It’s that time of year, when actual Nobel Laureates award other scientists prizes for research that seems unnecessary, questionable, or downright absurd.
The Ig Nobel Prizes – the brainchild of the magazine Annals of Improbable Research – are handed out every September in a ceremony co-sponsored by the Harvard-Radcliffe Society of Physics Students and the Harvard-Radcliffe Science Fiction Association.
This year’s awards ceremony took place on September 18, 2014 at Harvard University. Winners travelled to the ceremony — at their own expense — to accept the awards and explain them in 60 seconds to a live audience of 1,100.
Those who didn’t finish their speeches in time faced eight-year old Miss Sweetie Poo repeating over and over, “Please finish – I’m bored.” Each Ig Nobel Prize ceremony also features a newly commissioned opera aria, such as 1998’s La Forza Del Duct Tape.
Though the Ig Nobel Prizes seem little more than the “Razzie” Awards of science, the creators say the point is to make us laugh, and then think. What’s important? What’s not? What’s real?
Both good and bad achievements can be odd, funny, and even absurd, they say. A lot of good science gets attacked because of its absurdity. A lot of bad science gets revered despite its absurdity.
Examples of Ig Nobel-winning research include:
- The 2013 Probability Prize for the discovery that the longer a cow has been lying down, the more likely that cow will soon stand up;
- The 2003 Interdisciplinary Research award for the discovery that chickens prefer beautiful humans;
- The 2003 Chemistry Award for assembling the elements of the periodic table into a four-legged periodic table table;
- The 2001 Astrophysics Award to Jack Van Impe Ministries for their discovery that black holes fulfill all the technical requirements to be the location of Hell; and
- The 1994 Mathematics Award to The Southern Baptist Church of Alabama for their county-by-county estimate of how many Alabama citizens will go to Hell if they don’t repent.
Best of all for many are the sometimes ironic Peace Prizes, which have gone to such luminaries as:
- Alexander Lukashenko, the president of Belarus, for making it illegal to applaud in public, and to the Belarus State Police, for arresting a one-armed man for applauding;
- Viliumas Malinauskus of Grutas, Lithuania, for creating the amusement park known as Stalin World; and
- The British Royal Navy, for ordering its sailors to stop using live cannon shells during training, and to instead just shout “Bang!”
Nominations for next year’s Ig Nobel awards are accepted throughout the year. Or, if you’re a scientist, but haven’t yet discovered your inner Walter White, there’s always the Luxuriant Flowing Hair Club for Scientists.TM
Because scientists aren’t just smarter and funnier than the rest of us – they also have better hair.