Oh No! Oh Yes! The Ig Nobel Prize is Coming

Fall is approaching, and hence the annual Ig Nobel Prize is, too. The prize was created in 1991 by Marc Abrahams, the editor of the Annals of Improbable Research. Although its name recalls the Darwin Awards—given to people who help evolution by opting out of the gene pool in accidental calamities of their own stupid creation—it’s not at all so callous. The award is sometimes described as a parody of the Nobel prizes, and in some ways it is. But it also highlights real, (basically) serious research done by actual scientists. In a recent interview on New York public radio’s Leonard Lopate Show, Abrahams stressed several times that the primary qualification of nominees is that their research first make you laugh, then make you think.

A 2002 Ig Nobel Prize winner is informed by a nine-year-old that his speech has run too long and he'll have to leave the stage. Photo: Eric Workman, courtesy of the Annals of Improbable Research.

A 2002 Ig Nobel Prize winner is informed by a nine-year-old that his speech has run too long and he’ll have to leave the stage. Photo: Eric Workman, courtesy of the Annals of Improbable Research.

For example: last year’s winners in the category of neuroscience included a team who investigated the brains of people who see Jesus in a piece of toast. That research sounds like something from The Onion, but it’s also a useful way of finding out about the neurology of pareidolia, a phenomenon that many skeptics will recognize. Pareidolia is the brain detecting a pattern where none exists, and understanding its mechanisms can giver neurologists clues to how healthy and pathologically afflicted brains work, and possible answers for how to minimize its ill effects.

The 2014 winners in economics figured out how to calculate black market transactions into Italy’s GDP, giving a better picture of the country’s economy and crime.

Kiyoshi Mabuchi of Japan accepts the Physics Prize for his study "Frictional Coefficient under Banana Skin" at the 24th First Annual Ig Nobel Prizes awards ceremony at Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts September 18, 2014.     REUTERS/Brian Snyder.

Kiyoshi Mabuchi of Japan accepts the Physics Prize for his study “Frictional Coefficient under Banana Skin” at the 24th First Annual Ig Nobel Prizes awards ceremony at Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts September 18, 2014. REUTERS/Brian Snyder.

Winners of 1999’s Biology award had developed a spiceless chile pepper, and 2011’s Chemistry winners created a fire alarm that uses wasabi to wake up potential victims in a burning building. The Biology winner of 2009 was a company, including a doctor who had treated victims at Chernobyl, that had developed a kind of brassiere that could converted into two protective masks in case of chemical, biological, or radiation accident or attack.

Categories for awards appear and disappear from year to year, adding a little bit of surprise. The Literature category comes and goes, and can be an especially fun one. The 2005 Literature award went to the informal computer scientists of Nigeria (scammers) for their prowess in crafting stories meant to entice foolhardy Internet users, but likewise constructed in such a way as to disincentivize more savvy readers who would likely take time and resources to bait and would almost certainly never pay out.

One of my favorites, awarded in the category of Peace in 2011, was described by Wikipedia thus: “[The prize was awarded to] Arturas Zuokas, the mayor of Vilnius, Lithuania, for showing that illegally parked luxury cars can be addressed by running them over with a BTR-60 armoured personnel carrier.” That’s a hell of a study.

And, best of all, fans of the Skeptoid podcast will probably find the annual musical revue, with funny lyrics about funny science, both familiar and exceptionally entertaining.

The awards will be held on September 17 this year. More information can be found at www.improbable.com, and tickets to the awards (held at Harvard) and information about the free webcast of the ceremonies can be found at www.improbable.com/ig/2015/

Check it out!

The ceremony also includes performances, such as this 2007 sword swallower (recipient Dr. Dan Meyer, who studied the medical effects of such stunts), or 2014's chemistry demonstration by Daniel Rosenberg and Joost Bonsen. Photo Credit: Alexey Eliseev.

The ceremony also includes performances, such as this 2007 sword swallower (recipient Dr. Dan Meyer, who studied the medical effects of such stunts), or 2014’s chemistry demonstration by Daniel Rosenberg and Joost Bonsen. Photo Credit: Alexey Eliseev.

 

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9 Responses to Oh No! Oh Yes! The Ig Nobel Prize is Coming

  1. wordwizardw says:

    How do I see the webcast?
    How long does it run?
    How can it be [both] the 25th [and the] First Annual Ig® Nobel Prize Ceremony & Lectures?

    • Noah Dillon says:

      I don’t know. For some reason they always use the “First” annual in the title. Instructions for viewing the webcast (and previous ceremonies) are available on the website linked at the bottom. Enjoy!

      • wordwizardw says:

        I went to the link provided, but did not find the info I needed. That’s why I asked.

        • Noah Dillon says:

          I don’t know then. All the information I have about it I put in the essay or is found in the links. You might try looking at the Ig Nobel website and seeing if there’s a way to contact them. As you could probably see on the final link, there’s video of last year’s ceremony. I assume they will provide video on YouTube and, as they claim, live streaming. It may be that more details are forthcoming as the make arrangements. But they have all the information. I don’t.

  2. A much more recent award than the one for underwear that can be turned into a protective mask was an award for a brassiere that can turn into 2 gas masks.

    • Noah Dillon says:

      You’re right. I confused two different awards. Thanks for the correction.

      • i didn’t check…i just remembered the bra… i think it may have been last yr…..has there ever been an Ignobel for a mathematics paper? Isaac Asimov said there was no Nobel prize for math because Alfred Nobel’s wife left him for a mathematician but maybe he was joking.

        • Noah Dillon says:

          Yeah, there’s been a bunch. There’s a list of the winners (with summaries of their work) at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_Ig_Nobel_Prize_winners

        • Isabel says:

          Actually that prize was way back in 2009, I believe. (I know because I was the little girl, otherwise known as miss sweetie poo, who stopped the scientists from talking for too long from 2009-2010) She reappeared in 2010 to announce that they were/are commercially available to the public and they were sold outside the theater, though. I know she didn’t appear there after 2010 because the later miss sweetie poos didn’t remember her when I mentioned those bras.

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