Magazine article Skeptic (Altadena, CA)

The IgNobel Prizes, 2005

Magazine article Skeptic (Altadena, CA)

The IgNobel Prizes, 2005

Article excerpt

For all the exciting things that science has given the world--from penicillin to television to ridiculously tiny cell phones--the people working to advance our knowledge of the universe have developed a reputation for being a bit stodgy. The average person on the street may likely view scientists as humorless introverts studying the life habits of yeast. In my experience, this reputation is completely undeserved; the yeast researchers I know are actually rather funny introverts.

An ever-growing portion of the scientific community is working to combat this negative stereotype. Since 1991, the IgNobel Prizes have honored those people who have done something that first makes people laugh, and then makes them think. Sponsored by the Annals of Improbable Research (AIR), the Prizes are awarded annually in a lavish gala taking place in that bastion of intellectual integrity--Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Past winners have included a group of scientists who published "The Constipated Serviceman: Prevalence Among Deployed US Troops," which included a numerical analysis of bowel movement frequency; and Lawrence W. Sherman of Miami University, Ohio, for his report "An Ecological Study of Glee in Small Groups of Preschool Children."

This year's show occurred on October 6 at Harvard University. Honorees featured illuminating work such as James Watson's scholarly study, "The Significance of Mr. Richard Buckley's Exploding Trousers" and Gregg A. Miller's breakthrough invention of Neuticles, artificial replacement testicles for dogs, available in three sizes and degrees of firmness.

Most winners were available in person to accept their awards; speeches were limited to sixty seconds, disappointing absolutely no one. The role was enforced by a young girl whose sweet demeanor belied her unwavering commitment to staving off boredom. More than one speaker was cut short via the foolproof method of the girl announcing, in monotone, "Please stop. I'm bored."

Unfortunately, a few distinguished invitees were unable to attend. The "Internet entrepreneurs of Nigeria" were awarded "for creating and then using email to distribute a bold series of short stories, thus introducing millions of readers to a cast of rich characters, each of whom requires just a small amount of expense money so as to obtain access to the great wealth to which they are entitled and which they would like to share with the kind person who assists them. …

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