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The Darwin Awards
by Wendy Northcutt



The Ig Nobel Prizes 2002, announced Thursday, are awarded annually at Harvard University as a spoof of the Nobel ceremony.

Now in theiur 12th year, the awards recognize achievements that "cannot or should not be reproduced." They are given to people who have done remarkably goofy things -- some of them admirable, some perhaps otherwise.

These the 10 awards of this year.

Belly Button Lint. The award went to Karl Kruszelnicki, a University of Sydney researcher who wrote the paper on bellybutton lint. Kruszelnicki studied bellybutton lint samples sent to him by 5,000 people. He concluded the lint is a combination of clothing fibers and skin cells that are led to the navel, via body hair, "as all roads lead to Rome." "Your typical generator of bellybutton lint or fluff is a slightly overweight, middle-aged male with a hairy abdomen," Kruszelnicki concluded. He also reports that people who switch from a top-loading washing machine to a front-loading model notice a "dramatic drop in the production of BBL." He theorizes that the gentler washing mechanism in front-loaders makes clothing fibers less likely to come loose and migrate to the bellybutton.

Medicine: scrotal asymmetry in art. A 1976 scholarly article on "Scrotal Asymmetry in Man and in Ancient Sculpture." published on Nature by Chris McManus, a psychology professor from University College London, took top honors for analyzing the asymmetrical positioning and size of gonads on antique nude statues in Italian museums. After reviewing 107 sculptures, he concluded that ancient artists correctly made the right testicle hang higher than the left, but they incorrectly assumed the lower testicle was larger. In reality, research shows that a man's right testicle is usually larger, he says.

Physics (of Beer). The physics prize went to a University of Munich scientist who showed that the Law of Exponential Decay can be used to predict how long beer foam will last.

Literature. Vicki Silvers, along with colleague David Kreiner from Central Missouri State University, received the Ig Nobel Literature Prize for discovering that students who buy used college textbooks don't score as well on tests if the book's previous owner highlighted the wrong passages.

Biology ? (Arousing Ostriches). British scientists were honored for research that found that ostriches become more amorous with each other when a human is around. In fact, ostriches eventually start putting the moves on humans. Their paper is called "Courtship Behavior of Ostriches Toward Humans Under Farming Conditions in Britain."

Bow Lingual is a Japanese device that measures the tone of a dog's bark and relays his mood. The device is on the market in Japan, and an English version, called Bow-Lingual, should be ready in about a year.

Economics. In economics, the executives and auditors at Enron, WorldCom, Arthur Andersen and a host of other companies were commended by the Ig Nobel committee "for adapting the mathematical concept of imaginary numbers for use in the business world."

Other 2002 Ig Nobel winners include a pair of scientists from India who devised a formula for estimating the total surface area of elephants, and a Spaniard who invented a washing machine for dogs and cat

The prizes are awarded in a ceremony at Harvard, by actual Nobel laureates. Winners traveled from Japan, Australia, Britain, Germany, Missouri and Illinois for the award gala, which features real Nobel laureates singing opera and handing out awards while boisterous audience members throw paper airplanes onto the stage.

Winners are selected from thousands of nominations by a secret committee. If a recipient feels insulted by the award, it's withdrawn,

The Igs are organized by the science humor magazine Annals of Improbable Research (AIR), and co-sponsored by: the Harvard Computer Society; the Harvard-Radcliffe Science Fiction Association; the Harvard-Radcliffe Society of Physics Students.
A book is now available with the best of Improbable Research.


The Best of Annals of Improbable Research
by Abrahams Marc, Marc Abrahams (Editor)

"Science is too human, too much fun, and too important not to laugh at it." The Annals of Improbable Research (and its predecessor, the Journal of Irreproducible Results) has been making fun of science and scientists for... Read more



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