Spoof Nobel prize rewards scientists for thinking about the trivial

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Marc-Antoine Fardin accepts the Ig Nobel prize for Physics for his study, "Can a Cat Be Both a Solid and a Liquid," during the 27th First Annual Ig Nobel Prize Ceremony at Harvard University in Cambridge
Marc-Antoine Fardin accepts the Ig Nobel prize for Physics for his study, “Can a Cat Be Both a Solid and a Liquid.”

Reuters

Luis Pallares Aniorte, of Spain, accepts the Ig Nobel prize for Obstetrics during the 27th First Annual Ig Nobel Prize Ceremony at Harvard University in Cambridge
Luis Pallares Aniorte, of Spain, accepts the Ig Nobel prize for his group study showing that a developing fetus responds more strongly to music that is played electromechanically inside the mother’s vagina than to music played electromechanically on the mother’s belly.

Reuters

Eric Maskin, 2007 Nobel laureate in Economics and Oliver Hart, 2016 Nobel laureate in Economics, try on plastic ears during the 27th First Annual Ig Nobel Prize Ceremony at Harvard University in Cambridge
Eric Maskin, 2007 Nobel laureate in economics, left, and Oliver Hart, 2016 Nobel laureate in economics, try on plastic ears during the announcement that “Why Do Old Men Have Big Ears,” won the Anatomy Prize.

REUTERS

Performing chemist Michael Skuhersky participates in a Moment of Science during the 27th First Annual Ig Nobel Prize Ceremony at Harvard University in Cambridge
Performing chemist Michael Skuhersky participates in a “Moment of Science.”

Reuters

Sally Buta, left, and Mike Scott, both of Arlington, Mass., throw paper airplanes during the 27th First Annual Ig Nobel Prize Ceremony at Harvard University in Cambridge
Audience members throw paper airplanes during a performance.

REUTERS

Matteo Martini, Lecturer in Psychology at the University of East London, during the 27th First Annual Ig Nobel Prize Ceremony at Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts
Matteo Martini, lecturer in psychology at the University of East London receives the Ig Noble prize in Cognition for his group study titled, “Is That Me or My Twin? Lack of Self-Face Recognition Advantage in Identical Twins.”

Reuters


CAMBRIDGE, Mass. — Scientists taking on the deep questions of whether cats are liquid or solid, how holding a crocodile influences gambling and whether playing the didgeridoo can help cure snoring were honored Thursday at the Ig Nobel Prize spoof awards.

The prizes are the brainchild of Marc Abrahams, editor of the Annals of Improbable Research and are intended not to honor the best or worst in science, but rather to highlight research that encourages people to think in unusual ways.

“We hope that this will get people back into the habits they probably had when they were kids of paying attention to odd things and holding out for a moment and deciding whether they are good or bad only after they have a chance to think,” Abrahams said in a phone interview.

Some of the honorees tend towards the spurious: French researcher Marc-Antoine Fardin’s 2014 study “Can a Cat Be Both a Solid and a Liquid?” was inspired by internet photos of cats tucked into glasses, buckets and sinks. The winner of the Ig Nobel in physics used mathematical formulas to conclude that active young cats and kittens hold their physical shape longer than older, lazier felines.

Other works on the prize list have clear potential for practical applications.

Economics winners Matthew Rockloff and Nancy Greer conducted an experiment in which problem gamblers and non-problem gamblers handled 3.3-foot long crocodiles before playing a simulated slot machine.

The 2010 study, conducted on 103 people in Queensland, Australia, found that problem gamblers were likely to place higher bets after handling the reptiles, as their brains had misinterpreted the excitement of holding a dangerous animal as a sign they were on a lucky streak.

Didgeridoo instructor Alex Suarez, center, demonstrates the Ig Nobel Peace prize-winning study, “Didgeridoo Playing as Alternative Treatment for Obstructive Sleep Apnoea Syndrome.”Reuters

A multi-national team of six researchers won the Peace Prize for the 2005 paper “Didgeridoo Playing as Alternative Treatment for Obstructive Sleep Apnea Syndrome: Randomized Controlled Trial.”

The conclusion that the Australian wind instrument might be of some benefit was based not the didgeridoo’s droning tone, but rather that the daily practice involved a lot of blowing and may have strengthened the upper respiratory tract, making breathing easier.

The awards, now in their 27th year, are to be handed out by actual Nobel Prize winners in a ceremony at Harvard University on Thursday.

“They are unusual approaches to things,” Abrahams said. “It would be difficult for some people to decide whether they are important or the opposite. If you had sleep apnea for a long time, the didgeridoo thing would sound quite intriguing.”



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