Ig Nobel Prize talk

Yesterday I went to the Ig Nobel Prize talk in Copenhagen. It am glad that the talk has become a yearly event. So, for my friends outside Denmark, consider yourselves warned.

The event followed what seemed to be an established schedule now. Marc Abrahams, the creator of Ig Nobel, gives an introduction to the Ig Nobel Prize, along with the list of winners of last year’s prizes. My favourites include:

  • the Ig Nobel Prize in Public Health for the investigation on whether it is mentally hazardous for a human being to own a cat,
  • the Ig Nobel Prize in Psychology for finding evidence that people who habitually stay up late are, on average, more self-admiring, more manipulative, and more psychopathic than people who habitually arise early in the morning,
  • the Ig Nobel Prize in Art for the investigation on the relative pain people suffer while looking at an ugly painting, rather than a pretty painting, while being shot [in the hand] by a powerful laser beam.

After the introduction, there were three current and one past Ig Nobel Prize winners who gave short talks. True to the Ig Nobel Prize tradition, there was a time keeper… well, in fact two of them. They would stand up and signal the audience to say “hey” to the speaker at 5 and 10 minutes into the presentation, and every minute up to 15 minutes. But I think next year they should hire a little girl to go up to the speaker and say “Please stop. I’m bored.“, just like in the Ig Nobel ceremonies.

Anyway, the talks were:

  • Hynek Burda (2014 Ig Nobel Prize in Biology) who presented his discovery that when dogs defecate and urinate, they prefer to align their body axis with Earth’s geomagnetic field lines
  • Jaroslav Flegr (2014 Ig Nobel Prize in Public Health) who presented his investigation on whether or not it is mentally hazardous for a human being to own a cat. Incidentally, Prof Flegr is a dead ringer for Dr Emmett Brown (from Back to the Future).
  • Eigil Reimers (2014 Ig Nobel Prize in Arctic Science) who presented his research on how reindeer react to seeing humans who are disguised as polar bears. This is pretty much the best talk of the whole evening. The research questions that he presented was very compelling and the methodologies ingenious.
  • Finally Yoshiro Nakamatsu (Dr NakaMats, 2005 Ig Nobel Prize in Nutrition) who photographed his meals for more than 34 years. But his presentation was on his 3500+ inventions… or maybe ‘inventions’, I’m not sure. He claimed to have invented, amongst others, floppy disk, CD, and DVD. Then, things got weird. The room suddenly broke out in a song about beating cancer, complete with karaoke lyrics. (Dr NakaMats was sadly diagnosed with prostate cancer and is not expected to live beyond 2015.) It was surreal.

Well, overall it was a mixed bag. I think last year’s event was a bit better and made me laugh and think much more than this year’s event.

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