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Friday, October 7, 2011

Improbable research awards

Courtesy of my WF newsfeed and Jeremy Ryan:

 The Ig Nobel Prizes were awarded last week by the Improbable Research organization to "honor achievements that first make us laugh, and then make us think." There were also some other awards handed out by some other group (Nobel Prizes, I think?), but these are the ones that matter:

- The Physiology Prize went to a group of researchers who published a paper with a title that says it all: "No Evidence of Contagious Yawning in the Red-Footed Tortoise Geochelone carbonaria." This paper no doubt outraged the pro-contagious-yawning camp.

- The Chemistry Prize was awarded to Japanese researchers who discovered the proper density of airborne wasabi to use in their wasabi alarm clock, designed to wake people up in case of a disaster. To those unfamiliar with wasabi, it's kind of like horseradish. And, also like horseradish, it's not typically airborne.

- The much-coveted Literature Prize went to John Perry for his Theory of Structured Procrastination, which hypothesizes that the way for a procrastinator to get something important done is to find something even more important that needs to be done and then not do that second thing. Thus, doing the first thing is a way to procrastinate from doing the second, even more important thing, while—and this is the crucial part—still managing to get something important done (the first thing, which is being done as a way to avoid the second thing). He recognizes, of course, that this is essentially a pyramid scheme that necessitates the continual finding of something more important.

- Researchers from France and the Netherlands won the Physics Prize for their landmark study on why discus throwers get dizzy after throwing the discus. For centuries, such dizziness induced in the twirling discus throwers has plagued scientists, who couldn't figure out why someone engaged in a sport that involved spinning in circles would make them dizzy. I don't want to give anything away, so I'll just quote the title of their study: "Dizziness in Discus Throwers is Related to Motion Sickness Generated While Spinning."

- And finally, Daily Advantage favorite Mayor Arturas Zuokas of Vilnius, Lithuania, won the Peace Prize for his groundbreaking work on ending the scourge of illegally parked luxury cars by running over them with a tank. He thus proved the ancient maxim that, "If you can't beat 'em, roll over them with a tank." Which, come to think of it, is really just another form of "beating them" so I guess that doesn't really work.

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