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Archive for 'Ig Nobel'

Is Facial Hair Biologically-Hazardous When a Pandemic Looms?

Wednesday, February 26th, 2020

As a newly discovered corona virus spreads through an increasingly anxious world, advice is being offered—and sometimes mocked—about the mundane-seeming question of facial hair. The basic safety question was investigated more than fifty years ago—and that investigation was honored ten years ago with an Ig Nobel Prize.

Also: Today the Trump administration took a new step—in selecting a leader for its corona-virus-related research and response efforts—that falls in line with another, very different, Ig Nobel-Prize-winning achievement.

The Prize for Investigating the Biological Hazard of Facial Hair

The 2010 Ig Nobel Prize for public health was awarded to Manuel Barbeito, Charles Mathews, and Larry Taylor of the Industrial Health and Safety Office, Fort Detrick, Maryland, USA, for determining by experiment that microbes cling to bearded scientists.

The team described its finding in the study: “Microbiological Laboratory Hazard of Bearded Men,” Manuel S. Barbeito, Charles T. Mathews, and Larry A. Taylor, Applied Microbiology, vol. 15, no. 4, July 1967, pp. 899–906. Those findings, we have been told, then formed the basis of safety regulations adopted by biological-hazard laboratories around the world.

Here are some details from that study:

Trump Administration Withholds Funds from Fort Detrick Lab—and Appoints Well-Coiffed Leader of Corona Virus Research & Response

The Frederick News-Post reported, on February 5, 2020: “Defense Department withholds money from Fort Detrick lab“. Fort Detrick is where the original are-beards-hazardous research was done. The news report says: “It is unclear why the Defense Department is withholding the $104 million from the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases and the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Chemical Defense…”

This new paring of biomedical resources—resources directly aimed at handling infectious diseases— is happening two years after the Trump Administration shut down the CDC’s Pandemic Response team. The acronym CDC stands for the Centers for Disease Control.

Beards, of course, are just one small aspect of this increasingly hairy public health situation.

The Trump administration announced, today, that it is placing an amateur disease enthusiast in charge of the USA’s entire effort to deal with the new disease: “Trump puts Pence in charge of US coronavirus response.” Pence is Mike Pence, Vice President of the United States, who is renowned for his carefully combed hair. Pence is also renowned being the current chairman of the National Space Council and for his recent appointment to head the new US Space Force. In a previous job, as governor of the state of Indiana, Pence was appreciated for his efforts that helped spread the HIV virus.

[UPDATE Feb 27: The New York Times reports: “Pence Will Control All Coronavirus Messaging From Health Officials—…The decision to put Mr. Pence in charge was made on Wednesday after the president told some people that the vice president didn’t “have anything else to do,” according to people familiar with the president’s comments.”]

Pence’s scientifical duties lie squarely in a tradition established thirty years ago, a tradition that was itself honored with an Ig Nobel Prize. The 1991 Ig Nobel Prize for education was awarded to then US Vice President (and first chairman of the National Space Council, ) J. Danforth Quayle, for demonstrating, better than anyone else, the need for science education. Quayle, like Pence, was noted for having well-combed hair.

(The Trump administration honored another Ig Nobel Prize winner just a week ago, when it pardoned Michael Milken, the recipient of the very first Ig Nobel Prize for economics.)

Laughter and Thought

The Ig Nobel Prizes, including the prize awarded a decade ago for the beards research, honor things that make people LAUGH, then THINK.

Some reactions to what’s happening, some of them fanned by much-spun news coverage, illustrate a very different approach to surprising information: LAUGH, then DON’T THINK. Here’s an example of that.

Some CDC General Info about About Facial Hair Precautions

As many facial-hairy people contemplate the prospect of whether and how to wear a face mask, the CDC has long provided some general information and guidance, beginning with an attention-inviting pair of posters:

The reaction now from some people, with a newly possible pandemic lurking, has been to mock the posters and the advice, and mock even the idea of asking questions.


Michael Milken, First Winner (in 1991) of the Ig Nobel Economics Prize, Pardoned

Tuesday, February 18th, 2020

Michael Milken, the very first winner of the Ig Nobel Economics Prize, was pardoned today by the current President of the United States, Donald Trump.

The 1991 Ig Nobel Prize for economics was awarded to “Michael Milken, titan of Wall Street and father of the junk bond, to whom the world is indebted”.

Fox Business reported, today:

Milken, ‘Junk Bond King,’ could return to Wall St. after Trump pardon

Now that Michael Milken has secured a pardon from President Trump for financial crimes he was convicted of three decades ago, can the man, once known as the “junk bond king,” rejoin the securities industry?

The answer is yes, but the outcome won’t be so simple. Milken, at least for now, is telling reporters he has no plans to get back into the business of Wall Street. It was there, during the finance boom of the 1980s, that he made tons of money on junk bonds and leveraged finance deals at the now-defunct Drexel Burnham Lambert. His plea and conviction in 1990 for securities fraud, landed him a 10-year prison sentence (commuted to two years), $1.1 billion in fines and restitution, and a permanent ban from the securities business. The king had been turned into a pariah.

Ig Nobel talk (and webcast) at NIH on Wednesday

Tuesday, February 18th, 2020

Marc Abrahams will give this week’s NIH Director’s Wednesday Afternoon Lecture talk, at the National Institutes of Health campus in Bethesda, Maryland. The topic will be “Improbable Research and the Ig Nobel Prizes.”

The event, at 3 pm (US eastern time), Wednesday, February 19, is open to the public, free. It will also be webcast.

The NIH web site says of the lecture series: “The NIH Director’s Wednesday Afternoon Lecture Series, colloquially known as WALS, is the highest-profile lecture program at the NIH.”

The NIH web site says of the lecturer: “Marc Abrahams founded the annual Ig Nobel Prize ceremony, in 1991. He is editor of the magazine Annals of Improbable Research, and former editor of the Journal of Irreproducible Research. He has written 24 mini-operas (about heart repair, bacterial space exploration, atomic/human romance, species mixing, coffee chemistry, the Atkins Diet, human/sheep cloning, cockroaches, incompetence, and much else). He invents ways to make people curious about things they might otherwise avoid.”

The physics of tossing fried rice

Sunday, February 16th, 2020

David Hu, who has two Ig Nobel physics prizes (the first for discovering nearly-universal urination duration in mammals, the second for studying why wombat poo is cubic-shaped) has a new study out with colleague Hungtang Ko, about the physics of tossing fried rice.

The study is “The physics of tossing fried rice,” Hungtang Ko and David L. Hu, Journal of the Royal Society: Interface, 2020. Here are details from the study:

“Fried rice is a 1500-year-old dish that is prepared using wok tossing, a technique that enables food to undergo temperatures of 1200°C without burning. Tossing of the heavy wok at high speed may be one contributor to shoulder pain, which is reported by 64.5% of Chinese restaurant chefs. In this combined experimental and theoretical study, we report the wok tossing kinematics of five professional restaurant chefs. The wok toss has a period of 0.3 s and involves two directions of movement: translation, which slides the rice along the wok, and rotation, which throws the rice into the air. We report the chosen kinematics of the chefs and use a theoretical model to predict the trajectory of rice based on projectile motion. Using our model, we rank all possible kinematics in terms of three metrics: the proportion of the rice that is tossed, its flight height and the angular displacement of the rice. We identify an optimal regime for making fried rice and suggest ways that wok tossing may be improved. “

Improbable Research Saturday night in Seattle

Saturday, February 15th, 2020

Join us Saturday night, February 15, at the Improbable Research show at the AAAS Annual Meeting, Grand Hyatt Seattle, 71 Pine Street (in Princessa Ballrooms 1 & 2),

The annual Improbable Research session will, this year, include:

  • Marc Abrahams, founder of the Ig Nobel Prize ceremony
  • Theresa McKeon, 2019 Ig Nobel Prize winner for using a simple animal-training technique— called “clicker training” —to train surgeons to perform orthopedic surgery.
  • Kazutaka Kurihara, 2012 Ig Nobel Prize winner for creating the SpeechJammer — a machine that disrupts a person’s speech, by making them hear their own spoken words at a very slight delay.
  • (Brief!) Dramatic readings from improbable research studies, some of which have won Ig Nobel Prizes.
  • and other stuff.

This session is open free to the public.  Bring friends. (Seating is limited—arrive early if you want seats.) #AAASmtg

BONUS EVENT the next day

The next day—Sunday, February 16, at noon—join us for some additional, dramatic readings from improbable research studies, at Archie McPhee, 1300 N 45th St, Seattle. The Archie McPhee event, too, is free, and open to everyone.

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