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A virus-induced quick end to this spring’s Ig Nobel Euro (and Brexitannia) tour

Thursday, March 12th, 2020

This spring’s Ig Nobel Euro (and Brexitannia) Tour ended much sooner than planned.

Because of travel precautions and prohibitions related to the corona virus, we and our host institutions, in the many European and Brexitannian countries, cancelled the Ig Nobel events. (Most of those institutions are also canceling most or all of their other public events.)

We did do one show — last night at the University of Manchester. The performers and the audience, together, created an almost-magical night. As it turns out, that was the entire tour. The Manchester event was livestreamed. Here’s recorded video of the entire event:

The tour was going to be seven weeks long, about the same length as in most years. A large number of people, in many places, put in much thought, time, and work to prepare the events. Thank you to each of those many people! And thank you to everyone who was planning to come participate in whatever ways (as performers, as spectators, as paper airplane enthusiasts, etc.) in the shows. Very sorry that mother nature was uncooperative this year.

Here’s hoping that each and every one of those postponed events happens, some time in the not too-far-off future.

Volcanic, kinda sorta

Ten years ago, part of the Ig Nobel EuroTour ran into unexpected complications when a volcano in Iceland erupted and (among its other effects) led to the shutdown of just about all air traffic in Europe. We are now guessing that every ten years the tour will be a little more interesting—logistically—than in the intervening years.

Here’s a video look back ten years, to the UK part of that 2010 Ig Nobel tour. This particular moment was at Oxford University. Ig Nobel Prize winner Dr. Elena Bodnar demonstrates her inventionthe emergency bra—on a volunteer (Alasdair Kergon):


Updated Ig Nobel Euro (and Brexitannia) Tour Schedule

Sunday, March 1st, 2020

Here’s the updated schedule for the 2020 Ig Nobel Euro (and Brexitannia) Tour, running through most of March and April: <>

Milano postponed

We have indefinitely postponed (thanks, Corona virus travel complications!) the events that were planned for Milan, Italy.

Extra events in the UK and northern Europe?

The schedule now has two slots open for additional simple events (Marc Abrahams doing a talk about the Ig Nobel Prizes):

  • in England/Scotland/Wales on March 12, 13, 14, or 15
  • in Germany / The Netherlands / Denmark on April 8, 9, 10, or 11.

If you would like to host an Ig Nobel talk, and have a budget for train travel and some sort of honorarium, please email <marc atttt improbable dottttt com>.


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.”

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