Ig® Nobel Prizes, 2010

Thursday evening, in Cambridge MA, the Journal of Improbable Research announced the 2010 winners of the Ig® Nobel Prize, given  “For achievements that first make people LAUGH, then make them THINK”.  I should note that most of these prizes are given for real research that nonetheless has an element of humor, or absurdity, included.  Ars Technica has an article in its “Nobel Intent” blog about the prizes; a similar article at New Scientist reports that, for the first time, this year’s awards included a cash prize.  The lucky recipients received a 10 trillion Zimbabwean dollar bill.

You may recall that the 2009 Ig® Nobel Prize for Mathematics was awarded to Gideon Gono, governor of the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe, for allowing the country’s citizens to become comfortable with a wide range of numbers, by issuing bank notes in denominations ranging from Z$ 0.01 to Z$ 10,000,000,000,000.  In February 2009, the Reserve Bank announced a reverse split of the Zimbabwe dollar, at a rate of 1:1012; in other words, you would get Z$ 1 new (fourth series) for Z$ 1 trillion old.

Here are a couple of my favorites from this year’s awards:

  • PEACE PRIZE: Richard Stephens, John Atkins, and Andrew Kingston of Keele University, UK, for confirming the widely held belief that swearing relieves pain.
  • ECONOMICS PRIZE: The executives and directors of Goldman Sachs, AIG, Lehman Brothers, Bear Stearns, Merrill Lynch, and Magnetar for creating and promoting new ways to invest money — ways that maximize financial gain and minimize financial risk for the world economy, or for a portion thereof.
  • ENGINEERING PRIZE: Karina Acevedo-Whitehouse and Agnes Rocha-Gosselin of the Zoological Society of London, UK, and Diane Gendron of Instituto Politecnico Nacional, Baja California Sur, Mexico, for perfecting a method to collect whale snot, using a remote-control helicopter.

The official announcement has references to the relevant articles in the literature for most of the prizes.  There is no reference available for the Economics Prize; but then one would not expect the firms involved to publish the secret of getting such phenomenal results.  Unfortunately, too, none of the firms that shared the Economics Prize sent a representative to the ceremony.  Probably they are too engrossed in figuring out new ways to work their economic magic.

I was also glad to see that a group of researchers from Japan and the UK were honored for their work in using slime molds to model transportation networks, which I wrote about back in January.  It’s reassuring to know that one is keeping up with the cutting edge of research.

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