A live frog is magnetically levitated, an experiment that earned André Geim from the University of Nijmegen and Sir Michael Berry from Bristol University the 2000 Ig Nobel Prize in physics
Yes it is that time again ... time for the annual IG-Noble Awards.
The Ig-Nobel Prizes are a parody of the Nobel Prizes and are given each year in early October — around the time the recipients of the genuine Nobel Prizes are announced — for ten achievements that "first make people laugh, and then make them think." Organized by the scientific humor magazine Annals of Improbable Research (AIR), they are presented by a group that includes genuine Nobel Laureates at a ceremony at Harvard University's Sanders Theater. (Wikipedia - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ig_Nobel_Prize)
Awards bestowed for serious studies
of oddball scientific questions
Oct. 2, 2008
BOSTON - Deborah Anderson had heard the urban legends about the contraceptive effectiveness of Coca-Cola products for years.
So she and her colleagues decided to put the soft drink to the test. In the lab, that is.
For discovering that, yes indeed, Coke was a spermicide, Anderson and her team are among this year's winners of the Ig Nobel Prize, the annual award given by the Annals of Improbable Research magazine for oddball but often surprisingly practical scientific achievements.
-- Coca Cola Contraception --
Effect of "Coke" on sperm motility (New England Journal of Medicine)
NOTE: A Coca-Cola spokeswoman refused comment on the Ig-Nobel awards.
The ceremony at Harvard University, in which actual Nobel laureates bestow the awards, also honored a British psychologist who found that foods that sound better taste better; 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.
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 that Diet Coke for some reason worked best. Their study appeared in the New England Journal of Medicine in 1985.
"We're thrilled to win an Ig Nobel, because the study was somewhat of a parody in the first place," said Anderson, who added that she does not recommend using Coke for birth control purposes.
A group of Taiwanese doctors were honored for a similar study that found Coca-Cola and other soft drinks were not effective contraceptives. Anderson said the studies used different methodology. (One does have to wonder what they mean by ... methodology? )
-- Expensive fakes vs. cheap fakes --
Commercial Features of Placebo and Therapeutic Efficacy (JAMA)
Duke University behavioral economist Dan Ariely 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. Ariely spent three years in a hospital after suffering third-degree burns over 70 percent of his body. He noticed that 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 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.
-- Crunchy chips taste better --
Crisp sounds: An experiment to get your teeth into
Charles Spence's award-winning work also has to do with the way the mind functions. Spence, a professor of experimental psychology at Oxford University in England, found that potato chips — "crisps" to the British — that sound crunchier taste better.
His findings have already been put to work at the world-famous Fat Duck Restaurant in England, where diners who purchase one seafood dish also get an iPod that plays ocean sounds as they eat.
-- Armadillos Rewrite History --
Experiment of the month (Natural History)
Armadillos helped win an Ig Nobel for Astolfo Gomes de Mello Araujo and Jose Carlos Marcelino, archaeologists at the Universidade De Sao Paulo in Brazil.
Pesky armadillos, they found, can move artifacts in archaeological dig sites up, down and even laterally by several meters as they dig. Armadillos are burrowing mammals and prolific diggers. Their abodes can range from emergency burrows 20 inches (50 centimeters) deep, to more permanent homes reaching 20 feet (6 meters) deep, with networks of tunnels and multiple entrances, according to the Humane Society of the United States' Web site.
Araujo was thrilled to win. "There is no Nobel Prize for archaeology, so an Ig Nobel is a good thing," he said in an e-mail.
Here's the full list of winners, with links to the research if available:
Nutrition: Massimiliano Zampini and Charles Spence for demonstrating that food tastes better when it sounds better (report from The Guardian).
Peace: The Swiss Federal Ethics Committee on Non-Human Biotechnology and the citizens of Switzerland for adopting the legal principle that plants have dignity.
Archaeology: Astolfo Gomes de Mello Araujo and Jose Carlos Marcelino for showing armadillos can scramble the contents of an archaeological dig (report from Natural History).
Biology: Marie-Christine Cadiergues, Christel Joubert and Michel Franc for discovering that fleas that live on a dog can jump higher than fleas that live on a cat.
Medicine: Dan Ariely for demonstrating that expensive fake medicine is more effective than cheap fake medicine (report in Stanford GSB News).
Cognitive science: Toshiyuki Nakagaki, Hiroyasu Yamada, Ryo Kobayashi, Atsushi Tero, Akio Ishiguro and Agota Toth for discovering that slime molds can solve puzzles (report in Math in the Media).
Economics: Geoffrey Miller, Joshua Tyber and Brent Jordan for discovering that exotic dancers earn more when at peak fertility.
Physics: Dorian Raymer and Douglas Smith for proving that heaps of string or hair will inevitably tangle.
Chemistry: Sheree Umpierre, Joseph Hill and Deborah Anderson for discovering that Coca-Cola is an effective spermicide, and C.Y. Hong, C.C. Shieh, P. Wu and B.N. Chiang for proving it is not (report at Snopes.com).
Literature: David Sims for his study "You Bastard: A Narrative Exploration of the Experience of Indignation within Organizations" (report from The Boston Globe).
This report was supplemented by msnbc.com.
© 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.