October 3, 2008

Strippers, Coke & Armadillos All Receive Ig Nobel Awards

Some of the winners of this years alternative "Ig Nobel" prizes include a researcher who figured out that Coke explodes sperm and a psychology professor who discovered that people will happily eat stale chips if they crunch loudly enough.

The Ig Nobels are considered the funny alternative to next week's deadly serious Nobel prizes for medicine, chemistry, physics, economics, literature and peace.

Although these recognitions are considered a goof, the prizes are, indeed, based on real scientific research.

Other winners included physicists who found out that anything that can tangle, will tangle and a team of biologists who ascertained that dog fleas jump farther than cat fleas.

The ceremony at Harvard University, in which actual Nobel laureates bestow the awards, also honored a group of researchers who discovered exotic dancers make more money when they are at peak fertility; and a pair of Brazilian archaeologists who determined armadillos can change the course of history.

Deborah Anderson of Boston University Medical Center and colleagues were awarded the chemistry prize for a 1985 study published in the New England Journal of Medicine that found that not only was Coca-Cola a spermicide, but that Diet Coke for some reason worked best.

"We're thrilled to win an Ig Nobel, because the study was somewhat of a parody in the first place," Anderson said, adding she does not recommend using Coke for birth control purposes.

A similar study by a group of Taiwanese doctors found Coca-Cola and other soft drinks were not effective contraceptives. Anderson said the studies used different methodology.

A Coca-Cola spokeswoman refused comment on the Ig Nobel awards.

Charles Spence's award-winning work tricked people into thinking they were eating fresh potato chips by playing them loud, crunching sounds when they bit one. Spence, a professor of experimental psychology at Oxford University in England, found that potato chips - "crisps" to the British - that sound crunchier taste better.

The economics prize went to Geoffrey Miller, an associate professor of psychology at the University of New Mexico, who found that women are more attractive to men when at peak fertility. So they took the work one step further - by studying earnings of exotic dancers.

Miller studied 18 subjects whose 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.

"I have heard, anecdotally, that some lap dancers have scheduled shifts based on this research," he said.

Dan Ariely, a Duke University behavioral economist, won an Ig Nobel for his study that found more expensive fake medicines work better than cheaper fake medicines.

"When you expect something to happen, your brain makes it happen," Ariely said.

After spending three years in a hospital after suffering third-degree burns over 70 percent of his body. He noticed some burn patients who woke in the night in extreme pain often went right back to sleep after being given a shot. A nurse confided to him the injections were often just saline solution.

He said 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.

Astolfo Gomes de Mello Araujo, a professor of archaeology at the Universidade De Sao Paulo in Brazil, and a colleague earned an Ig Nobel when they found that Pesky armadilloscan move artifacts in archaeological dig sites up, down and even laterally by several meters as they dig.

According to the Humane Society of the United States' Web site, armadillos are burrowing mammals and prolific diggers. Their abodes can range from emergency burrows 20 inches deep, to more permanent homes reaching 20 feet deep, with networks of tunnels and multiple entrances.

The peace prize was given to the Swiss Federal Ethics Committee on Non-Human Biotechnology for adopting the legal principle that plants have moral standing and dignity.

A French team won the biology prize when they found that dog fleas can jump higher than cat fleas, while Dorian Raymer of the Scripps Institution in San Diego and a colleague won the physics prize for demonstrating mathematically why hair or a ball of string will inevitably tangle itself in knots.

Ig Nobel prizewinners of the past include the creator of the plastic pink flamingo, a researcher who recorded a mallard duck sodomizing a dead drake and a doctor who cured hiccups by applying digital rectal massage.

Image Courtesy Wikipedia


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