Menu

Biology

A report about reports about reports? Yep, at this year’s Ig Nobel awards

  • Sept. 20, 2012: Harvard University Clowes Professor of Science Robert Kirshner, left, along with Nobel laureates Dudley Herschbach, center, and Rich Roberts, fire paper airplanes back at the audience during a performance at the Ig Nobel Prize ceremony.AP Photo/Charles Krupa

  • Sept. 20, 2012: Koji Tsukada yells into his invention the "SpeechJammer" during a performance at the Ig Nobel Prize ceremony at Harvard University, in Cambridge, Mass.AP Photo/Charles Krupa

  • Sept. 20, 2012: 2011 Nobel Prize laureate for Physics Robert Kirshner holds up a piece of pie while explaining a pie chart about the universe, shortly before eating it.AP Photo/Charles Krupa

  • Sept. 20, 2012: Nobel Prize laureates Eric Maskin, Rich Roberts and Dudley Herschbach lean over behind a mini Eiffel Tower at the Ig Nobel Prize ceremony at Harvard University.AP Photo/Charles Krupa

A U.S. government agency has earned a literature prize for issuing a report about reports about reports -- and concluding that a new report ought to be prepared to sum it all up.

The government’s General Accountability Office was held generally accountable for the May 10 report at the 2012 Ig Nobel awards, an annual celebration of achievements in the arts and sciences that make people laugh -- and ultimately, hopefully, makes them think as well.

The GAO report, which carried the stultifying title “Actions Needed to Evaluate the Impact of Efforts to Estimate Costs of Reports and Studies," won the Literature Prize in this year’s ceremony, which was held Thursday evening at Harvard University's historic Sanders Theatre.

Master of ceremonies Marc Abrahams, the editor of “the Annals of Improbable Research,” said the 22nd Ig Nobel prizes were filled with hair, coffee, fish, opera singers, and paper airplanes. He was referring to the various awards, of course, which spanned studies into dead fish, why hair turns green and more.

But while humorous, the awards are also serious stuff: Abrahams enlisted five genuine Nobel laureates to hand out the prizes.

On hand for the ceremony were Dudley Herschbach (chemistry, 1986), Rich Roberts (physiology or medicine, 1993), Roy Glauber (physics, 2005), Jack Szostak (physiology or medicine, 2009) and Eric Maskin (economics, 2007).

Abrahams also strives to keep the ceremony entertaining; economics professor Maskin was given away in the Win-a-Date-With-a-Nobel-Laureate Contest. And to keep things moving, the winners -- who often fly in at their own expense from around the globe -- are permitted just 60 seconds to deliver their acceptance speech.

That limit is enforced by “a pair of cute-but-implacable eight-year-old girls.”

The 2012 Ig Nobel Prize winners:

PSYCHOLOGY PRIZE
Anita Eerland and Rolf Zwaan from The Netherlands and Tulio Guadalupe from Peru won for their study "Leaning to the Left Makes the Eiffel Tower Seem Smaller."

PEACE PRIZE
The Russian SKN Company was awarded the Peace Prize for converting old Russian ammunition into new diamonds.

ACOUSTICS PRIZE
Kazutaka Kurihara and Koji Tsukada of Japan won for creating the SpeechJammer — a machine that disrupts a person's speech, by making them hear their own spoken words at a very slight delay.

NEUROSCIENCE PRIZE
U.S. scientists Craig Bennett, Abigail Baird, Michael Miller, and George Wolford were awarded the Neuroscience award for demonstrating that brain researchers, by using complicated instruments and simple statistics, can see meaningful brain activity anywhere — even in a dead salmon.

CHEMISTRY PRIZE
Johan Pettersson [SWEDEN and RWANDA]. for solving the puzzle of why, in certain houses in the town of Anderslöv, Sweden, people's hair turned green.

LITERATURE PRIZE
The U.S. 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.

PHYSICS PRIZE
U.S. researchers Joseph Keller and Raymond Goldstein and the UK's Patrick Warren and Robin Ball earned the prize for calculating the balance of forces that shape and move the hair in a human ponytail.

FLUID DYNAMICS PRIZE
U.S. scientists Rouslan Krechetnikov and Hans Mayer earned an award for studying the dynamics of liquid-sloshing; they uncovered what happens when a person walks while carrying a cup of coffee.

ANATOMY PRIZE
Frans de Waal from The Netherlands and U.S. researcher Jennifer Pokorny won for discovering that chimpanzees can identify other chimpanzees individually from seeing photographs of their rear ends.

MEDICINE PRIZE
Emmanuel Ben-Soussan and Michel Antonietti from France earned the medicine prize for advising doctors who perform colonoscopies how to minimize the chance that their patients will explode.

Watch the entire ceremony here: