By Rich Trzupek
It is astounding how much money there is in the world to waste. One might consider, for example, the fact that the government of the United States can not only contemplate, but actually authorize, the rescue of brain-dead financial institutions though a bill that might actually cost more than the nation’s Gross Domestic Product in 1970.
The academic world is not without its financial sinkholes, as anyone who has suffered through a lecture on diversity, or gender studies would agree. But the fine folks from an organization called Improbable Research have, once again, cataloged some of the most outstanding – or perhaps astounding is the right word – examples of spending in the weird world that is scientific research in their 2008 Ig Noble Prize awards.
French researchers, for example, won this year’s Biology Prize for figuring out the fleas that live on dogs can jump higher than those that live on cats. This is a very important issue in France, apparently. How the leaping ability of dog-based fleas compares to that of fleas that live on Frenchmen has not (yet) been established.
Down the road in Italy, one professor Zampini of the University of Trento collaborated with one professor Spence of Oxford University in the U.K. to “…electronically modify the sound of a potato chip to make the person chewing the chip believe it to be crisper and fresher than it really is.” This research won the pair the Ig Noble Nutrition Prize, of course.
One can imagine some great possibilities for this research. No need to dump that flat, half full bottle of beer left over from last night’s party. Nope, it’ll seem as cold and crisp as ever. Do you find your kids or spouses voices’ annoying? Well, cringe no more folks. The only problem is figuring out how to make them swallow the (electronic) chip.
The Swiss Federal Ethics Committee on Non-Human Biotechnology won the Ig Nobel Peace Prize for adopting the legal principle that plants have dignity. Of course they do. They’re Swiss plants. Not only do they have dignity, they’re undoubtedly smug, a little pompous and pretty boring to boot.
Americans can be proud of Dr. Dan Ariely from Duke University who determined that high-priced fake medicine is more effective than low priced fake medicine, a nugget that will undoubtedly be incorporated into somebody’s health care plans, and worthy of the Ig Noble Medicine Prize.
When you think about history, you probably don’t spend a lot of time pondering the role of armadillos. Sea otters? Possibly. Stink bugs? Absolutely. But armadillos? Well this oversight has been corrected – thank God – courtesy of Astolfo G. Mello Araujo and Jose Carlos Marcelino of Universidade de Sao Paulo, Brazil, who determined that the movement armadillos can screw up archaeological dig sites. It is worth noting that armadillos are ubiquitous in Texas, which suggests that what’s REALLY going on here involves another George W. Bush cover up.
Slime molds can solve puzzles. This bit of research won the Ig Noble Cognitive Science Prize. This bit of research also comes from Japan. And no, we are not surprised on either count.
Geoffery Miller, Joshua Tybur and Bent Jordan of the University of New Mexico determined that a professional lap dancer’s ovulatory cycle affects her tip earnings, which won the trio the Ig Noble Economics Prize, as well as the Cheap Seats’ coveted “How Do I Get In On This Project?” prize.
Two groups of chemists were awarded the Ig Noble Chemistry Prize for reaching opposite answers to the same burning question: is Coca-Cola an effective spermicide? (And when we say “burning” question, it should be pointed out that Coke is fairly acidic, so we do not even want to speculate as to the research methods employed).
Sharee A. Umpierre (University of Puerto Rico), Joseph A. Hill (Fertility Centers of New England) and Deborah J. Anderson (Boston University, and Harvard Medical School) decided that Coke is indeed the real thing when it comes to drowning those annoying little swimmers.
However, before you run out to buy a case of refreshment in order to do God knows what with it (and please don’t tell us, because we don’t want to know) in preparation for making whoopee, you should consider research by C.Y. Hong, C.C. Shih, P. Wu and B.N Chiang of Taiwan, who insist that sperms and Cokes go together like ham and eggs. The contradictory results, the researchers said, was the result of different research methods, and we don’t want to know about that either.
You can’t make this stuff up people. Well, actually, we could, but – for a change – we didn’t.
You can find the Ig Noble awards on line, if you’re in the mood for more entertainment.