The Ig Nobel Prize winners

October 2nd, 2009

Here they are, folks:

VETERINARY MEDICINE PRIZE: Catherine Douglas and Peter Rowlinson of Newcastle University, Newcastle-Upon-Tyne, UK, for showing that cows who have names give more milk than cows that are nameless.

PEACE PRIZE: Stephan Bolliger, Steffen Ross, Lars Oesterhelweg, Michael Thali and Beat Kneubuehl of the University of Bern, Switzerland, for determining — by experiment — whether it is better to be smashed over the head with a full bottle of beer or with an empty bottle.

ECONOMICS PRIZE: The directors, executives, and auditors of four Icelandic banks — Kaupthing Bank, Landsbanki, Glitnir Bank, and Central Bank of Iceland — for demonstrating that tiny banks can be rapidly transformed into huge banks, and vice versa — and for demonstrating that similar things can be done to an entire national economy.

CHEMISTRY PRIZE: Javier Morales, Miguel Apátiga, and Victor M. Castaño of Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México, for creating diamonds from liquid — specifically from tequila.

MEDICINE PRIZE: Donald L. Unger, of Thousand Oaks, California, USA, for investigating a possible cause of arthritis of the fingers, by diligently cracking the knuckles of his left hand — but never cracking the knuckles of his right hand — every day for more than sixty (60) years.

PHYSICS PRIZE
: Katherine K. Whitcome of the University of Cincinnati, USA, Daniel E. Lieberman of Harvard University, USA, and Liza J. Shapiro of the University of Texas, USA, for analytically determining why pregnant women don’t tip over.

LITERATURE PRIZE: Ireland’s police service (An Garda Siochana), for writing and presenting more than fifty traffic tickets to the most frequent driving offender in the country — Prawo Jazdy — whose name in Polish means “Driving License”.

PUBLIC HEALTH PRIZE: Elena N. Bodnar, Raphael C. Lee, and Sandra Marijan of Chicago, Illinois, USA, for inventing a brassiere that, in an emergency, can be quickly converted into a pair of gas masks, one for the brassiere wearer and one to be given to some needy bystander.

MATHEMATICS PRIZE: Gideon Gono, governor of Zimbabwe’s Reserve Bank, for giving people a simple, everyday way to cope with a wide range of numbers — from very small to very big — by having his bank print bank notes with denominations ranging from one cent ($.01) to one hundred trillion dollars ($100,000,000,000,000).

BIOLOGY PRIZE: Fumiaki Taguchi, Song Guofu, and Zhang Guanglei of Kitasato University Graduate School of Medical Sciences in Sagamihara, Japan, for demonstrating that kitchen refuse can be reduced more than 90% in mass by using bacteria extracted from the feces of giant pandas.

For more information, including full citations on the winners–because all of these achievements are real–go to improbable.com.

ALSO, if you are in the Boston area — the Ig Informal Lectures will be held tomorrow, Saturday, October 3 at 1:00 p.m. at MIT in room 10-250. In a certain way, the Informal Lectures are even more fun than the ceremony, as the winners have more time to explain what — and, more to the point, why — they did what they did. I hope to see you there!


4 Responses to “The Ig Nobel Prize winners”

  1. veronica on October 5, 2009 6:26 pm

    i wonder if the named cows were treated better than the unnamed cows. either in a slightly higher quality of food or better water. because they had names….and ceased being “cow number 49387659342865987345″ and instead was “bessie”

  2. Robin on October 5, 2009 6:38 pm

    They were, Veronica. It’s a total package, and the researchers made that very clear. The kind of farmer who names his cows is different from the kind of farmer who doesn’t.

    They did control for physical variables like food, water, general bovine health, breed of cow, etc.

    Cows that get more human interaction, it appears, do better than cows that don’t — NOT because cows like human attention, but because it stresses them out. So you want to desensitize them to human contact and teach them that humans are okay, and will do things like scratch ears and give carrots.

  3. veronica on October 5, 2009 11:35 pm

    i tend to treat animals and kids similarly….if i know a kid’s name is “bobby”, i’m a heck of a lot nicer to said kid than if i’ve nicknamed him “PITA neighborhood kid who thinks skateboarding from the condo parking area to the sidewalk across the street @ dusk is a good idea”

    when I had a rodent visitor in my old apt in brooklyn, i had to stop myself from naming it….if i named it, i wasn’t going to be able to have it eliminated.

    so the named cows vs un-named cows makes sense to me….even if i can’t really explain why.

  4. Robin on October 5, 2009 11:53 pm

    I don’t have a ref on this, but I’m pretty sure lab techs aren’t allowed to name rats, etc., for the same reasons.

    As a big musical-theater geek, though, I kind of think it would be funny to have a pet named 24601. (Jean Valjean’s prison # in “Les Miz.”)

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