Roy Exum: The 2013 Ig Nobel Winners

Sunday, September 15, 2013 - by Roy Exum
Roy Exum
Roy Exum

Sanders Theater on the Harvard campus had been sold out for weeks and an overflow stood outside on Thursday night for the 23rd Annual Ig Nobel Awards. The event, according to the humorous scientific magazine, honors scientific achievements "that first make people laugh, and then make them think. Seriously, these are very real milestones based upon careful scientific research and data.

They also confirm that many of the most scholarly people in the world are flat-out crazy. In 2009, for instance, a brassiere that could be used as a gas mask was unveiled and in 2010 a “blind study” confirmed that cussing, when really profane, functions as a pain-killer. Now that you’ve gotten the piucture, the envelopes please …

PSYCHOLOGY – Since it has already been proven that drunk people believe others to be more attractive, this year’s award winning team determined that drunk people, and those who think they are drunk, believe they are more attractive, too.  Unfortunately, a team of “judges” that studied videos of the drunk people used to prove the finding did not think the drunk people were attractive at all. Kudos to Laurent Bègue, Oulmann Zerhouni, Baptiste Subra and Medhi Ourabah of France and Brad Bushman, a professor at Ohio State University who also teaches in the Netherlands.

BIOLOGY & CHEMISTRY – Dung beetles, which the American Institute of Biological Sciences report save the nation’s cattle industry an estimated $380 million every year by burying above-ground livestock manure, uses the solar system to go in a straight line and find their way home. The winners proved it by using a planetarium with the ability to alter the celestial constellations, most especially the Milky Way. Sure enough, the beetles responded to the compass every time. On the winning team Marie Dacke, Emily Baird, Marcus Byrne, Clarke Scholtz and Eric Warrant, who work in Sweden, Australia, South Africa, the United Kingdom and Germany.

MEDICINE – Opera music has a profound effect in boosting the immune system of heart transplant patients –  if it is a mouse. Deaf mice died about a week following transplantation but those who could hear Verdi’s La Traviata averaged 26 days before they croaked, according to a study that was published in the Journal of Cardiothoracic Surgery by Masateru Uchiyama, Xiangyuan Jin, Qi Zhang, Toshihito Hirai, Atsushi Amano, Hisashi Bashuda and Masanori Niimi, of Japan, China and the United Kingdom.

SAFETY ENGINEERING – A system that would drop a would-be airplane hijacker through a trap door, then contain the villain in a strong capsule and, after a parachute is deployed, would then drop the capsule and its contents through a trap door to waiting police on the ground. (The pilots would radio the … er, the bombing coordinates to police before releasing the capsule through the bomb doors.) Awarded posthumously to Gustano Pizzo of the U.S., who died in 2006.

PHYSICS – On the planet earth some lizards and birds can defy gravity and run on the surface of the water but –  if the pond and a human being were both on the moon -- where the force of gravity is one-sixth what it is on earth, it is believed a human could accomplish the feat due to the resistance of the water’s mass. Congratulations to Alberto Minetti, Yuri Ivanenko, Germana Cappellini, Nadia Dominici, and Francesco Lacquaniti of Italy, the United Kingdom, Switzerland, Russia and France.

CHEMISTRY – Scientists have identified an unknown enzyme in an onion that makes people cry and – by using genetic technologies – have morphed a “tearless onion.” Without safety authorizations from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the project cannot go further but a more flavorful and healthful onion may be in the future, thanks to Shinsuke Imai, Nobuaki Tsuge, Muneaki Tomotake, Yoshiaki Nagatome, Toshiyuki Nagata and Hidehiko Kumgai of Japan and Germany.

ARCHAEOLOGY – Two researchers parboiled shrew – small, mole-like mammals – and then swallowed them without chewing so they could examine their excrement to see which bones would dissolve in the human digestive system and which would not. They compared their findings with micro-mammalian bones found at archaeological sites around the world to prove scientists may have to think differently about bones they find. Winners were Brian Crandall of the U.S. and Peter Stahl of Canada and the U.S.

PEACE – Awarded to the country of Belarus, and its president, Alexander Lukashenko, for making it illegal to applaud in public, which effectively ended clapping by political protestors and gave special recognition to the Belarus State Police, for arresting a one-armed man for applauding.

PROBABILITY -- Researchers discovered that the longer a cow has been lying down, the more likely that cow will soon stand up, but that once a cow stands up, you cannot easily predict how soon that cow will lie down again. Kudos to Bert Tolkamp, Marie Haskell, Fritha Langford, David Roberts and Colin Morgan of the United Kingdom, the Netherlands and Canada.

PUBLIC HEALTH – A group of Thai doctors, in a paper published by the American Journal of Surgery, introduced new medical techniques in an article entitled, "Surgical Management of an Epidemic of Penile Amputations in Siam." It seems after 1970 wives would punish philandering husbands with the “worst cut of all” and throw the dismembered organs under the elevated houses where ducks took over. The penile reimplantations worked best, according to scientific study, if salvaged before the ducks found them. Awarded to Kasian Bhanganada, Tu Chayavatana, Chumporn Pongnumkul, Anunt Tonmukayakul, Piyasakol Sakolsatayadorn, Krit Komaratal, and Henry Wilde of Thailand.

royexum@aol.com


Vehicle Emissions Testing Causes More Pollution Than It Prevents

While a noble cause to make sure vehicles are operating efficiently with the minimum amount of pollutants, a simple analysis makes it somewhat evident the VET program in Chattanooga causes more pollution that it prevents.  Though I don't know how many vehicles are tested on an annual basis, if you assume an average round trip of 10 miles to the nearest testing station (five ... (click for more)

Roy Exum: Abolish Bail For Poor

Our terribly overcrowded Hamilton County Jail may get some help from an unsuspected corner – the Obama administration is tackling the fact that right now over 450,000 people are in our country’s jails because they are too poor to pay for bail. It is a violation of the Constitution to “punish people for their poverty.” As the Eighth Amendment provides, “… excessive bail ought not ... (click for more)

City Council Approves $2.19 Million Purchase Of Body Cameras For Police Officers

The City Council on Tuesday night voted unanimously to approve the $2,191,544 purchase of body cameras for city police officers. Councilman Chip Henderson, who heads the council's public safety committee, said the purchase was already included in the budget. The city will get some help from the federal government in the form of a grant for almost $300,000 toward the expense. ... (click for more)

Fire Lieutenant Who Caught Baby Dropped From 3rd Floor Of Burning Building Has To Give Up Career Over Incident

A Chattanooga Fire Department officer who was hailed as a hero after catching a baby dropped by the mother from the third floor of a burning building lost his career as a result of the incident. City officials said after Lt. Vernon Lane caught the 10-month-old baby boy that the mother then jumped and landed on him. He suffered severe injuries and has been unable to work ... (click for more)

Top-Ranked Bradley Uses Fast Start To Beat Baylor

There’s no question that the Bradley Bears are ranked first in the initial state wrestling poll and they proved they deserve to be in that top spot following a 43-30 victory over the Baylor Red Raiders. Baylor is ranked fourth in that first poll and will surely be a force to be reckoned with in Division II as the season progresses, but the Bears are head and shoulders ahead after ... (click for more)

Run-And-Gun Tyner Shoots Down Red Bank 71-33

Tyner opponents better batten down the hatches if the Rams ever iron out their half-court offensive struggles. Even without that weapon showing up Tuesday night, the Rams showed they have a run-and-gun assault that can bury an opponent under an avalanche of points. And their defense is as tenacious as ever. Tyner outscored Red Bank 15-0 to start the second quarter ... (click for more)