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Book Review: Ig Nobel Prizes 2

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On Thursday, October 6th, scientists and lab-rats will be called on the red carpet at Harvard University to receive Ig Nobel Awards “for scientific achievements which cannot or should not be reproduced.”

The honors this year come just in time for my review of a second hilarious compilation from Marc Abrahams’ journal, the Annals of Improbable Research (AIR), published as Ig Nobel Prizes 2. The prizes are the smallest part of the zany antics detailed in the book, which also describes the award ceremony (2004) and the efforts made by scientists to be included (and sometimes, to avoid being included) on the rolls of the Ig Nobel Award Committee.

Thanks to these courageous researchers, we now know that chickens prefer beautiful people (PDF). We can celebrate the opportunity represented by Liechtenstein, an entire country available for rent “for corporate conventions, weddings, bar mitzvahs, and other gatherings.”

Or we can follow the valiant efforts of Lal Bihari, of Uttar Pradesh, India, who manages to lead an active life even though he has been declared legally dead. Pradesh won an Ig Nobel award in 2003 for his creation of the Association of Dead People, and even received a passport from the Indian government so that he could come to Harvard for the award ceremony. However, the US government refused to allow the “dead” man into the country.

Another morbid topic was “The Effect of Country Music on Suicide,” in which researchers Steven Stack and James Gundlach assessed the link between country music and metropolitan suicide rates.

Country music is hypothesized to nurture a suicidal mood through its concerns with problems common in the suicidal population, such as marital discord, alcohol abuse, and alienation from work. The results of a multiple regression analysis of 49 metropolitan areas show that the greater the airtime devoted to country music, the greater the white suicide rate. The effect is independent of divorce, southernness, poverty, and gun availability… Our model explains 51% of the variance in urban white suicide rates.

Sometimes, accepting an award becomes a moment for self-promotion, as when Alan Kligerman, the inventor of Beano, took the opportunity to plug CurTail, “Beano for dogs.” The opportunity is a brief one, however&#8212honorees have a strict 30-second limit on acceptance speeches, enforced by “referees with baseball bats.”

My favorite, though, has to be the study of “Scrotal Asymmetry in Man and Ancient Scupture (PDF),” confirming for all time that, yes, Michelangelo’s David is lopsided. Thank heavens for the rich resource provided by the 2004 Literature laureate, the American Nudist Research Library, “preserving nudist history so that everyone can see it.”

Ig Nobel Prizes 2 is on my shelf now, right next to the compilations from the Wormrunners Digest.

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