Marty Russell


There was a time in human history referred to as the Dark Ages. Most historians would argue that this era in ancient times refers to a period when humanity turned its back on science and the pursuit of knowledge in favor of blind loyalty to the church and autocratic rulers who they trusted to lead the advance of civilization.

However, some historians have postulated that the Dark Ages took on a more literal meaning when at least one of that period’s narcissistic dictators dictated that the artificial light in use at the time, mainly candlelight, made him look too orange so he outlawed its use. Things got really dark.

Luckily, after a while and after growing tired of stubbing their toes in the dark, the Age of Enlightenment came along and people began to turn the lights back on and realize that one person’s unflattering skin tone wasn’t a good enough excuse for tripping over the cat in the dark every night.

Then came Edison and the incandescent electric light bulb and a guy named Nick Holonyak who pioneered LED (light emitting diodes) bulbs. But even today some egocentric oligarchs still cling to the idea that incandescent bulbs are preferable to LEDs because LEDs make them look too orange. In fact, incandescents burn at a warmer color temperature of around 2700 to 3000 Kelvins (more orange) than LEDs at 3500 to 6500K (more white and blue).

Apparently the light bulb still hasn’t gone off over some people’s heads.

But, thankfully, despite efforts to make the Dark Ages great again, science steadily marches on and remnants of the Age of Enlightenment continue to poke at the windmills of people who claim windmills cause cancer.

One leading bastion of scientific curiosity, Harvard University, recently hosted the annual celebration of such intellectual pursuits with the 29th annual Ig Nobel Prize ceremony which took place last weekend. The awards go to scientists whose research may at first make you laugh at the premise but then make you think of the possibilities. Kind of like a light bulb going off after you’re done rolling on the floor.

Some of the winners in this year’s competition included a multinational team of researchers from five countries including the United States for a paper titled, “In-Vivo Biomagnetic Characterization of the American Cockroach.” The study was recognized “for discovering that dead magnetized cockroaches behave differently than live magnetized cockroaches.”

There has to be a practical application in there somewhere.

And speaking of practical applications, what new father wouldn’t benefit from the winner in the engineering category called the “Infant Washer and Diaper-Changer Apparatus and Method.” Now if someone could just invent the gift-wrapping apparatus by Christmas the male chromosome might stand a fighting chance.

Then there was a study of great geo-political importance, “Money and Transmission of Bacteria,” and finally an answer to a burning question solved by scientists from Australia and New Zealand, “How Do Wombats Make Cubed Poo?”

For a full list of this year’s winners, visit the Ig Nobel website at

MARTY RUSSELL writes a Tuesday column for the Daily Journal. Readers can contact him at

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