October 3, 1999
Scientists should't take science so seriously
(Staff and wire reports)
Just in time for your breakfast dining pleasure
this morning, here
are some of the 1999 anti-Nobel Prize winners, the Ig Nobel Awards,
courtesy of The Associated Press:
Medicine: Dr. Arvid Vatle of Norway, who carefully collected,
classified and contemplated the kinds of containers his patients
chose when submitting urine samples.
Sociology: Steve Penfold of York University
of Toronto, for his
Ph.D. thesis on the sociology of Canadian doughnut shops.
Literature: The British Standards Institution
for its six-page
specification of the proper way to make a cup of tea. (You'd probably
get some good arguments from some tea nuts that this is a vital
service to mankind.)
Chemistry: Takeshi Makino, president of the Safety Detective
Agency in Osaka, Japan, for his involvement with S-Check, an
infidelity detection spray that wives can apply to their husbands'
underwear to find out if they've been unfaithful in the past few
Peace: Charl Fourie and Michelle Wong of
Africa, for inventing an automobile burglar alarm consisting of a
detection circuit and a flamethrower. (Well? You got a problem with
The Ig Nobel for Managed Health Care: Awarded
George and Charlotte Blonsky of New York City and San Jose, Calif.,
for inventing and patenting a device to aid women in giving birth.
The woman is strapped onto a circular table,
which then rotates at
high speed. Blonsky reportedly got the idea by watching elephants at
the Bronx Zoo spinning around when they gave birth.
And in an unnamed category: Hyuk-ho Kwon,
for the invention of
The awards are presented with great fun by
the Annals of
Improbable Research for scientific accomplishments "that cannot or
should not be reproduced," journal editor Marc Abrahams said.
Some people do not have a sense of humor,
of course. The
Washington Post reports that Britain's chief science adviser, Robert
May, was rather peeved that a 1995 Ig was awarded to a team of
British researchers for their study of why cereal gets soggy. Go
track down astrologers, spiritualists and other shams, he said, and
leave "serious scientists to get on with their work. "
He no doubt also got upset at the Ig for
the standards for
But his railing brought fuming from both
sides of the Atlantic,
skewering May as a stiff old twit (as the Post said).
"May's misfire only makes him (and British
thin-skinned and humorless," wrote the editors of the journal
Chemistry & Industry. "Long may British scientists take their
rightful places in the Ig Nobel Honor Roll. " (Actually they spelled
it humourless and honour, but what do they know?)
Well said. Never, ever, take yourself or your job too seriously.
It'll get you in trouble every time.
Do good work and have fun. And if you
do good work, fun will
Even if it's at your expense.