Welcome to Wiser Now’s weekly email blast which reflects my eclectic interests and, I hope, yours. My topic for today is the result of a calendar mistake I have chosen to ignore. I thought the Ig Nobel Prizes, a parody of the Nobel Prizes, were given out in early October. They used to be. Now I am nearly a month late in celebrating them, but they are just too good to pass up. Can you really resist learning more about the difference in alligator bellows when one inhales helium?
Organized by the scientific humor journal Annals of Improbable Research (AIR), the Ig-Nobel Prizes have been presented for the past 30 years by real Nobel laureates during a raucous ceremony at Harvard University. In the past it included paper airplanes thrown by audience members onto the stage, costume parades, and other silliness – all curtailed this year by the limits of webcasting in a pandemic. What didn’t change was the purpose: “The prizes are intended to celebrate the unusual, honor the imaginative — and spur people’s interest in science, medicine, and technology.” Or put another way, they reward those research projects that “first make people laugh, and then make them think.”
I hope you are finding these offerings fun, and perhaps even useful, and I welcome your feedback. (Kathy@WiserNow.com) And if you haven’t yet pressed the subscribe button so this newsletter doesn’t go to spam, please do so now.
The Quirky Quote
Not all of us need to be researchers:
"Shall I refuse my dinner because I do not fully understand the process of digestion?"
~ Oliver Heaviside
The Quirky Fact
As the quiz below illustrates, the research done by Ig-Nobel prize-winners often seems ridiculous, but it can be a step toward something more consequential. Russian-born/British-based scientist Andre Geim, was the winner of a 2000 Ig Nobel for making a frog levitate using magnets. In 2010 he was the winner of the real Nobel Prize for physics for his work with graphene, which according to the Nobel press release on the award is a one atom thick layer of carbon with “exceptional properties that originate from the remarkable world of quantum physics.” I sadly admit I can understand levitating frogs much more readily.
The Quirky Observation
Sometimes inventions come back to bite you. Once while he was living for a time in Canada, Scottish scientist Robert Alexander Watson-Watt, who invented radar to detect enemy planes prior to World War II, was pulled over for speeding by a radar-gun-toting policeman. As a result, he wrote this poem:
A Rough Justice
Pity Sir Watson-Watt,
strange target of this radar plot
And thus, with others I can mention,
the victim of his own invention.
His magical all-seeing eye
enabled cloud-bound planes to fly
but now by some ironic twist
it spots the speeding motorist
and bites, no doubt with legal wit,
the hand that once created it.
Which modern inventions created for a positive purpose do you think have over-stepped their bounds? What shouldn’t have been invented? Or more gently, what inventions could you live without or live with less of? And on the other hand, name a modern-day invention you couldn’t live without.
Some of what you see here is featured in the 150-slides making up the Wiser Now Slide Show on Inventions, which also includes more on the Ig-Nobel awards, plus:
- Trivia quizzes on the order of inventions, “Could they have?” (Could Babe Ruth have signed autographs with a ballpoint pen?), accidental inventions, and telling fact from fiction
- Word games related to the invention of new words and new definitions for existing words
- Discussions related to the worst inventions, the best inventions, and the most amusing inventions, and the unintended consequences of inventions
Access it here
, and who knows? Maybe you’ll be inspired to invent something of your own.
The Shameless Request
I often make up a true/false quizzes, but with regard to Ig-Noble awards, I simply couldn’t imagine bizarre enough research that hadn’t actually won a prize. Consider the subject matter of a few of the winners:
- The side-effects of swallowing swords
- A theoretical study of how sheets become wrinkled
- Exploration of the "five-second rule," the belief that food dropped on the floor won't become contaminated if it is picked up within five seconds
- Exploring and explaining why woodpeckers don’t get headaches
- Measuring the happiness of clams given Prozac
So instead, what follows is a short fill-in-the-blanks quiz that I first composed nearly 10 years ago. I can’t guarantee that more recent research doesn’t invalidate what’s here. For example, with regard to the effects of roller coasters on health, a 2018 prize in Medicine went to researchers who used them to try to hasten the passage of kidney stones. Check out the Wiser Now slide show on “Innovative Inventions” and the links under Resources for many, many more examples.
Can you fill in the blanks?
An award was given to scientists in the field of:
- Archaeology: for showing that burrowing a) ___ prairie dogs b) ___ armadillos can mix up the contents of an archaeological site.
- Biology: for discovering that fleas that live on cats jump a) ___ higher b) ___ lower than fleas that live on dogs.
- Nutrition: for demonstrating that food tastes better when it a) ___ sounds b) ___ looks more appealing.
- Chemistry: for creating a) ___ an antibiotic b) ___diamond film from tequila.
- Physics: for analytically determining why pregnant women a) ___do not tip over b) ___ lose weight as easily after a second child.
- Veterinary medicine: for showing that a) ___ chickens b) ___cows with names a) ___ lay more eggs b) ___ give more milk than a) ___ chickens b) ___cows that are nameless.
- Medicine: for discovering that symptoms of a) ___ asthma b) ___ fear of heights can be treated with a roller coaster ride.
- Physics: for demonstrating that on icy footpaths in wintertime, people slip and fall less often if they wear a) ___ socks on the outside of their shoes b) ____ metal cleats on their shoes.
Answers at the end of this document.
Please share Wiser Now Wednesday with anyone you think might be interested, and if you represent an organization that would like a customized version, please send me a note at Kathy@WiserNow.com.
The Quirky Resources
Answers to the quiz
1.b 2.b 3.a 4.a 5.a 6.b, b, b 7.a 8.a
My multiple goals are to amuse and inspire you, to share what I and people whom I admire am doing, to stimulate your curiosity and spur you to action. I hope you enjoyed this offering. You can access previous issues here. We welcome your feedback. (Kathy@WiserNow.com)