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).

AVIATION: Patricia V. Agostino, Santiago A. Plano and Diego A. Golombek of Universidad Nacional de Quilmes, Argentina, for their discovery that Viagra aids jetlag recovery in hamsters.

Coturnix of A Blog Around the Clock has a must-read post about this one, including suggestions for follow-up experiments.

LITERATURE: Daniel Oppenheimer of Princeton University for his report “Consequences of Erudite Vernacular Utilized Irrespective of Necessity: Problems with Using Long Words Needlessly.”

A post-secondary matriculant to whom I habitually proffered academic assistance informed me that I suffer from this particular predicament. I think he was right.

BIOLOGY: Bart Knols (of Wageningen Agricultural University, in Wageningen, the Netherlands; and of the National Institute for Medical Research, in Ifakara Centre, Tanzania, and of the International Atomic Energy Agency, in Vienna Austria) and Ruurd de Jong (of Wageningen Agricultural University and of Santa Maria degli Angeli, Italy) for showing that the female malaria mosquito Anopheles gambiae is attracted equally to the smell of limburger cheese and to the smell of human feet.

Aren’t we all?

BIOLOGY: C.W. Moeliker, of Natuurhistorisch Museum Rotterdam, the Netherlands, for documenting the first scientifically recorded case of homosexual necrophilia in the mallard duck.

The subtext here seems to be that there have been previously recorded cases of heterosexual necrophilia in the mallard duck. Perhaps heterosexual necrophilia is business as usual to the mallard, and thus completely unremarkable. But homosexual necrophilia? Now, that’s just wrong.

And finally, my favorite:

PHYSICS: Jack Harvey, John Culvenor, Warren Payne, Steve Cowley, Michael Lawrance, David Stuart, and Robyn Williams of Australia, for their irresistible report “An Analysis of the Forces Required to Drag Sheep over Various Surfaces.”

The Ig Nobel Prizes are administered by the Annals of Improbable Research. I am looking immensely forward to their talk at AAAS this weekend.

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