Archive for 'Ig Nobel'

Referee Height Influences Decision Making in British Football Leagues

Monday, December 2nd, 2019

Do referees who are short punish players more than referees who are not so short do? A new study by Ig Nobel Prize winner Minna Lyons and colleagues probes that question. The study is:

Referee Height Influences Decision Making in British Football Leagues,” Dane McCarrick, Gayle Brewer, Minna Lyons, Thomas V. Pollet, and Nick Neave, psyarxiv, 2019. The authors, at the University of Liverpool and Northumbria University, explain:

Male height is positively associated with social dominance, and more agonistic/competitive behaviours. However, the ‘Napoleon complex’ or ‘small man syndrome’ suggests that smaller males are more assertive and punitive to compensate for lack of height and social dominance. Here, we assess possible relationships between height and punitive behaviours in a real-world setting…. we analysed data on 61 male association football referees from four professional leagues in England, and explored relationships between their height and punitive behaviours in the form of yellow cards, red cards and penalties given during an entire season….

Results: Overall there was no effect of referee height on fouls awarded. However, there was a main effect of height on yellow cards awarded, with shorter referees issuing more yellow cards. The same effect was found for red cards and penalties, though this was moderated by league. In the lower leagues, more red cards and penalties were awarded by relatively shorter referees, but in the higher leagues more red cards and penalties were awarded by relatively taller referees.

Conclusions: These findings from real-life public dominance encounters show that height is associated with punitive behaviours, but is sensitive to context.

Lead author Dane McCarrick is a football referee, and a psychologist.

Earlier, Psychopaths

In 2014, Minna Lyons, together with colleagues Amy Jones and Peter Jonason, was awarded an Ig Nobel Prize, for amassing evidence that people who habitually stay up late are, on average, more self-admiring, more manipulative, and more psychopathic than people who habitually arise early in the morning.

That psychopath research is documented in the study “Creatures of the Night: Chronotypes and the Dark Triad Traits,” Peter K. Jonason, Amy Jones, and Minna Lyons, Personality and Individual Differences, vol. 55, no. 5, 2013, pp. 538-541.

A Short Talk about Short Referees, in London on March 21

Minna Lyons and Gayle Brewer will do a short talk about this new study on short referees, and answer questions about it, in the Ig Nobel show at Imperial College London on March 21, 2020. That show is part of the 2020 Ig Nobel EuroTour.

An end at the Apostrophe

Sunday, December 1st, 2019

The founder of the Apostrophe Protection Society, who in 2001 was awarded an Ig Nobel Prize for that achievement, has announced that the Apostrophe Protection Society will come to an end.

He made the announcement with a tinge of happy bitterness. A December 1, 2019 news report in the Evening Standard says:

A society dedicated to preserving the correct use of the apostrophe has shut down because “ignorance has won”.

Retired journalist John Richards, 96, started the Apostrophe Protection Society in 2001 to make sure the “much-abused” punctuation mark was being used correctly.

But Mr Richards has now announced: “With regret I have to announce that, after some 18 years, I have decided to close the Apostrophe Protection Society.

“There are two reasons for this. One is that at 96 I am cutting back on my commitments and the second is that fewer organisations and individuals are now caring about the correct use of the apostrophe in the English Language.” …

The Ig Nobel Prize for Literature

The 2001 Ig Nobel Prize for literature was awarded to John Richards of Boston, England, for his efforts to protect, promote, and defend the differences between plural and possessive.

You can watch recorded video of the 2001 announcement, and Mr. Richards’ acceptance speech.

News organizations, especially in Mr. Boston’s neck of the world, have greeted the shutdown news with headlines, among which are:

  • “‘The barbarians have won!’ Boston’s Apostrophe Protection Society closes down after 18 years” [Boston Standard]
  • “‘Laziness has won’: apostrophe society admits its defeat” [The Guardian]
  • “Apostrophe Protection Society comes to a full stop” [The Irish Times]

The End Is Not The End

The end times announcement is not the end of the story. The Apostrophe Protection Society web site carries this announcement by John Richards:

With regret I have to announce that, after some 18 years, I have decided to close the Apostrophe Protection Society.

There are two reasons for this. One is that at 96 I am cutting back on my commitments and the second is that fewer organisations and individuals are now caring about the correct use of the apostrophe in the English Language.

We, and our many supporters worldwide, have done our best but the ignorance and laziness present in modern times have won!

This web site, masterminded by John Hale, will however remain open for some time for reference and interest.

A World of Caring

The depth of human caring about apostrophe usage is still evident, despite the imminent self-demise of the official group. One sees this in a letter published in the Wiltshire Times, on November 29, from one man, who says:

This is not wrong

IN fairness to the owner of the building, I write in response to the letter from Dawn Cleaver (Wiltshire Times 22 November). She states that the new signage on St George’s Works has an errant apostrophe. It does not.

Rather than used to indicate a contraction (the missing letter ‘I’ she suggests), the apostrophe indicates possession and is perfectly correct. Rather than ‘a shocking misspelling on a very prominent building’ I am pleased to see the correct use of a grammatical rule.

Tim Angell, Trowbridge

Our curiosity piqued about this particular apostrophe question, which pertains to a specific site in Trowbridge, Wiltshire, UK, we consulted the UK’s National Archives. The indication there is that an apostrophe is indeed properly needed in this case. Witshire’s government web site concurs. Thus, in propriety, governmentally as well as Societally, at least for now, Tim Angell triumphs over Dawn Cleaver.


Improbable Podcast Resurrection / Introducing our Patreon

Friday, November 29th, 2019

We are hatching plans to bring the Improbable Research podcast back from the dead! To do that—and more!—we have created a Patreon.

The Improbable Research podcast ran for two years, weekly—a collaboration between us and the CBS Radio network. It was one of CBS’s very first podcasts. It was one of the most fun things we ever did. Alas, when the CBS Radio network dismantled itself, we stopped doing the podcast. Here, below, are little video teasers for four of the old episodes.

We miss doing it. (We podcast regulars—Marc Abrahams, Jean Berko Gleason, Melissa Franklin, Richard Baguley, Nicole Sharp, Chris Cotsapas, etc.—really miss doing it!)

From what we’ve heard, some of you miss hearing it. Many others of you never got the chance to hear it.

Here’s the plan.

We intend to bring back some of the existing episodes, one a week. And make new episodes. And other good stuff.

Introducing our Patreon

To fund this, to make it possible, we have created a Patreon.

Our intention, our plan, is to resurrect the best of the old episodes, to create new episodes, and to support our related activities—the Ig Nobel Prizes, the magazine (Annals of Improbable Research), the public events worldwide, and whoknowswhat!

Please join us in our Improbable Research adventuring. We would welcome your support!



Ig Nobel on “Science Friday” on the day after Thanksgiving

Thursday, November 28th, 2019

The 29th First Annual Ig Nobel Prize ceremony will be broadcast on the Science Friday program this Friday, November 29th, 2019, in a specially-edited, recorded one-hour highlights version.

This photo shows a moment in the ceremony: Medical education prize winners Karen Pryor and Theresa McKeon receive their Ig Nobel Prize, handed to them by Nobel laureate Rich Roberts. Human curtainrod Maria Eliseeva beams at them. Alexey Eliseev took the photo.

We always enjoy seeing/hearing how our friends at Science Friday manage to wrangle the complex Ig Nobel ceremony down into an entertaining, all-audio single radio hour.

This continues the day-after-Thanksgiving tradition—now in its 28th year—for Science Friday’s special coverage of the ceremony. In most parts of the USA, it will be the SECOND hour of the Science Friday radio broadcast—BUT in some places (including the WBUR broadcast in the Boston area, home of the ceremony) it will be the FIRST hour.

You can, if you like, listen online.

Beforehand, dip into the past…

Can’t wait? Listen to some of the broadcasts from previous years that are archived online. Here’s a recording of Science Friday’s Ig Nobel broadcast from last year, 2018:

We always enjoy seeing/hearing how our friends at Science Friday manage to wrangle the complex Ig Nobel ceremony down into an entertaining, all-audio single radio hour.

More Ig

For more info about the ceremony, including video, visit the 29th First Annual Ig Nobel Prize ceremony web page.  The special Ig Nobel issue of the magazine will present further details—that issue will appear in late December; if you subscribe beforehand the special issue will be sent to you automatically.

If you would like to help support all this, please Become a Patron!

The Ig Nobel Operas

Wednesday, November 27th, 2019

Every Ig Nobel Prize ceremony since 1996 has included a new mini-opera, performed by professional opera singers (with Nobel Laureates acting in supporting roles). These mini-operas honor the tradition of the classic Bugs Bunny cartoons “What’s Opera, Doc?” and “Rabbit of Seville“—each mini-opera is a pasticcio that marries a brand new story & words to beloved old music (from operas, popular songs, etc.).

    • 2019: “Creatures of Habit” [libretto (PDF)]-PLOT: A visit to the Museum of Bad Habits, which explores a basic question. Why do people who persistently do bad things keep on doing those bad things? Because they MUST—or because they CAN?
    • 2018: “The Broken Heart Opera” [libretto (PDF)]-PLOT: Children curious to know ‘How can you mend a broken heart?’ decide that the best way is to first build a heart, then break it, then mend it. They try to do exactly that.
    • 2017: “The Incompetence Opera” [libretto (PDF)]-PLOT: A stranger, a cocky psychologist, walks into a crowded bar. He insists on explaining the Peter Principle (in any organization, people rise to their own level of incompetence) and the Dunning-Kruger effect (incompetent people don’t realize they are incompetent).


    • 2016:  “The Last Second” [libretto (PDF)]-PLOT: Officials in charge of synchronizing the world’s clocks realize that if they insert an extra second (an unannounced leap second) at the end of the year, they can commit prodigious financial crimes.
    • 2015:  “The Best Life” [libretto (PDF)]-PLOT: Promoters collect one of every species of life, to stage an internationally broadcast ceremony to declare which species is The Best Form of Life. Gathered all together in one giant room, the creatures want to eat and/or have sex with each other, and do. The event promoters survive, and are hauled into a courtroom packed with hungry lawyers.
    • 2014:  “What’s Eating You?” [libretto (PDF)]-PLOT: A wealthy couple buy up all the farmland on earth, intending to manufacture special nutrient pills that will let them live forever. After many years, all other humans have died, and the couple runs out of pills. The bacteria in the rich couple’s guts happily expect to outlive them.
    • 2013:  “The Blonsky Device” [libretto (PDF)]-PLOT: A lightly fictionalized version of the story of George and Charlotte Blonsky, inventors of a device (US patent #3,216,423) to assist women in giving birth by using centrifugal force.
    • 2012:  “The Intelligent Designer and The Universe”  [libretto (PDF)]-PLOT: The world’s wealthiest man, who in his youth won the ‘Mr. Universe’ competition, has died. His will specifies that all the money be used to ‘make a beautiful, beautiful dress for the Universe.’ The world’s top dress designer attempts to carry out that wish.
    • 2011:  “Chemist in a Coffee Shop”  [libretto (PDF)]-PLOT: Baristas and customers in a coffee shop obsess over the chemistry of their favorite beverage.
    • 2010:  “The Bacterial Opera”  [libretto (PDF), video]-PLOT: Gallileococcus, a brilliant bacterium who lives on a woman’s tooth, uses his biofilm to make a telescope and see far out into the universe. The bacteria begin building a scaffold, so they can climb up, and boldly go explore the universe. But the woman awakes and, apocalyptically for the bacteria, brushes and flosses her teeth.
    • 2009:  “The Big Bank Opera”  [libretto (PDF), video: Act 1 Act 2 Act 3 Act 4]-PLOT: Swanky bankers celebrate themselves, the history of money, and the out-of-this-world rise of big banks. The big banks crash to earth. The bankers vituperate, with swank.
    • 2008:  “Redundancy, Again”  [libretto]-PLOT: Industrialist twin brothers fire everyone whose job in anyway overlaps anyone else’s job. However, whenever even one employee quits, the entire operation grinds to a halt, because no one knows anyone else’s job. Then consultants recommend, again and again, that the brothers institute redundancy.
    • 2007:  “Chicken Versus Egg”  [libretto]-PLOT: Mother/daughter tensions grow ever worse as a hen sits on an egg, as the egg hatches, and as the daughter chick herself contemplates motherhood.
    • 2006:  “Inertia Makes The World Go Around”  [libretto (PDF)-PLOT: A tale of budding romance, involving a boy, a dog, and two sisters, one of whom is always at rest, the other always in motion.
    • 2005:  “The Count of Infinity”  [libretto (PDF)]-PLOT: The Countess of Infinity, who has OCD (obsessive compulsive disorder), hires an attractive accountant to help her count each and every object in the land of Infinity. They struggle with the magnitude of the task, and with incipient love.
    • 2004:  “The Atkins Diet Opera”  [libretto (PDF)]-PLOT: Dr. Atkins, observing cats munch on birds, invents the perfect diet regimen: eat only meat. Then, after becoming famous and rich, Dr. Atkins finds a way to top himself: he invents the Coffee Diet.
    • 2003:  “Atom and Eve”  [libretto]-PLOT: Eve, a chemist, falls madly in love with little Atom, who is an oxygen atom. Atom reciprocates the feeling. The lovers, who live on such different scales, yearn to consummate their love. Eve decides to use laser beams to create a giant Bose-Einstein condensate, thus bringing Atom up to size. Sort of.
Watch the little oxygen atom sing about his gigantic love.
    • 2002:  “The Jargon Opera”  [libretto]-PLOT: Delegates to the International Jargon Conference struggle to find understanding. They find it. They understand that they want to kill each other. They realize that the only thing that can save them, and save humanity, is harmonious misunderstanding.
    • 2001:  “The Wedding Complex”  [libretto]-PLOT: Scientists try to use their knowledge and social skills to plan the wedding of two colleagues. [NOTE: The premiere performance culminated with the actual wedding, on stage, televised worldwide, of two NASA scientists.]
    • 2000:  “The Brain Food Opera”  [libretto]-PLOT: A man and woman want to be the most intelligent couple on earth. But they disagree on how to go about it. HE insists they should eat nothing but fish. SHE insists on brains – and nothing but. Unfortunately, the brains SHE eats came from mad cows, and she contracts Mad Cow Disease. The fish HE eats were contaminated with mercury, and he comes down with Mad Hatter’s Disease. The couple, who are mad for each other, create the world’s next great diet fad food: Fish Brains!
    • 1999:  “The Seedy Opera”  [libretto]-PLOT: In the hills of Chicago, there dwells a brilliant, lonely shepherd named Richard Seed. One day, he makes a scientific breakthrough – he discovers how to clone sheep. And clone himself. Maidens in New Zealand, having heard the news, come to Chicago and kiss the sheep, magically transforming those sheep into handsome scientists. The lovers form a corporation to clone zillions of copies of Richard Seed, for sale as soldiers to armies of every nation.
    • 1998:  “La Forza Del Duct Tape”  [libretto]-PLOT: The inventor of duct tape undergoes tragedy, as venture capitalists duct tape him to a chair and steal his patent rights.The world’s most famous reporter arrives, adding a televised capstone of ruination to the world’s most terrible technological tragedy.
    • 1997:  “Il Kaboom Grosso”  [libretto]-PLOT: One day, God decides to quit smoking, but he wants to have one last cigar. The cigar explodes in a big bang, creating the universe. Beautiful galaxies form… but disturbing rumors say those galaxies are missing some of the gravitational mass necessary to maintain their shapes. The galaxies try to solve the mystery of the missing mass. They succeed.
    • 1996:  “Lament Del Cockroach”  [libretto]-PLOT: A mysterious object is heading toward the earth, threatening everyone with extinction. All the insects are desperate to mate with the one species they think could survive ANYTHING – the cockroaches. But there are only two cockroaches left, both females, and they resist the romantic overtures. The object – a meteorite from Mars – descends, killing the cockroaches. All the other insects are unharmed; they celebrate with a new burst of song, dance, and evolution.

You can watch the premiere performance of each opera, in the video of that year’s Ig Nobel Prize ceremony.

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