Archive for 'Ig Nobel'

He recommends you read the book The Ig Nobel Prizes. So do we.

Monday, October 16th, 2017

Adrian Wallwork explains, in this video, why he recommends that his students read the book The Ig Nobel Prizes. We recommend that, too. (Too, we recommend to you The Ig Nobel Prizes 2.)

Pseudo-profound bullshit commemorated: The Laffer Curve

Saturday, October 14th, 2017

Today the New York Times celebrates, deadpan, a fake relic of a historically influential example of pseudo-profound bullshit. Under the headline “This Is Not Arthur Laffer’s Famous Napkin,The Times says:

It is one of the iconic moments in modern economics: A young professor named Arthur Laffer sketched a curve on a bar napkin in 1974 to show an aide to President Gerald R. Ford why the federal government should cut taxes.

The Laffer Curve became famous; the Republican Party became the party of tax cuts; and, in 2015, the Smithsonian announced that it was putting the napkin on display.

But the napkin now celebrated for starting a tax revolt is not, in fact, the original napkin….

Although some politicians claimed to take the Laffer Curve seriously (thus leading to their claimed reverence for a replica napkin), mathematicians, economists, and the world in general delighted in pointing out that it was nonsense.

Martin Gardner, the Scientific American columnist, destroyed the Laffer curve illusion, in one of his final columns. Martin also is the person whose advice started me on my writing career. I wrote this about that, when Martin died:

My own favorite of Martin’s works is the final column he wrote for Scientific American — a deadly, hilariously efficient dissection of a gold-plated piece of nonsense. That final column was called “The Laffer curve and other laughs in current economics” [Scientific American, December, 1981, vol. 245, pp. 18-31]. It drew wrathful, spittle-flecked letters from  people who bought their intellectual fashion items at The Emperor’s New Clothes shop. “No economist has the foggiest notion of what a Laffer curve really looks like except in the neighborhood of its endpoints,” the column says. One of that column’s lovely technical drawings is reproduced below (thanks to Wikipedia).

That final column itself  [you can read it online] is reproduced in the book The Night Is Large, a collection of many of Martin’s best writings.

In celebrating anew the Laffer curve, pretending that it corresponds to reality, some politicians (and perhaps the New York Times?) unintendedly also celebrate the 2016 Ig Nobel Peace Prize.

The 2016 Ig Nobel Peace Prize was awarded to Gordon PennycookJames Allan CheyneNathaniel BarrDerek Koehler, and Jonathan Fugelsang for their scholarly study called “On the Reception and Detection of Pseudo-Profound Bullshit.” [That paper was published in the journal Judgment and Decision Making, vol. 10, no. 6, November 2015, pp. 549–563.]


Downstream reactions from the 4-legged periodic table table

Friday, October 13th, 2017

From Mark Peplow’s review, in the journal Nature, of the new book by Ig Nobel Prize-winner Theo Gray:

Gray’s career as a chemical evangelist began in 2002, when he misread a line in Oliver Sacks’s Uncle Tungsten (Knopf, 2001) and imagined the periodic table of elements as a literal table. A skilled woodworker, Gray decided to build it and stock cavities beneath each symbol with samples of the elements.

Then, he recalls, “things really got out of hand” ( The table won the 2002 Ig Nobel Prize in Chemistry, and spawned a cottage industry: Gray now sells periodic-table posters, books and quilts, and makes museum displays. With photographer Nick Mann, he has amassed a gallery of element photos, showcased in his 2009 book The Elements. Its sequel, Molecules, followed in 2014; Reactions is the final part of the trilogy (all published by Black Dog & Leventhal)….

Vampire bat taste-for-blood report “may have highlighted a serious health risk”

Monday, October 9th, 2017

“Normally the ‘Ig Nobel Prize’ is awarded to researchers who have strange, silly, or unimportant scientific research, but this startling revelation — that the legendary vampire bat has a taste for our blood — may have highlighted a serious health risk for people living in Central and South America.”

report by Arnold Carreiro, published in PJ, October 8, 2017

The 2017 Ig Nobel Prize for nutrition was awarded to Fernanda Ito, Enrico Bernard, and Rodrigo Torres, for the first scientific report of human blood in the diet of the hairy-legged vampire bat

REFERENCE: “What is for Dinner? First Report of Human Blood in the Diet of the Hairy-Legged Vampire Bat Diphylla ecaudata,” Fernanda Ito, Enrico Bernard, and Rodrigo A. Torres, Acta Chiropterologica, vol. 18, no. 2, December 2016, pp. 509-515.

The Ig Nobel events, reported firsthand by a winning scientist

Sunday, October 8th, 2017

Dr.  Marisa López-Teijón, leader of the team that won the 2017 Ig Nobel Obstetrics Prize — for showing that a developing human fetus responds more strongly to music that is played electromechanically inside the mother’s vagina than to music that is played electromechanically on the mother’s belly — describes what the team experienced during Ig Nobel week [this is an auto-translation into English; the original Spanish version, with additional photos, is on the team’s blog]:

I have just arrived from Boston and I want to share with you my joy for this award. It is an important recognition by prestigious universities and makes me especially excited because they try to bring science to everyone in an easy and fun way.

They treated us as if we were heroes of comics of scientific adventures, with respect and constant amusement. For example, before the Harvard ceremony we were shown the facilities but we were lined up with string, full of excitement and laughter.

To walk around the Massachusetts Institute of Technology they put stickers that put “IG NOBEL SPECIMEN” and the teachers and students did not stop asking us questions and asking for practical examples. The Korean physicist who studies fluid dynamics danced back imitating Michael Jackson carrying a cup of coffee in his hand (so do not spill !!).

The award-winning dinner was in the house of one of the teachers, absolutely endearing, even the soprano of the gala sang the happy birthday to the English researcher who studies the ears.

Some of us have the most developed sense of humor and all of this amuses us but others are very serious and really made an effort. But thanks to that the global impact on the media is amazing.