Spoof awards honor offbeat research

A man who cracked his knuckles every day for 60 years and a team who made a convertible bra/gas mask have won Nobel prizes.

Scratch that. They’ve won Ig Nobel prizes.

The real prizes established by Alfred Nobel’s will are to be presented over the next couple of weeks. However, as has now been traditional for 18 years, the magazine Annals of Improbable Research has just announced its spoof versions.

While the prizes for economics (Iceland’s banks and finance chiefs) and mathematics (Zimbabwe’s bank chief who has printed 100 trillion dollars bank notes) are pure spoofery, the science-related prizes go to researchers who have carried out genuine studies which produced measurable results, but where those findings “cannot, or should not, be reproduced.” This year the scientific winners include:

  • Biology: The discovery that bacteria from giant panda feces can reduce the mass of kitchen waste by 90%
  • Chemistry: A team which found a way to make thin films of diamonds from the carbon in tequila.
  • Medicine: Something of a lifetime achievement award to a man who, in 1998, revealed that he had cracked the knuckles on his left hand twice a day for 60 years, but not on the right hand. He reported that he had not developed arthritis, contrary to his mother’s warnings.
  • Physics: A team which investigated how female vertebrae have developed to cope with pregnancy, and specifically why pregnant women don’t tip over.
  • Public health: A patent application for a bra which could quickly be converted into two facemasks in the event of an emergency.

Meanwhile the peace prize went to a team of scientists who researched whether it is more dangerous to be hit on the head with a full or empty beer bottle (it turns out that either way, you’re probably getting your skull cracked.)

Full details of the award winners and previous recipients are at: http://improbable.com/ig/winners/#ig2009