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Irrelevant Scientific Research Honored 93

Posted by samzenpus
from the wierd-science dept.
More than 1,000 people attended this year's Ig Nobel awards, a light-hearted alternative to the Nobel Prizes. Scientists who unlocked the inner secrets of dog fleas, crisps and tangled string swept the show. Handing out awards was William Lipscomb, the 1976 Nobel laureate for chemistry, also doubling Thursday, at the age of 89, as the hero in the "Win-a-Date-With-a-Nobel-Laureate Contest." The prize itself is a plaque that reads, "This Ig Nobel Prize is awarded in the year 2008 to an Ig Nobel Prize Winner, in recognition of the Ig Nobel Prize Winners' Ig Nobel Prize winning achievement." At last I can submit my paper, "Everything is Really Wet, Even Dry Stuff." for peer review.
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Irrelevant Scientific Research Honored

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  • by MozeeToby (1163751) on Friday October 03, 2008 @04:01PM (#25250335)

    I know it's all in fun but seriously, just because research is funny doesn't mean it isn't meaningful. One paper was in knot theory, which is apparently a pretty large and under-researched area of mathmatics. Another was convincing people that their potato chips were fresh by playing crunching noises while they were being eaten, which I imagine provides insights into how what we taste is influenced by our other senses.

    Don't forget, the point of the Ig Nobel Awards is to 'Make you laugh, then make you think'.

    • I don't know what it is, and maybe this is a little too personal, but I freaking love the sound of potato chips being crunched. Even better is the sound that really thin sheets of ice make when you step on them slowly in the winter.
      • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

        by prlucas (1297611)

        Ahh the ice sound - that and of walking in snow of the perfect consistency.

        Though with the snow, for me, the feeling and sound and smell at the same time of a nice layer of snow I think contributes to for some reason liking the overall sensation.

        • Re: (Score:1, Offtopic)

          What is this "snow" you speak of. Seriously. I'm from Baton Rouge. It's snowed there ONCE and stuck in the last 25 years. No kidding. Really.
          • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

            by R2.0 (532027)

            "I'm from Baton Rouge. It's snowed there ONCE and stuck in the last 25 years."

            So snowballs DID have a chance in Hell!

            • by jsiren (886858)

              So snowballs DID have a chance in Hell!

              (exterior, just inside the gates of Hell)
              (wide shot over frozen hellscape)
              (voice over: Sir David Attenborough)
              In the early days of 2006 Hell started a spontaneous, rapid cooling process, reaching freezing temperature in the early spring, and being completely frozen over by the end of April. Soon, having tried for 45 years with little success, Finland finally won the 2006 Eurovision song contest.

              The events remain yet to be explained, but some have drawn connections to a popular saying: "Hell will freeze over

          • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

            I am currently sitting about twenty miles from one of the leading contenders for the snowiest spot on the globe. That would be Thompson Pass, near Valdez, Alaska. I will send you some snow if you like--we probably have enough.

            I am so thrilled by all of this wonderful snow that we get. So thrilled. On an entirely unrelated subject, I'm looking for good books on how to tie a noose correctly. Have you heard of any?

    • by Phrogman (80473) on Friday October 03, 2008 @04:18PM (#25250519) Homepage

      Well all research ought to be potentially good. You never know when something important may arise from seemingly unimportant research, provided its conducted properly. A seemingly unimportant fact that emerges from this research may prove to be important when applied to someone else's research down the road.

    • by yali (209015) on Friday October 03, 2008 @04:29PM (#25250637)

      Absolutely. The summary and linked article get it wrong. The Ig Nobel prizes are not about "irrelevant" research:

      The Ig Nobel Prizes honor achievements that first make people laugh, and then make them think. The prizes are intended to celebrate the unusual, honor the imaginative -- and spur people's interest in science, medicine, and technology.
      From the Ig Nobel Website [improbable.com]

      A lot of scientific research seems pointless or silly to people who don't know what it's really about or why it was done. Hence the regular "still no cure for cancer" and "I can't believe my tax dollars fund this" comments. The Ig Nobel prizes acknowledge that science can sometimes seem funny on the surface, but they definitely do not concede that it is irrelevant.

    • Re: (Score:1, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward
      Speaking of Knot Theory, my theory is that someone at apple did some actual research on the best materials to make earplug cords out of. I have discovered that I can untangle my ipod earplugs much easier than I can regular earplugs. I am assuming that apple even did research into a best coating for their earplugs to make them untangle easier.
      • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

        by maxume (22995)

        I think mostly that the wires are just stiffer, so the ease of untangling comes from the difficulty of tangling.

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by gyrogeerloose (849181)

        I've noticed that too. I have a pair of Sony earbuds that were about the same price as Apple charges for a pair like the ones that came with my iPhone. The Sony buds sound better but I'm forever untangling them after pulling them out of my pocket. With the Apple earbuds, all I had to do is shake them a few times and they were ready to go. I think it's the silicon jacket they use in place of the typical PVC.

        Now, if only Apple would improve the sound and durability. Mine started distorting on volume peaks (l

    • by l2718 (514756) on Friday October 03, 2008 @08:03PM (#25252443)
      Knot theory is a significant and active branch of topology. It is certainly not "under-researched" in any sense in which the expression can be applied to mathematics. In other words, it is not like there are obvious results left undiscovered because people don't care about the field. While knot theorists would certainly think that we should work on it more, in that they are no different than other mathematicians: most people think the problems in their field are the most interesting ones -- otherwise they wouldn't be working on them!
    • Knot theory (Score:5, Funny)

      by rossdee (243626) on Friday October 03, 2008 @08:55PM (#25252755)

      I am sure that knot theory would be useful to cosmologists studying string theory.


  • Too bad the Creationists can't come up with any actual scientific research, they'd win this honour every year!
  • Dog Fleas (Score:1, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward

    If they find something that will eliminate the need for chemical pesticides or at least find one that isn't potentially carcinogenic, and one not made from petro chemicals, I think the research is quite meaningful. There are a few diseases that are brought by fleas.

  • by explosivejared (1186049) <hagan.jared@NOSPAM.gmail.com> on Friday October 03, 2008 @04:19PM (#25250533)
    There was even more agitation over the chemistry prize, awarded jointly to rival teams - one from the United States which determined Coca-Cola to be an effective spermicide and one from Taiwan which proved it is not.

    I don't see how any self-respecting scientist can sleep at night until this situation is rectified. I know I can't!
    • by Kandenshi (832555) on Friday October 03, 2008 @04:28PM (#25250629)

      ugh, they don't go into details of how that's used, but assuming it's like typical spermicides and it's vaginally applied that's a TERRIBLE idea. Even if it kills sperm, that'd completely screw up the pH balance and flood it with sugar. Sounds to me like exactly what you don't want to do(unless you like yeast infections and other such STIs)

      • Sounds to me like exactly what you don't want to do(unless you like yeast infections and other such STIs)

        As a regular method of birth control? No. As an emergency contraceptive? Risking a yeast infection might well be worth it to reduce the risk of pregnancy after a rape, a condom failure, or a momentary bit of stupidity.

        • by Kandenshi (832555)

          I'm not from the US, so all I have to go off of is anecdotes and whatnot... But is it really that expensive/difficult to get a dose of Plan B(an emergency contraceptive) down there? Far more effective than a coke and less likely to lead to damage of the delicate fallopian tubes (coke under pressure being squirted up into the vagina in an effort to "make sure we get 'em all"...

          • by geekoid (135745)

            Crazy religious assholes fight against women protecting themselves all the time, so it can be difficult in some areas.
            We're talking about who think young ladies shouldn't get vaccinated against cancer.

        • by jsiren (886858)

          You know, there are other methods [wikipedia.org] for that.

      • by ultramk (470198)

        completely screw up the pH balance and flood it with sugar.

        Dude. You're supposed to use Diet Coke. Duh.

      • by geekoid (135745)

        Maybe they want to make vaginal bread~

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by fishthegeek (943099)
      So... you're saying that you won't be able to sleep because you are not sure whether or not you should wash your hands with a cold Coke Classic before bed?

      It sounds like you're going to be the research topic for next years awards.
    • by TheLink (130905)
      Coca Cola from the USA is significantly different from Coca Cola from Taiwan?

      Sperm from the USA is different from sperm from Taiwan?

      "Anderson, a professor of obstetrics and gynecology at Boston University's School of Medicine, and her colleagues found that not only was Coca-Cola a spermicide, but Diet Coke for some reason worked best. "
      • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

        by wormBait (1358529)
        They used different experimental techniques. I think one was in vitro and one in situ.
      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by HTH NE1 (675604)

        Coca Cola from the USA is significantly different from Coca Cola from Taiwan?

        It's quite possible they use different sweeteners (high fructose corn syrup vs. cane sugar) or other substitute ingredients due to relative expense per region.

      • Coca Cola from the USA is significantly different from Coca Cola from Taiwan?

        One comes with less styrene.

    • by AliasMarlowe (1042386) on Friday October 03, 2008 @05:12PM (#25251075) Journal

      There was even more agitation over the chemistry prize, awarded jointly to rival teams - one from the United States which determined Coca-Cola to be an effective spermicide and one from Taiwan which proved it is not.

      I don't see how any self-respecting scientist can sleep at night until this situation is rectified. I know I can't!

      Apparently, Coca Cola in the US is not quite the same as Coca Cola in several other countries. In the US, corn syrup is used as the sweetener. In many other countries, syrup from sugar cane is used. The two syrups' particular sucroses and admixed flavourings (impurities) are not the same. Perhaps the difference is just enough.

      Hey, corn syrup as a spermicide! What an idea for a research proposal! Next year, maybe I'll get an Ig!

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by pluther (647209)

        You might also want to check into the water.

        Quality and filtration processes may be different enough to be another factor.

      • Well actually the sugars in corn syrup are glucose and fructose. Cane sugar is sucrose. Guess what the acid in Coke turns sucrose into? Yup, that's right it turns it into a mixture of glucose and fructose through a process called acid catalyzed hydrolysis of sucrose for those that care. (Which means that the coke itself basically turns sucrose into the same sugars as in HFCS.)
      • Apparently, Coca Cola in the US is not quite the same as Coca Cola in several other countries.

        That's true. I live right on the U.S./Mexico border and a lot of stores here sell both American-made and Mexican-make Coke. I've tried them both and there is a noticeable difference. The American-made version is not quite as sweet and has a bit more of an acidic bite to it.

        BTW, I once had a neighbor who worked in the Coca-Cola lab in Los Angeles. He said that Coke varied the formula depending on the type of contain

    • I don't see how any self-respecting scientist can sleep at night until this situation is rectified.

      I think that depends on who they are sleeping with...

    • by frisket (149522)

      > I don't see how any self-respecting scientist can sleep at night until this situation is rectified.

      Maybe that was the problem with one of the projects...they used the wrong orifice :-)

  • by Chris Pimlott (16212) on Friday October 03, 2008 @04:20PM (#25250545)

    Funny coincidence, I just watched the Fish & Chips episode of Heston Blumenthal's BBC series "In Search of Perfection", which discussed just the same thing. Blumenthal is the head chef at The Fat Duck, the restaurant mentioned in the article, and a major figure in the "molecular gastronomy" scene.

    He visits a scientist in the UK to test the crispiness of different batter recipes, using an apparatus that analyzes the sound waves generated by poking the food with a probe. It's not the same scientist as mentioned in the Ig Nobel article, though, no idea if it's related to the specific research citing by Ig Nobel.

    There's video from the episode online [youtube.com], the relevant segment begins at the 2 minute mark.

  • improbable.com (Score:2, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward
  • Placebo effect (Score:5, Interesting)

    by TheLink (130905) on Friday October 03, 2008 @04:52PM (#25250889) Journal

    "He says his work has implications for the way drugs are marketed. People often think generic medicine is inferior. But gussy it up a bit, change the name, make it appear more expensive, and maybe it will work better, he said."

    Well I'd rather be convinced that cheaper medicine is better or the same as expensive medicine :).

    "In the 18 subjects Miller studied, average earnings were $250 for a five-hour shift. That jumped to $350 to $400 per five-hour shift when the women were their most fertile, he said."

    There's research that shows that women tend to actually appear more attractive during their most fertile days (and probably might behave in a more attractive manner too ).

    http://www.radio.cz/en/article/52484 [radio.cz]

    BTW there's also:
    http://www.nature.com/news/2008/080226/full/news.2008.625.html [nature.com]
    http://www.newlifeafterdivorce.com/Relationships/Married-fertile-women-prefer-single-men.html [newlifeafterdivorce.com]

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Spy der Mann (805235)

      "He says his work has implications for the way drugs are marketed. People often think generic medicine is inferior. But gussy it up a bit, change the name, make it appear more expensive, and maybe it will work better, he said."

      So that means that us knowledgeable people will achieve better results with the standard medicine, or worse results with the more expensive one?

    • Well I'd rather be convinced that cheaper medicine is better or the same as expensive medicine :).

      The problem is that convincing "you" - your conscious mind, the voice in your head - isn't enough. You have to convince the deeper layers of the nervous system.

      • by TheLink (130905)
        Well there's always the nagging suspicion that the cheap generic from India/China might not be as good...
  • Much of the winning research this year and previously was serious work on topics many find silly. This is what AIR is about (makes you laugh, then think). Most of the recipients take the award with good humor and, as a sign that science is actually making progress as a human social activity, they are not chastised by their colleagues. The title sucks. It came from the Telegraph, but it got passed along without being made less ridiculous.

  • It's funny that they have rewards for irrelevant research but I'm sure a lot of the research honored here is relevant and useful.
  • The OP could at least have mentioned up front that this was about the Ig Nobel. That would catch peoples' eyes... the given title did not.

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