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Aside from the science writers’ shindig at Fenway Park, I’d have to say the highlight of AAAS was indeed the presentation by the Annals of Improbable Research.

We heard a speech from the inventor of Clocky, the alarm clock that launches off your nightstand and zips around the room, forcing you to wake up and catch it. And another from a science writer who is searching for the holy grail of science writing: cataloging all instances of science writers claiming X is the holy grail of Y. Okay, I admit it, I’ve done it myself. But it wasn’t my fault, I swear — I was quoting a source!

We also sampled the Ig-Nobel-inspired Toscanini’s ice cream flavor: Yum-A-Moto Vanilla Twist, named in honor of Ig-Nobel-prizewinner Mayu Yamamoto for the discovery of a method to extract vanillin from cow dung.

But my personal favorite part of the event was Miss Sweetie Poo (an audience member brilliantly suggested that this might have been a better name for the ice cream flavor). Miss Sweetie Poo is an adorable 8-year-old girl who keeps presenters from talking too long. After a speech hits five minutes, she gets up onstage, looks sweetly up at the speaker, and repeats, loudly, as only an 8-year-old can: “Please stop! I’m bored!”

The Miss Sweetie Poo position, which goes to a new 8-year-old girl each year, was created to keep Ig Nobel Prize acceptance speeches from stretching interminably on and on. Having now witnessed the effect, I must say it is far more effective than the oh-so-subtle music fade-in used at the Oscars.

I must admit that I did not realize, when I wrote a few months ago about calculating the surface area of an elephant, that the esteemed authors of that study had received an Ig Nobel Prize in 2002 for their work. A hearty belated congratulations to you, K.P. Sreekumar and G. Nirmalan!

Other notable Ig Nobel-worthy research achievements over the years include:

LINGUISTICS: Juan Manuel Toro, Josep B. Trobalon and Núria Sebastián-Gallés, of Universitat de Barcelona, for showing that rats sometimes cannot tell the difference between a person speaking Japanese backwards and a person speaking Dutch backwards.

My favorite part is “sometimes,” which seems to imply that yes, on occasion, rats can distinguish backwards Japanese from backwards Dutch. I should add that in a past (highly scientific) experiment of my own, I and a colleague determined that cats are substantially more startled by backwards meowing (their own) than by forwards meowing (also their own). Read the rest of this entry »