[Paleopsych] CHE: Ichthyology Meets Ignominy at Awards Ceremony for the Ig Nobel Prizes

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Ichthyology Meets Ignominy at Awards Ceremony for the Ig Nobel Prizes
News bulletin from the Chronicle of Higher Education, 4.10.1

    When Ben Wilson, a research associate at the Fisheries Centre at the
    University of British Columbia, learned that he would be a
    co-recipient of this year's Ig Nobel Prize for Biology, he was
    thrilled. As the lead author of a study suggesting that herring
    communicate by flatulating, Mr. Wilson was clearly on the short list.
    But in a scientific coincidence that calls to mind Leibniz's and
    Newton's simultaneous work on calculus, researchers in Denmark had
    just identified the very same phenomenon.

    To the surprise of many seasoned prize-watchers, the Ig Nobel Board of
    Governors ("a shadowy organization," according to its coordinator,
    Marc A. Abrahams) elected to split the award between the two groups.
    The prize was one of many presented on Thursday night at Harvard

    Dating the actual discovery is of course very difficult, but the
    Danish researchers -- led by Magnus Wahlberg -- published their
    results in the summer of 2003, while Mr. Wilson's paper didn't appear
    in print until early November.

    "I'm very pleased to share the prize," said Mr. Wilson. "The more
    people who are excited about herring the better."

    The Ig Nobel board has negotiated tricky nominations in the past, Mr.
    Abrahams said of the group, which was founded in 1991 to honor
    research that "cannot or should not be reproduced."

    Last year's prize for engineering, for instance, was split among three
    creators of Murphy's Law -- Edwin A. Murphy Jr. and two colleagues who
    had contributed meaningfully to the work ([59]The Chronicle, October

    "There's intense lobbying on the part of people who want to win
    prizes," said Mr. Abrahams, "or on the part of people who want to win
    prizes for their enemies. Or their friends." This year marked the
    first time that even universities stepped in to lobby on behalf of
    their candidates.

    Another split prize this year (for medicine) went to a pair of
    researchers who had worked to uncover the link between listening to
    country music and committing suicide. James H. Gundlach and Steven
    Stack reported in a paper in 1992 that suicide rates among white
    people correlated strongly with the air time given to country songs
    across major urban areas.

    Mr. Stack, now a professor of criminal justice at Wayne State
    University and one of the top suicide researchers in the country,
    appeared as the first author, even though the idea and initial data
    emerged from a graduate statistics class taught by Mr. Gundlach, a
    professor of sociology at Auburn University.

    "He's a stronger researcher than I am," said Mr. Gundlach, who
    accepted the award for both of them. "If he wasn't shy, he would be
    doing this. ... I guess I'm a bit more of a showoff.

    "This event -- it's not my style," explained Mr. Stack, whose
    subsequent work has looked at the links between opera and suicide,
    blues and suicide, and heavy metal and suicide.

    Eight other prizes were awarded from the more than 5,000 nominations
    received by the Board of Governors. The prize for literature went to
    the American Nudist Research Library, in Kissimmee, Fla., while the
    prize for engineering was awarded to two resourceful gentlemen from
    Orlando who patented the comb-over.

    Other honored work included a rigorous investigation of the
    "five-second rule" for eating food that's been dropped on the floor
    (which took the prize in public health) and a study in the dynamics of
    hula-hooping (which won for physics). The Ig Nobel Peace Prize was
    awarded to Daisuke Inoue, the inventor of karaoke.

    Mr. Abrahams, who also edits the Annals of Improbable Research, a
    science-humor journal, described a very straightforward selection
    process for the Ig Nobels: "We use one simple criterion: Is it
    something that first makes people laugh, and then makes them think?"

    More information on the 2004 Ig Nobel Prize winners will be posted on
    the awards' [60]Web site.


   45. mailto:daniel.engber at chronicle.com
   60. http://www.improbable.com/ig/ig-pastwinners.html#ig2004

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