[Paleopsych] CHE: Ichthyology Meets Ignominy at Awards Ceremony for the Ig Nobel Prizes
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Mon Oct 4 14:55:13 UTC 2004
Ichthyology Meets Ignominy at Awards Ceremony for the Ig Nobel Prizes
News bulletin from the Chronicle of Higher Education, 4.10.1
By DANIEL ENGBER
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 (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
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' Web site.
45. mailto:daniel.engber at chronicle.com
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