Whale Snot, Promoting at Random, and the Other Ig Nobel Winners
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The Ig Nobel awards were announced last week. For those of you who don't know, the Ig Nobel awards are given out by the Institute of Improbable Research for "for achievements that first make people laugh, then make them think." In other words, they're for the silliest sounding scientific papers of the year. The awards ceremony itself is held at Harvard and all awards are presented by real Nobel Prize winners. Here are this year's winners.
To find out if whales are sick, you need to get some of their mucus. Getting close to a whale can be hard. Karina Acevedo-Whitehouse, Agnes Rocha-Gosselin, and Diane Gendron—pioneering biologists and engineers—designed a remote-controlled helicopter to collect whale snot. This is a picture of the actual helicopter in action.
Slime molds are a fungus-like organism that uses spores to reproduce. They can also slowly move. A large group of Japanese scientists showed that slime molds create transportation networks of greater efficiency than the Japanese subway system, and attempted to create a biology-based formula for creating the most efficient transportation networks. One of the scientists is already an Ig Nobel winner, for a paper on using slime molds to solve puzzles.
Does wearing socks over your boots help you grip on icy surfaces? It does: As proven by two physicists from New Zealand's University of Otago, who asked participants to walk down an icy hill wearing various permutations of footwear.
People tend to swear when they're in pain. Turns out, this isn't just anger; swearing actually makes your pain feel better.
Photo via Wikimedia Commons.
If you are a scientist who works regularly with microbes, you would be wise to shave your beard. So says an experiment that tested whether hirsute or shaved scientists were better carriers of certain microbes. The results: Even with washing, there are enough germs on your face to get someone else sick.
We'll quote the Ig Nobel committee for this one:
"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."
This prize was given jointly to three scientists who study oil spills and to BP, for helping to confirm their results. The discovery: Oil and water do, in fact, mix, in dangerous and horrible ways.
The Peter Principle states that workers will continue to be promoted until they reach a job for which they don't have the competence. They will then stay at that job, being incompetent, without being promoted. This is, obviously, not good for business. Researchers from Italy's University of Catania used game theory to discover that if you promote people at random, rather than for good work, you will solve the problems created by the Peter Principle.
It's a pretty simple discovery: When bats perform oral sex on each other, they have sex for longer periods of time. There must have been some awkward moments for the observing scientists.