Archive for 'Improbable Investigators'

Eye-poking, fish swallowing, burnt hair and dead ducks: Ig Nobel Spring Tour ends in Rotterdam

Wednesday, April 5th, 2017

The final stop of the ‘Ig Nobel Spring Euro Tour’ is the Natural History Museum Rotterdam, the Netherlands, home of the famous ‘Dead Animal Tales’ exhibition. Saturday April 8, 2017 at 20:00h Marc Abrahams speaks about recent Ig Nobel prize winners and he introduces some Dutch improbable researchers, including:

Lara & Richard Zegers – Eye trauma in Laurel and Hardy movies: another nice mess

Bram Langeveld – Burnt hair and colliding particles: The hunt for the CERN ‘weasel’

Erwin Kompanje & Ben van der Hoven -‘Do not swallow’: How and why a catfish and its predator ended up at the Intensive Care Unit, and in the museum

Kees Moeliker – Homosexual necrophilia in the mallard duck: what’s new?

Program starts: April 8, 2017, 20:00h (doors open at 19:30h)
Program ends: around 21:30h, followed by drinks
TICKETS: Euro 10,- including museum admission and a beverage
Reservations: make sure you have a seat, buy an e-ticket here

Address: Natural History Museum Rotterdam, Westzeedijk 345 (Museumpark), 3015 AA Rotterdam, the Netherlands

The Likely Obscurity of Famous Psychologists

Saturday, February 11th, 2017

“The most famous psychologists today will be forgotten in less than a century”, says this study:

Varieties of Fame in Psychology,” Henry L. Roediger III, Perspectives on Psychological Science, vol. 11, no. 6, November 2016, pp. 882-887. The author, at Washington University, St. Louis, explains:

“Fame in psychology, as in all arenas, is a local phenomenon. Psychologists (and probably academics in all fields) often first become well known for studying a subfield of an area (say, the study of attention in cognitive psychology, or even certain tasks used to study attention). Later, the researcher may become famous within cognitive psychology. In a few cases, researchers break out of a discipline to become famous across psychology and (more rarely still) even outside the confines of academe. The progression is slow and uneven. Fame is also temporally constricted. The most famous psychologists today will be forgotten in less than a century, just as the greats from the era of World War I are rarely read or remembered today. Freud and a few others represent exceptions to the rule, but generally fame is fleeting and each generation seems to dispense with the lessons learned by previous ones to claim their place in the sun.”

Here’s further detail from the study:


(Thanks to Christian Jarrett for bringing this to our attention.)

BONUS QUESTION: How famous is Henry L. Roediger III?


BONUS: “Should this essay about fame become famous?


We are informed that Donald J. Trump won an Ig Nobel Prize…

Wednesday, January 25th, 2017

We were informed today that the author of a mathematics paper has been awarded an Ig Nobel Prize. This is a surprise to us, because we award the Ig Nobel Prizes, and we are unaware that we ever awarded anything to this person, Donald J. Trump. The Ig Nobel Prizes honor achievements that make people laugh, then think.

The mathematics paper is called “Proof of the Riemann Hypothesis utilizing the theory of Alternative Facts“. Donald J. Trump is credited as the author.

The paper carries the publication date January 24, 2017. The most recent Ig Nobel Prize ceremony was held four months earlier, on September 22, 2016, at Harvard University. Donald J. Trump was not among the winners that day, nor in any of the previous 25 Ig Nobel Prize ceremonies.

We did some research, comparable in depth and value to the research described in the paper. We learn that Donald J. Trump is credited with authorship of other documents. Here is a much-self-circulated photo of Donald J. Trump, in which he is credited with authoring a document:

All we can say, having received the unexpected news, is this — Congratulations, in theory, to Mr. Donald J. Trump, no matter what his achievement is or isn’t, and no matter what he may be or not be.

BONUS: Some background info about the Riemann Hypothesis.

BONUS: A related historical note: The 2002 Ig Nobel Prize for economics was awarded (by us) to the executives, corporate directors, and auditors of twenty-some-odd corporations, for adapting the mathematical concept of imaginary numbers for use in the business world.

UPDATE (January 25, 2017, 11:20 am): We have just been informed that we are “not permitted, under United States law” to “publicly disclose” certain details of this matter. We are, as the saying goes, taking this under advisement.

University Course Proposal: “Calling Bullshit”

Saturday, January 14th, 2017

Professors Carl T. Bergstrom and Jevin West from University of Washington have developed a new interdisciplinary course with the compelling title of Calling Bullshit.

From publication bias to fake news, bullshit is everywhere. And it’s important to be able to navigate it, separate delusion from reality, and call out bullshit when we see it. In a post-truth world, we need evidence and facts more than ever, and Professors Bergstrom and West have decided to do something about it.

                      Prof. Jevin West

As they write: “We’re sick of it. It’s time to do something, and as educators, one constructive thing we know how to do is to teach people. So, the aim of this course is to help students navigate the bullshit-rich modern environment by identifying bullshit, seeing through it, and combatting it with effective analysis and argument.”

Naturally, if people learn how to detect subtle bullshit that might otherwise go under their radar, that also can make them better at producing bullshit. Bergstrom and West recognize this possibility: “As with biological weapons, there is no such thing as purely defensive bullshit research.” Like them, however, we see far more positives than negatives in educating people to become more effective at distinguishing bullshit from evidence and fact.

                Prof. Carl Bergstrom

“Calling Bullshit” (whose subtitle is “In the Age of Big Data”) isn’t yet part of a course catalog, but Professors Bergstrom and West have assembled a great selection of reading, and hopefully it will be an “official” offering soon. Their aim is to teach people “to think critically about the data and models that constitute evidence in the social and natural sciences” — in other words, to spot bullshit.

We encourage everybody to look at the course materials and fight for evidence and reasonable discourse (and for the right to party). Professor Bergstrom is in the Department of Biology and Professor West is in the Information School, so clearly bullshit crosses disciplinary boundaries, and their course promises to be both fascinating and educational.

(Thanks to investigators at the Bansal Lab for bringing this course to our attention.)

Closely related: In 2016, the Ig Nobel Peace Prize was awarded to the authors of the paper On the Reception and Detection of Pseudo-Profound Bullshit.

Nominative Determinism: Harry Beaver, gynecologist. Also: Bush and Blinder.

Saturday, January 7th, 2017


Three more doctors who benefit/suffer from nominative determinism:

Harry Beaver [pictured here], gynecologist.

Nicol Bush, urologist.

Kevin Blinder, ophthalmologist.

(Thanks to anonymous person for bringing these to our attention.)