Who’s the ignoblest of them all?

By Theresa Mallinson 3 October 2011

The Ig Nobel prize is awarded each year in 10 categories to honour researchers who “first make people laugh, and then make them think”. We're not so sure about the thinking bit, but the winners definitely made us laugh. By THERESA MALLINSON.

The actual prize is a board showing the periodic table, with tiny legs attached. (Periodic table, geddit?) You may be sighing at the weak joke, but have you ever thought about what’s behind the average sigh? Norway’s Karl Halvor Teigen did, and won the 2011 Ig Nobel psychology prize for his paper “Is a Sigh ‘Just a Sigh’? Sighs as Emotional Signals and Responses to a Difficult Task”.

John Perry’s research on procrastination, which won the literature prize, has more practical implications. His theory, in a nutshell, is this: “To be a high achiever, always work on something important, using it as a way to avoid doing something that’s even more important.” Perhaps this is the approach used by Andre Geim – after winning the (real) Nobel prize for physics last year, he’s the only person ever to have picked up both awards; the Nobel for his experiments with 2D graphene, the Ig Nobel for making a frog levitate.

It’s a fair bet that the motley crew who won the Ig Nobel mathematics prize this year won’t be following in his footsteps. That prize went to six people who have all – unsuccessfully – predicted the end of the world. Now they’ve been honoured “for teaching the world to be careful when making mathematical assumptions and calculations”. One of the six, none other than Harold Camping, hasn’t learnt to take more care though; earlier this year he declared judgement day to be on 21 October 2011, after his two previous stabs at a date passed by ignominiously. We don’t know if anyone’s done any research on the validity of the phrase, third time lucky. DM

Read the full list of 2011 Ig Nobel winners, on the Annals of Improbable Research.



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