2008 Ig Nobel Prizes Awarded at Harvard University

Breaking news about the 2008 Ig Nobel Prize Awards from Rose Fox:

Oct. 2, 2008, Cambridge, MA. The 2008 Ig Nobel Prizes, honoring achievements that first make people LAUGH, and then make them THINK, were awarded at Harvard University’s historic Sanders Theatre tonight before 1200 spectators in a ceremony filled with redundancy, sword-swallowing, opera singers and paper airplanes. Around the world, thousands watched via live webcast. This was the 18th First Annual Ig Nobel Prize Ceremony.

Seven of the ten new winners journeyed to Harvard — at their own expense — to accept their Prizes.

The 2008 Ig Nobel Prize Winners are:

Nutrition Prize
Massimiliano Zampini of the University of Trento, Italy and Charles Spence of Oxford University, UK, for electronically modifying the sound of a potato chip to make the person chewing the chip believe it to be crisper and fresher than it really is.

Peace Prize
The Swiss Federal Ethics Committee on Non-Human Biotechnology (ECNH) and the citizens of Switzerland for adopting the legal principle that plants have dignity.

Archaeology Prize
Astolfo G. Mello Araujo and José Carlos Marcelino of Universidade de Sà£o Paulo, Brazil, for measuring how the course of history, or at least the contents of an archaeological dig site, can be scrambled by the actions of a live armadillo.

Biology Prize
Marie-Christine Cadiergues, Christel Joubert,, and Michel Franc of Ecole Nationale Veterinaire de Toulouse, France for discovering that the fleas that live on a dog can jump higher than the fleas that live on a cat.

Medicine Prize
Dan Ariely of Duke University, USA, for demonstrating that high-priced fake medicine is more effective than low-priced fake medicine.

Cognitive Science Prize
Toshiyuki Nakagaki of Hokkaido University, Japan, Hiroyasu Yamada of Nagoya, Japan, Ryo Kobayashi of Hiroshima University, Atsushi Tero of Presto JST, Akio Ishiguro of Tohoku University, and àgotà¡ Tà³th of the University of Szeged, Hungary, for discovering that slime molds can solve puzzles.

Economics Prize
Geoffrey Miller, Joshua Tybur and Brent Jordan of the University of New Mexico, USA, for discovering that a professional lap dancer’s ovulatory cycle affects her tip earnings.

Physics Prize
Dorian Raymer of the Ocean Observatories Initiative at Scripps Institution of Oceanography, USA, and Douglas Smith of the University of California, San Diego, USA, for proving mathematically that heaps of string or hair or almost anything else will inevitably tangle themselves up in knots.

Chemistry Prize
To Sharee A. Umpierre of the University of Puerto Rico, Joseph A. Hill of The Fertility Centers of New England (USA), Deborah J. Anderson of Boston University School of Medicine and Harvard Medical School (USA), for discovering that Coca-Cola is an effective spermicide, and to Chuang-Ye Hong of Taipei Medical University (Taiwan), C.C. Shieh, P. Wu, and B.N. Chiang (all of Taiwan) for discovering that it is not.

Literature Prize
David Sims of Cass Business School. London, UK, for his lovingly written study “You Bastard: A Narrative Exploration of the Experience of Indignation within Organizations.”

The Ig Nobel Prizes were physically handed to the winners by genuine Nobel Laureate William Lipscomb (Chemistry 1976). Frank Wilczek (Physics 2004) was represented on stage in the form a dummy; Wilczek’s daughter Mira assisted the dummy in congratulating the Ig Nobel winners. Professor Lipscomb, 89 years young, was the prize in the Win-a-Date-With-a-Nobel-Laureate Contest. Lipscomb was not the night’s only romantic interest. Benoit Mandelbrot, the 84-year-old mathematician who invented the mathematics-and-art concept of fractals, was the prize in a frenzied Win-a-Date-with-Benoit-Mandelbrot Contest.

The event was produced by the science humor magazine “Annals of Improbable Research” (AIR), and co-sponsored by the Harvard-Radcliffe Science Fiction Association, the Harvard-Radcliffe Society of Physics Students, and the Harvard Computer Society.

The evening also featured numerous tributes to the evening’s theme of “Redundancy.”

The ceremony included the premiere of a new mini-opera called “Redundancy, Again”, starring singers Maria Ferrante and Ben Sears, with conductor David Stockton, and backup singing by the Nobel Laureates. The opera told the story of two business owners who, to maximize efficiency, fire everyone whose job in any way overlaps anyone else’s. But a minor problem keeps cropping up: Whenever even one employee quits, the entire operation grinds to a halt because no one knows anyone else’s job.

Each new winner was permitted a maximum of sixty (60) seconds to deliver an acceptance speech; the time limit was enforced by a cute-but-implacable eight-year-old girl. The winners will try to explain themselves at greater length (five minutes each) in free public lectures on the afternoon of Saturday, October 4 at MIT. (The press is welcome!)

Several former winners were present, greeted with glee from the audience. These included: Don Featherstone (creator of the plastic pink flamingo); Kees Moeliker (who reported the first scientifically recorded case of homosexual necrophilia in the mallard duck); and Francis Fesmire (the first doctor to cure intractable hiccups by applying digital rectal massage).

The ceremony began with past Ig winner Dan Meyer (swashbuckling co-author of the British Medical Journal study “Sword-swallowing and Its Side Effects”) swallowing a sword, which was then removed with a flourish by Dr. Thomas Michel, Harvard Medical School’s Dean of Education.

Marc Abrahams, master of ceremonies (and editor of the Annals of Improbable Research), closed the ceremony with the traditional, “If you didn’t win an Ig Nobel prize tonight — and especially if you did — better luck next year.”

The event was broadcast live on the Internet, and can be seen in recorded form at http://www.improbable.com. [An edited recording of the ceremony will be broadcast on National Public Radio’s “Science Friday” program on the day after Thanksgiving.]

The new Improbable Research TV series can be seen online at http://improbable.com/tv/.

For more info see www.improbable.com