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Archive for 'Ig Nobel'

How are Ig Nobel Prize-Winning Papers Cited?

Wednesday, March 10th, 2021

The Scite organization analyzed some of what happened to the research papers that won Ig Nobel Prizes. Scite published their analysis (which was led by Mason Hayes) online, in Medium:

How are Ig Nobel Prize-Winning Papers Cited?

…Though most Ig Nobel research remains relatively obscure, some award-winning work has been highly cited and become quite famous — for example, Justin Kruger and David Dunning were awarded an Ig Nobel Prize in Psychology for their finding that incompetent people often overestimate their abilities, a finding later named the Dunning-Kruger Effect.

From the ridiculous to the mundane, the disgusting to the thought-provoking, Ig Nobel Prizes are awarded across many disciplines. For example, the Economics Prize was awarded to Kopczuk and Slemrod (2003) for finding that people attempt to live longer if it can get them a lower estate tax upon their death; and the Anatomy Prize to James Heathcote for his work “Why Do Old Men Have Big Ears?”. The set of prize-winning papers is a collection of some of the most outlandish yet interesting research that has been done over the past few decades.

For such a curious set of papers, we at scite were curious to see: other than receiving the Ig Nobel Prize, how have such scientific papers been discussed in the literature? Are they highly cited? Have their findings been supported by others, or disputed? We set out to answer some of these questions using scite’s Custom Dashboards….

Beware of Tiny Pseudofossils

Tuesday, March 9th, 2021

A new study warns that teeny tiny fossils may, in many cases, turn out to be only pseudofossils—shaped like the remains of dead critters, but really just lumps of stuff that happen to have those shapes.

This warning echoes the lesson people draw from the Ig Nobel Prize-winning work of Chonosuke Okamura, who published extensive reports about what he called “mini-species”—mini-dinosaurs, mini-princesses, and much more.

The new paper is: “Organic Biomorphs May Be Better Preserved than Microorganisms in Early Earth Sediments,” Christine Nims, Julia Lafond, Julien Alleon, Alexis S. Templeton, and Julie Cosmidis, Geology, epub 2021. The authors, at Pennsylvania State University, the University of Colorado, and Université de Lausanne, Switzerland, explain:

Organic biomorphs that form via the abiogenic reaction of sulfide with organics are likely to be preserved as pseudofossils in cherts through rapid silica encrustation and, possibly, organic-matter sulfurization. In addition to their striking morphological resemblance to putative Precambrian microfossils, these pseudofossils would share chemical characteristics with actual fossil bacteria, such as complex organic compositions and presence of nitrogen atoms. Importantly, organic biomorphs demonstrate better morphological preservation compared with microbial cells during silicification.

While these findings do not refute previous interpretations of Precambrian putative microfossils, our results call for a circumspect approach when evaluating the biogenicity of chert-hosted organic microstructures.

Carolyn Gramling wrote a report, called “Many Early Fossils May Be Imposters“, about that report, in the February 27, 2021 issue of Science News.

Okamura and the Mini People

The 1996 Ig Nobel Prize for biodiversity was awarded to Chonosuke Okamura of the Okamura Fossil Laboratory in Nagoya, Japan, for discovering the fossils of dinosaurs, horses, dragons, princesses, and more than 1000 other extinct “mini-species,” each of which is less than 1/100 of an inch in length.

Okamura documented his discoveries in a series of books called “Reports of the Okamura Fossil Laboratory,” published by the Okamura Fossil Laboratory in Nagoya, Japan during the 1970’s and 1980’s.

Update on Didgeridoo and Snoring

Tuesday, February 23rd, 2021

A fairly recent Swiss TV report about the results of the didgeridoo / snoring research that won an Ig Nobel Prize:


The 2017 Ig Nobel Peach Prize was awarded to Milo Puhan, Alex Suarez, Christian Lo Cascio, Alfred Zahn, Markus Heitz, and Otto Braendli, for demonstrating that regular playing of a didgeridoo is an effective treatment for obstructive sleep apnoea and snoring.

They documented their research, in the study “Didgeridoo Playing as Alternative Treatment for Obstructive Sleep Apnoea Syndrome: Randomised Controlled Trial,” Milo A. Puhan, Alex Suarez, Christian Lo Cascio, Alfred Zahn, Markus Heitz and Otto Braendli, BMJ, vol. 332 December 2006.


A vivid new telling of the herring farts / Soviet sub history

Friday, February 19th, 2021

The story of how the sound of herring expelling gas through their rear ends became mistakenly taken, by Swedish government officials, as evidence of invading Soviet submarines, gets a new, beautifully stylish telling in a new episode of the RadioLab podcast:

Red Herring

It was the early 80s, the height of the Cold War, when something strange began happening off the coast of Sweden. The navy reported a mysterious sound deep below the surface of the ocean. Again, and again, and again they would hear it near their secret military bases, in their harbors, and up and down the Swedish coastline.

After thorough analysis the navy was certain. The sound was an invasion into their waters, an act of war, the opening salvos of a possible nuclear annihilation.

Or was it? …

Magnus Wahlberg and Håkan Westerberg, the scientists who discovered that the supposed submarines were in fact herring were awarded an Ig Nobel Prize, together with a group of scientists in Scotland and Canada who had independently been researching the ways of herring. The prize centered on the biology of the discovery.

The submarines aspect of the story was top secret at that time, and only years later was revealed to the public. The first public presentation of the submarine facts happened at an Ig Nobel event at the Karolinska Institute in March 2012, with Magnus Wahlberg and Håkan Westerberg, aided by a dead herring, demonstrating the biological mechanism that produces the sound.

That Ig Nobel Prize

The 2004 Ig Nobel Prize for biology was awarded to Ben Wilson of the University of British Columbia, Lawrence Dill of Simon Fraser University [Canada], Robert Batty of the Scottish Association for Marine Science, Magnus Whalberg of the University of Aarhus [Denmark], and Hakan Westerberg of Sweden’s National Board of Fisheries, for showing that herrings apparently communicate by farting.

Here are the research studies produced by the two groups, cited when the prize was awarded:

Sounds Produced by Herring (Clupea harengus) Bubble Release,” Magnus Wahlberg and Håkan Westerberg, Aquatic Living Resources, vol. 16, 2003, pp. 271-5.

REFERENCE: “Pacific and Atlantic Herring Produce Burst Pulse Sounds,” Ben Wilson, Robert S. Batty and Lawrence M. Dill, Biology Letters, vol. 271, 2003, pp. S95-S97.

Magnus Wahlberg has since done several other public talks about the incident. Here’s a TEDX talk he gave in 2012:





The Reason You Will Spill Coffee, No Matter How Careful You Are

Wednesday, February 17th, 2021

When a person walks while carrying a full cup (with no lid) of coffee, it is almost inevitable that some coffee will spill. Two Ig Nobel Prizes have honored research that analyzed why. Small Expedition Room produced this video news report [in Korean] about the phenomenon:

Those Two Coffee-Spill Ig Nobel Prizes

The 2012 Ig Nobel Prize for fluid dynamics was awarded to Rouslan Krechetnikov and Hans Mayer for studying the dynamics of liquid-sloshing, to learn what happens when a person walks while carrying a cup of coffee.

They describe that research, in the study “Walking With Coffee: Why Does It Spill?” Hans C. Mayer and Rouslan Krechetnikov, Physical Review E, vol. 85, 2012.

The 2017 Ig Nobel Prize for fluid dynamics was awarded to Jiwon (Jesse) Han, for studying the dynamics of liquid-sloshing, to learn what happens when a person walks backwards while carrying a cup of coffee.

He describes that research, in the study “A Study on the Coffee Spilling Phenomena in the Low Impulse Regime,” Jiwon Han, Achievements in the Life Sciences, vol. 10, no. 1, 2016, pp. 87-101.

Improbable Research