Thursday, October 04, 2007

Tonight! The 17th First Annual Ig Nobel Awards

Do you remember Rowan & Martin's "Laugh-In"? Yes, that dates me, too. And do you remember Jo Anne Worley asking, "Is that a chicken joke?" Well, tonight, the mere speaking of the word "chicken" is drawing a roar from the crowd in Cambridge, MA. That's right, in staid old Harvard's hallowed halls, the world (in)famous Ig Nobel awards are being conferred this very night. For reasons not entirely clear - I haven't had time to do an in-depth study - the theme of tonight's event is Chicken. This unique, hand-crafted prize will be given to this year's lucky(?) honorees.

Now these are serious scientists, not just a bunch of sophomoric intellectuals, and winning an Ig Nobel confers a certain cachet. The following is taken directly from the web site of Improbable Research, and they can say it so much better than I:

"The Annals of Improbable Research (AIR) is a magazine printed on genuine paper, and also in digital form on the web. Subscribe, and you'll find our very best stuff -- genuine, improbable research culled from more than 20,000 science, medical, and technical, and academic journals.

We administer the Ig Nobel Prizes, given each year for achievements that make people laugh, and then make them think.

Our goal is to make people laugh, then make them think. We also hope to spur people's curiosity, and to raise the question: How do you decide what's important and what's not, and what's real and what's not -- in science and everywhere else?

"The most exciting phrase to hear in science, the one that heralds new discoveries, is not 'Eureka!' but, 'That's funny..." --Isaac Asimov

"Once you eliminate the impossible, whatever remains, no matter how improbable, must be the truth." --Sherlock Holmes"

So what qualifies for an Ig Nobel honor? In 2006, winning research included an exploration of why woodpeckers don't get headaches, a study of the different odors emitted by frogs under stress, and my personal favorite, the discovery that herring communicate with others of their kind to put this delicately...passing gas.

All of these research projects had a serious purpose. Really, they did. And tonight, the ten newest Ig Nobel winners have traveled from all over the world, at their own expense, to accept their honors. According to the web site, "The Prizes will be handed to them by a group of genuine, genuinely bemused Nobel Laureates, all before a standing-room only audience of 1200 people."

Isn't it good to know that there's still room for such silliness in the world?


Mary said...

First of all, you don't look old enough to remember "Laugh In". I loved that show. It aired during years of protest and war and all we wanted was a little time away from the news and to laugh our heads off. Laugh In delivered.

In the same light, I'm happy to know that silliness is taken seriously by presenting the Ig Nobel prizes. Funny post, Peg!

Peg Silloway said...

Mary, you are so kind. I credit two factors: genetics, and the wonders of modern chemistry (aka hair color)!

So if you remember "Laugh In", how about "That Was The Week That Was"? One of the first truly clever political satire shows. Decades before Saturday Night Live, and brighter even than the original SNL. Go back even further, and there was the genius of Tom Lehrer. We treasure his albums from the '50s and occasionally quote from his songs. NCIS even featured one - the elements song - on a show just last night. Silliness truly is timeless!