With everything that’s been going on in the news for the past week or so you may have missed the fact that there are still some people out there who use their brains for something other than one-upmanship … or a hat rack.
Over the past several weeks, Nobel prizes have been quietly handed out to a number of people whose efforts to make the world a better place and expand human knowledge have unfortunately been drowned out by people whose only concern is stoking their own egos, their political agendas and their bank accounts.
Take, for instance, this year’s Nobel winners in the physics category. A 96-year-old New Jersey researcher, a 74-year-old French scientist and the first woman to win in the category in 55 years, Canadian Donna Strickland, shared the prize not for their work in smearing the competition but for their advancements in laser technology. Their invention of “optical tweezers” using lasers could lead to all sorts of medical advancements, including being able to pick up a single virus cell in the human body.
And while the Nobel winners are all being recognized for significant breakthroughs in their fields, there are thousands of researchers out there pursuing their own curiosity. They may not qualify for the most prestigious of prizes but they have, nonetheless, received some recognition for, well, being curious.
That’s where the “other” Nobel prizes come in.The Ig Nobel prizes are awarded by the Annals of Improbable Research recognizing “research that first makes people laugh, then think.”
At the annual ceremony recently at Harvard, prizes went out to “winners” in most of the usual categories normally associated with those other Nobel prizes. The Igs even awarded a prize in literature this year when those other Nobels skipped that category because the committee’s chairman was accused of sexual assault. The chair of that group was forced to resign and find other work. Probably in politics.
The Ig Nobel prize in literature was awarded to a team of three researchers from Australia, El Salvador and the United Kingdom for “documenting that most people who use complicated products do not read the instruction manual.” Their paper was titled, “Life is Too Short to RTFM.” I’ll let you figure it out.
The chemistry prize this year was based on research only a mother could love because most of them, at least in my experience, seem to believe in it. It went to another international team for their work titled, “Human Saliva as a Cleaning Agent for Dirty Surfaces.”
The prize in the nutrition category suggests that Hannibal Lecter, Jeffrey Dahmer and the entire Donner Party probably could have used some nutritional supplements. The winners from Zimbabwe, Tanzania and the United Kingdom found that “the caloric intake from a human-cannibalism diet is significantly lower than the caloric intake from most other traditional meat diets.” Depends on who you’re eating, I guess.
For a complete list of this year’s Ig Nobel winners (and a good laugh) visit their website at www.improbable.com.