This Year’s Ig Nobel Prizes: Way Funnier Than Warren-Brown Debate

Darn! Why did I spend last night yawning through the Brown vs. Warren Massachusetts senatorial debate when I could have been having an uproarious time at the Ig Nobels, the ever-hilarious, Cambridge-based prizes for “improbable research”? (“The Ig Nobel Prizes honor achievements that first make people laugh, and then make them think.” Mostly, I’d say, the former, but they do foment the important message that scientists can be fun, too.)

Well, at least I can still crack up just from reading the latest winners here on the Ig Nobel site. They include such gems as:

ANATOMY PRIZE: Frans de Waal [The Netherlands and USA] and Jennifer Pokorny [USA] for discovering that chimpanzees can identify other chimpanzees individually from seeing photographs of their rear ends.

De Waals Ig Nobel

Famed primate researcher Frans de Waal accepts his Ig Nobel for findings on chimpanzee rear-end recognition (Photo: David C. Holzman)

MEDICINE PRIZE: Emmanuel Ben-Soussan and Michel Antonietti [FRANCE] for advising doctors who perform colonoscopies how to minimize the chance that their patients will explode.

And how can the actual Nobels ever compete with this literature prize?

The US Government General Accountability Office, for issuing a report about reports about reports that recommends the preparation of a report about the report about reports about reports.”

This year, there’s also a special bonus: On the eve of the ceremony, the Harvard Crimson offered its favored picks, including this one:

Biology Prize: U.S. Representative Todd Akin, for his creative new conception of female biology. His work on the female reproductive system made us laugh with disbelief, cry with existential anguish (or deep offense), and think he was ignorant.

$25K Prize For Predicting How Fatal Disease Will Progress

ALS is also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease, for the famous baseball player who died of it (Wikimedia Commons)

Calling all computational minds. You don’t need to cure ALS. You just need to predict its progress better than we can now. Your reward: A $25,000 prize from the Cambridge-based nonprofit Prize4Life — and the knowledge that your work could hasten the development of drugs for the fatal neurological disease.

Why offer a prize just for predicting the course of a disease rather than curing it?

Melanie Leitner, Chief Scientific Officer of Prize4Life:

“Our focus is on attacking ALS from all angles, including prizes for innovations in both disease prediction and therapeutic breakthroughs. We recently launched the ALS Treatment Prize for a therapy that does just that: slow down disease progression disease. We’ve created this prize because finding an algorithm to predict progression will be enormously helpful for future clinical trials and will help speed up the discovery and development of the drugs that will help ALS patients in the future (hopefully including some of those that were incentivized by the ALS Treatment Prize!).”

And didn’t someone just win a big ALS prize? How is this one different? (Here’s the New York Times story from last year: $1 Million Prize to Inventor of a Tracker for ALS.)

Melanie Leitner: Continue reading