If you’re going to be in the US in September, there are a number of events a person might want to catch. Gordon Lightfoot will be in New York at the B. B. King Blues Club while Kiss and Motley Crue bring their double-billed show to Nashville. (Motley Crue in Nashville? Elvis will be twirling in his tomb!) For my money, though, the best show in the not very United States this September is not any geriatric singers still grinding out their oldies; the place to be is Harvard University in Cambridge, MA. That’s when the 22nd annual Ig-Nobel Awards will be presented.
The awards, often given out by actual Nobel Laureates, celebrates the scientists whose work is on the outer periphery of what most consider to be mainstream science, to put it as kindly as possible.
Even the internationally esteemed scientific journal “Nature”, has praised the work of the Ig-Nobel Awards, claiming they appear to serve a useful purpose.
Here’s what the editors of “Nature” said, "(Then) there are the Ig Nobel awards. These come with little cash, but much cachet, and reward those research projects that 'first make people laugh, and then make them think."
Winners of the 2011 Ig-Nobels were as diverse as the disciplines that scientists are involved in. Of the nine categories, Canadian scientists proudly had a hand in two of them. The first, the Ig-Nobel Public Safety Award, was presented to John Senders of the University of Toronto. He walked away a winner for devising an experiment that involved repeatedly whacking test subjects in the face with a window visor, while travelling on a major highway. The research was for his paper, "The Attentional Demand of Automobile Driving." I’d hate to be Professor Senders’ chauffer.
The other Canadian “Iggy” recipient (no relation to Michael Ignatief, however) was Darryl Gwynne who, along with co-authors from Australia, Britain and the United States, produced the interesting paper, “Beetles on the Bottle: Male Buprestids Mistake Stubbies for Females (Coleoptera).” It was a study to identify why a certain Australian beetle finds only a very specific short-nosed beer bottle to be sexually attractive. It seems the beetles’ curious fetish is negatively impacting on their population numbers as the male beetles waste important procreation time on the cast-off containers. I’m a Big Rock man, myself.
“Findings relevant to all of us” was the hallmark of the prize winners in the Physiology category. The prize went to a European foursome from UK, Hungary, Austria and the Netherlands. The team had published a paper called "No Evidence of Contagious Yawning in the Red-Footed Tortoise." People across the globe who were concerned about whether Red-Footed Tortoises were a contagion threat or not for this dangerous behavior were greatly relieved. The lead tortoise in the study was quoted as saying, “Ho-hum.”
The Chemistry Prize went to a Japanese team “for determining the ideal density of airborne wasabi (pungent horseradish) to awaken sleeping people in case of a fire or other emergency, and for applying this knowledge to invent the wasabi alarm.” When gentle music from your clock radio just isn’t enough… Unfortunately, you go to work smelling like a California roll.
Another European team won the Ig-Nobel Prize for Medicine for stellar research entitled "Inhibitory Spillover: Increased Urination Urgency Facilitates Impulse Control in Unrelated Domains." It demonstrates we make some good decisions in certain areas, and some bad decisions in other areas, when we really have to pee. Seriously.
(Heavy sigh…) In the Psychology department, the winner was the University of Oslo’s Karl Halvor Teigen. The good professor was honored for his research into why people sigh. His paper, "Is a Sigh 'Just a Sigh'? Sighs as Emotional Signals and Responses to a Difficult Task," was easily the best title of the selected recipients. I thought the research odd as I was always told sighs doesn’t matter.
The winner of the coveted Ig-Nobel Peace Prize was Mayor Arturas Zuokas of Vilnius, Lithuania. He was tired of guys in expensive cars parking wherever they felt like so he ran over one with an armored tank as a warning. Further incidents of inconsiderate parking have dropped sharply. Well played, sir.
Last, and possibly least, was the Literature Prize which went to Stanford University Professor John Perry for his paper, "How to Procrastinate and Still Get Things Done”. It explains how to use constructive procrastination by doing important jobs while procrastinating from another even more important task. I’d suggest the good professor knows nothing about procrastinating if he thinks that would work on me.
I can’t wait for September when the new winners are announced!