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The Ig Nobel Prizes [Paperback]

Marc Abrahams
5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)

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Book by Abrahams, Marc

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5.0 out of 5 stars Science can be funny Sept. 26 2003
Format:Hardcover
This book brings together two areas of human endeavor that don't normally go together: science and humor. The Ig Nobel Awards (actually held every year at Harvard University) honor those achievements which "cannot or should not be reproduced."
Did you know that elevator music may help prevent the common cold? Companies like Enron, Global Crossing, Tyco, Waste Management and WorldCom shared an award for adapting the mathematical concept of imaginary numbers for use in the business world. A man from Lithuania created an amusement park called Stalin World. To save money, the British Royal Navy has barred trainees at its top gunnery school from firing live shells and ordered them to shout "bang." It has been determined that, biochemically, romantic love may be indistinguishable from severe obsessive-compulsive disorder. A college professor from Pennsylvania fed prozac to clams (at the cellular level, clams and humans show remarkable nervous system similarities), resulting in a whole lot of reproducing going on. A man from France is the only winner of two Ig Nobels, for demonstrating that water has a memory, and that the information can be transmitted over the phone and the Internet.
Then there are the "classics," like the scientific investigation of why toast often falls on the buttered side; an Australian man who patented the wheel, and the Australian Patent Office who granted it; a man from Arizona who invented software that detcts when a cat is walking across your keyboard; the Southern Baptist Church of Alabama for their county-by-county estimate of how many Alabama citizens will go to hell if they don't repent; the sociology of Canadian donut shops, and the optimal way to dunk a biscuit.
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Amazon.com: 4.5 out of 5 stars  8 reviews
25 of 25 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Science can be funny Sept. 26 2003
By Paul Lappen - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
This book brings together two areas of human endeavor that don't normally go together: science and humor. The Ig Nobel Awards (actually held every year at Harvard University) honor those achievements which "cannot or should not be reproduced."
Did you know that elevator music may help prevent the common cold? Companies like Enron, Global Crossing, Tyco, Waste Management and WorldCom shared an award for adapting the mathematical concept of imaginary numbers for use in the business world. A man from Lithuania created an amusement park called Stalin World. To save money, the British Royal Navy has barred trainees at its top gunnery school from firing live shells and ordered them to shout "bang." It has been determined that, biochemically, romantic love may be indistinguishable from severe obsessive-compulsive disorder. A college professor from Pennsylvania fed prozac to clams (at the cellular level, clams and humans show remarkable nervous system similarities), resulting in a whole lot of reproducing going on. A man from France is the only winner of two Ig Nobels, for demonstrating that water has a memory, and that the information can be transmitted over the phone and the Internet.
Then there are the "classics," like the scientific investigation of why toast often falls on the buttered side; an Australian man who patented the wheel, and the Australian Patent Office who granted it; a man from Arizona who invented software that detcts when a cat is walking across your keyboard; the Southern Baptist Church of Alabama for their county-by-county estimate of how many Alabama citizens will go to hell if they don't repent; the sociology of Canadian donut shops, and the optimal way to dunk a biscuit. Last but not least, a solution has been found to the age-old problem of how to quickly start a barbecue. It can be done in less than four seconds with charcoal - and liquid oxygen.
This book is hilarious. It's humor of a slightly more highbrow variety, designed to make people laugh, then think. It's highly recommended for everyone, even those who think that they hate science.
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Silly Science (& Some Serious Stuff) April 27 2005
By Kent Ponder - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
Virtually all of the topics treated are a hoot to read, though this sometimes owes more to the comedic skill of the writers than the to the nature of each subject itself.

Case in point: Because of the tall coconut tree in our backyard in Kahuku, Hawaii, the first topic I read was the study of the physics of falling coconuts, finding it humorously presented while still of serious importance. Most people, not living near coconut trees, and even some natives in the tropics, seem not to take falling coconuts seriously, but one fell from our tree, rolled down one of the long leaves, carrying it far enough from the tree to leave an 8" diameter hole in the roof of a sturdy gazebo, which could just as easily have been our neighbor's shed (or head).

To me, one of the more interesting accounts was of Dr. Cecil Jacobsen, a noted fertility researcher with whom I attended church for years in northern Virginia, who had decided to use his own sperm to impregnate many dozens of women, while telling them the semen was from other anonymous donors. The IgNobel Prize given to Dr. Jacobsen may not have seemed humorous to Cecil or his unwitting sperm recipients.

You'll find a treasure trove of wacky and fascinating matters wittily presented in this collection, and you'll probably find yourself reading it aloud to your friends and watching them crack up (or maybe just watching their jaws drop). Some of the material is appropriate for all ages. (My 10-year-old grandson loved the study of Nosepicking Among Adolescents.)
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A great idea, executed with mediocrity Sept. 9 2007
By Mike Smith - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
This book is full of really great, really funny (mostly) scientific studies--but not all the way through. At times, it's quirky and hilarious; at others, it's just kind of there.

Most of the stories are interesting, but the writing's not that great and gets in the way of it all sometimes. It's loaded with clumsy epimone, erratic spacing, and a rampant glazing over of facts.

Then there's the appendix that lists all of the winners of past Ig Nobel Prize ceremonies, most of which were funnier-sounding than many of the ones that the book explored more fully.

I'm glad I read this, but I don't think it's a five-star book--or even a four-star one.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Research that appears absurd, almost always is, but sometimes there is a potential gold nugget Aug. 22 2006
By Charles Ashbacher - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
While the criteria for receiving an Ig Nobel prize:

*) An achievements that cannot or should not be reproduced.

*) An achievement must first make you laugh and then make you think.

seems to render them fodder for the silly bin, there is a very serious side. Many of the major scientific achievements down through history could have been considered candidates for an Ig Nobel prize. Examples include:

*) The claim that stones fell from the sky, which was ridiculed by Thomas Jefferson.

*) The claim that the Earth revolved around the sun which was considered an unarguable fact for centuries.

*) The weighing of the air still considered a joke by many.

Most of the research described in this book is clearly absurd and will always remain that way. However, there are a few of the Ig Nobel prizes that may be the first step towards significant results. My favorite is the conclusion reached by Joel Slemrod of the University of Michigan Business School and Wojiech Kopczuk of the University of British Columbia. It is summed up in the simple statement:

There is abundant evidence that some people will themselves to survive in order to live through a momentous event. Evidence from estate tax returns suggests that some people will themselves to survive a bit longer if it will enrich their heirs."

The idea that you can will yourself to live longer is certainly significant in the study of life prolongation techniques.

I am in complete agreement with the awarding of the prizes, I found the research leading to the awards amusing. However, after I thought about it a bit, it was clear that it was not so easy to dismiss some of it as good for nothing more than a laugh.
6 of 8 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Is Science Funny? You Bet! Jan. 7 2004
By Robert I. Hedges - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
I have kept up with the 'Annals of Improbable Research' for several years, and must say that this book reflects the best of the highbrow, yet offbeat sense of humor found in 'AIR'.
For those unfamiliar, the Ig Nobel prizes are awarded every year for "achievements that cannot or should not be reproduced" in an elaborate spectacle of a ceremony at Harvard University. Among the participants are many genuine Nobel Prize winners, proving beyond doubt that scientists do have a sense of humor.
There is something for everyone in this book, even for those who hate science; in fact especially for those who hate science. The subjects coast gracefully from the bizarre ("Elevator Music Prevents the Common Cold") to the absolute fringe of science ("The Effects of Ale, Garlic, and Soured Cream on the Appetites of Leeches"; the sour cream was the biggest appetite stimulant, by the way). There are subjects you would have never thought of (unless you are a scientist with way too much time and Federal grant money on your hands) from levitating frogs to "Chicken Plucking as Measure of Tornado Wind Speed". The subject matter is dizzying and amusing.
I eventually settled on a four star rating for a couple of reasons. First, in a majority of cases, these studies are supported through tax dollars, and I generally resent the glorification of wasted money, which this book surely is in great, if unintentional, part (only a small percentage of these studies have genuine follow on benefits; most were clearly done for square-filling publication in the 'publish or perish' world of academia). Second, the politically motivated selection of some recipients, notably Edward Teller, is an undeserved slap at scientists who did and do work on defense projects (where a huge number of genuine scientific advances actually occur) by what is an obviously smug class of academics, who clearly seek to advance their own political agenda. I find that to have tarnished what would have otherwise been a superior work of science reporting and humor.
Despite my reservations, I overall recommend the book, as it does generally meet its stated goals of making a person laugh and think.
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