Yesterday on NPR there was a presentation about the 15th 1st Annual Ig Nobel prizes.  These prizes are awarded for far-fetched yet genuine research projects and other “contributions” to human knowledge.  At the awards ceremony, the prizes are presented by genuine Nobel prize laureates.  These awards are reported at www.improbable.com . You can see a complete list of past winners by clicking here.  Here are some of my favorites.

From 2005
LITERATURE: The Internet entrepreneurs of Nigeria, for creating and then using e-mail to distribute a bold series of short stories, thus introducing millions of readers to a cast of rich characters — General Sani Abacha, Mrs. Mariam Sanni Abacha, Barrister Jon A Mbeki Esq., and others — each of whom requires just a small amount of expense money so as to obtain access to the great wealth to which they are entitled and which they would like to share with the kind person who assists them.

PEACE: Claire Rind and Peter Simmons of Newcastle University, in the U.K., for electrically monitoring the activity of a brain cell in a locust while that locust was watching selected highlights from the movie "Star Wars."   REFERENCE: "Orthopteran DCMD Neuron: A Reevaluation of Responses to Moving Objects.

ECONOMICS: Gauri Nanda of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, for inventing an alarm clock that runs away and hides, repeatedly, thus ensuring that people DO get out of bed, and thus theoretically adding many productive hours to the workday.

CHEMISTRY: Edward Cussler of the University of Minnesota and Brian Gettelfinger of the University of Minnesota and the University of Wisconsin, for conducting a careful experiment to settle the longstanding scientific question: can people swim faster in syrup or in water?  REFERENCE: "Will Humans Swim Faster or Slower in Syrup?" (The Answer May Astound You)

BIOLOGY: Australian researchers,  Benjamin Smith,  Craig Williams, Michael Tyler, Brian Williams, and  Yoji Hayasaka for painstakingly smelling and cataloging the peculiar odors produced by 131 different species of frogs when the frogs were feeling stressed.
REFERENCE: "A Survey of Frog Odorous Secretions, Their Possible Functions and Phylogenetic Significance," and "Chemical and Olfactory Characterization of Odorous Compounds and Their Precursors in the Parotoid Gland Secretion of the Green Tree Frog, Litoria caerulea."

2004
MEDICINE:  Steven Stack of Wayne State University, Detroit, Michigan, USA and James Gundlach of Auburn University, Auburn, Alabama, USA, for their published report "The Effect of Country Music on Suicide."  PUBLISHED IN: Social Forces, vol. 71, no. 1, September 1992, pp. 211-8.

BIOLOGY:  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.  REFERENCE: "Sounds Produced by Herring (Clupea harengus) Bubble Release," and "Pacific and Atlantic Herring Produce Burst Pulse Sounds."

2002
INTERDISCIPLINARY RESEARCH:  Karl Kruszelnicki of The University of Sydney, for performing a comprehensive survey of human belly button lint — who gets it, when, what color, and how much.

2001
ECONOMICS:  Joel Slemrod, of the University of Michigan Business School, and Wojciech Kopczuk, of University of British Columbia [and who has since moved to Columbia University], for their conclusion that people find a way to postpone their deaths if that that would qualify them for a lower rate on the inheritance tax. REFERENCE:"Dying to Save Taxes: Evidence from Estate Tax Returns on the Death Elasticity."

LITERATURE:  John Richards of Boston, England, founder of The Apostrophe Protection Society, for his efforts to protect, promote, and defend the differences between plural and possessive.

PUBLIC HEALTH:  Chittaranjan Andrade and B.S. Srihari of the National Institute of Mental Health and Neurosciences, Bangalore, India, for their probing medical discovery that nose picking is a common activity among adolescents. [REFERENCE: "A Preliminary Survey of Rhinotillexomania in an Adolescent Sample," Journal of Clinical Psychiatry, vol. 62, no. 6, June 2001, pp. 426-31.]

I could go on.  Apparently these awards have since 1991.  Who pays for this stuff?

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