someone, you can lock on to something or be locked in or even be locked up or locked out. But this essay is about animals that possess locking mechanisms. In the tropical waters of Ascension Island in the South Atlantic Ocean, for example, I once caught a pair of matchbox-sized trigger fish and observed their behaviour in my aquarium on board of the research vessel “Walter Herwig”. These denizens of the tropical seas as well as their cousins, the file fishes, can wedge themselves into rock cracks and coral crevices in such a way that it is virtually impossible to dislodge them by pulling at their tails.

You might think that these fish must be mighty strong, but in reality they hardly use any energy at all in this process of “locking in”. Their first dorsal fin ray is a spine that possesses a groove on the backside; but when fully erect a smaller second spine behind the first one is pushed home into the groove of the spine in front, so that the first bigger spine cannot be depressed by external forces, except when the second smaller one is retracted first. A very fine and effective device that is….

Ig Nobel Prize-winning Black Hole / Hell Expert Jack Van Impe Is Dead

Sunday, January 19th, 2020

Dr. Jack Van Impe, who discovered the link between black holes and Hell, has crossed the event horizon. He has died, according to news reports.

In 2001, Dr. Van Impe and his wife, Rexella, were awarded the Ig Nobel Astrophysics prize, for their discovery that black holes fulfill all the technical requirements to be the location of Hell. They revealed their discovery on the March 31, 2001 television and Internet broadcast of the “Jack Van Impe Presents” program. (If you can track down the video, you will see it at about the 12 minute mark).


The Van Impes could not or would not attend that year’s Ig Nobel Prize Ceremony. They tentatively planned to come, but eventually informed us, via their secretary, that they had a pre-existing commitment to appear at an event elsewhere.

And so, MIT astrophysicist Walter Lewin accepted custody of the Prize on behalf of the Van Impes. Lewin hailed the Van Impes’ “breakthrough contributions to astrophysics.” He then remarked that, to astrophysicists, “Black holes go beyond our wildest expectations, fantasies and dreams,” that “black holes are heaven to us.”

Here’s video of the prize announcement and the acceptance speech:

Jack Van Impe conducted a long series of scientific and technical research projects, many of which he described during his television broadcasts. In 2007, he announced another grand discovery: that the basic design of the automobile was published in The Bible.

Always, the announcements were made with verve:

“Bullshit Makes the Art Grow Profounder” (new research study)

Friday, January 17th, 2020

Jonathan Fugelsang, whose team was awarded an Ig Nobel Prize in 2016 for studying the power of pseudo-profound bullshit, has a new study, with other colleagues, about the power of bullshit:

Bullshit Makes the Art Grow Profounder,” Martin Harry Turpin, Alexander C. Walker, Mane Kara-Yakoubian, Nina N. Gabert, Jonathan A. Fugelsang, and Jennifer A. Stolz, Judgment and Decision Making, vol. 14, no. 6, November 2019, pp. 658-670.

The new study says:

Across four studies participants (N = 818) rated the profoundness of abstract art images accompanied with varying categories of titles, including: pseudo-profound bullshit titles (e.g., The Deaf Echo), mundane titles (e.g., Canvas 8), and no titles. Randomly generated pseudo-profound bullshit titles increased the perceived profoundness of computer-generated abstract art, compared to when no titles were present (Study 1). Mundane titles did not enhance the perception of profoundness, indicating that pseudo-profound bullshit titles specifically (as opposed to titles in general) enhance the perceived profoundness of abstract art (Study 2). Furthermore, these effects generalize to artist-created abstract art (Study 3). Finally, we report a large correlation between profoundness ratings for pseudo-profound bullshit and “International Art English” statements (Study 4), a mode and style of communication commonly employed by artists to discuss their work. This correlation suggests that these two independently developed communicative modes share underlying cognitive mechanisms in their interpretations. We discuss the potential for these results to be integrated into a larger, new theoretical framework of bullshit as a low-cost strategy for gaining advantages in prestige awarding domains.

Here’s further detail from the study:

The special Ig Nobel issue of the magazine

Sunday, January 5th, 2020

The magazine’s special Ig Nobel issue (vol. 25, no. 6) shows and tells all about the 2019 Ig Nobel Prize winners and the 29th First Annual Ig Nobel Prize ceremony, and also the opera (“Creatures of Habit”) that premiered as part of the ceremony). Read some of the articles online.

You can buy the entire issue, or subscribe to the magazine, or treat yourself to some back issues.

Annals of Improbable Research—six new issues per year, all in handy PDF format.

The theme of the next Ig Nobel ceremony…

Wednesday, January 1st, 2020

The theme of the 30th First Annual Ig Nobel Prize ceremony will be: BUGS

The opera, which will premiere as part of the Ig Nobel ceremony, will be on that very theme: BUGS.

The ceremony will happen on Thursday evening, September 17, 2020, at Sanders Theatre, Harvard University. TICKETS go on sale in July.

The ceremony will be webcast, as it has been every year beginning in 1995.


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