Ig Nobel Prizes-- For Overlooked Achievements, From Herring Farts to Exploding Colons
Nobel vs Ig Nobel Prizes
In December of each year, the prestigious Nobel Prizes are awarded in Oslo, Norway and Stockholm, Sweden, honoring the world's best achievements in many different fields. In September or October of each year (since 1991) the Ig Nobel Prizes are awarded for achievements not quite up to the caliber of the Nobel Committee, or up to anyone's, for that matter, but which deserve recognition for making us laugh and then, perhaps, think.
The Ig Nobel Prizes were first awarded in 1991 and are organized by the Annals of Improbable Research, a magazine that takes a satirical look at standard scientific journals and is devoted to scientific humor-- the sort of magazine Leonard, Howard and Rajesh (if not Sheldon) might read in the The Big Bang Theory series. Each year, Ig Nobel prizes honor unusual or trivial achievements in ten Nobel-like categories: Peace, Medicine, Literature, Physics, etc, though changing year by year as befits the candidates.
Make 'Em Laugh But Make 'Em Think
Although the prizes can be veiled criticism (for example, a US Air Force lab won the Ig Nobel Prize for Peace for recommending research into a “Gay Bomb” that would cause enemy troops to become attracted to each other), most are for purely trivial (but humorous) accomplishments or for research with an unexpected twist. And just because it's fun doesn't necessarily mean it's a joke; Sir Andre Geim won an Ig Nobel Prize for Physics for levitating a live frog in 2000 and went on to win a Noble physics prize in 2010 for experiments with two-dimensional graphene material. Also, proof that some scientists don't have a sense of humor: a scientist with the British government requested that organizers of the Ig Noble Prizes not include any British scientists because it ridiculed genuine experiments. Then, proof that some scientists do have a sense of humor: British scientists contacted the organizers and said to take no notice of the aforementioned official.
The ceremony awarding the prizes is held at Harvard and broadcast live on the Internet as well as being recorded by National Public Radio to be broadcast after Thanksgiving on the radio program Science Friday with Ira Flatow. Genuine Nobel laureates present the awards and there are many running jokes, like a little girl who cries “Please stop! I'm bored.” when the proceedings start to drag and the throwing of paper airplanes on the stage. At the closing, it is customary for the emcee to say “If you didn't win a prize — and especially if you did — better luck next year!”
Some Ig Nobel Prizes Awarded in Recent Years:
- (2013) Peace: [President of Belarus; Belarus State Police] For declaring applauding in public illegal and arresting a one-armed man for applauding.
- (2012) Literature: [US Government General Accountability Office] For issuing a report about reports about reports that recommended the preparation of a report about the report about reports about reports.
- (2012) Medicine: For advising doctors performing colonoscopies on how to minimize the chance that their patients will explode.
- (2011) Peace: [Arturas Zuokas, the mayor of Vilnius, Lithuania] For demonstrating that the problem of illegally parked cars can be solved by running them over with an armored personnel carrier. See video.
- (2010) Chemistry: For disproving the old belief that oil and water don't mix.
- (2010) Management: For demonstrating mathematically that organizations would become more efficient if people were promoted at random.
- (2010) Physics: For demonstrating that people slip and fall less often on icy sidewalks if they wear socks on the outside of their shoes.
- (2010) Medicine: For discovering that symptoms of asthma can be treated with a roller coaster ride.
- (2010) Peace: For confirming the widely held belief that swearing relieves pain.
- (2010) Transportation Planning: For using slime mold to determine the optimal routes for railroad tracks.
- (2009) Literature: [Ireland's police service] For writing and presenting more than 50 traffic tickets to a Polish individual, by the name of "Prawo Jazdy" until an investigation uncovered the fact that Prawo Jazdy is the Polish term for "Driving License".
- (2009) Medicine: [Donald L. Unger] For investigating a possible cause of arthritis of the fingers, by cracking the knuckles of his left hand, but not his right hand, every day for 50 years.
- (2009) Public Health: [Dr. Elena N. Bodnar and others] For inventing a bra that can be quickly converted into a pair of gas masks. See video.
- (2008) Cognitive Science: For discovering that slime molds can solve puzzles.
- (2007) Peace: [The United States Air Force Wright Laboratory] For suggesting the research and development of a "gay bomb" to cause enemy troops to become sexually attracted to each other.
- (2004) Biology [Various scientists] For discovering that herrings apparently communicate by farting. This later embarrassed the Swedish government who denied that herring were farting in Stockholm harbor-- it really was Russian submarines.
- Here is a complete list of all the Ig Noble Prizes awarded.