Complete & Utter Member
Book Examines Nose Picking and Buttered Toast
By Mark Egan
NEW YORK (Reuters) - Why do teenagers pick their noses? Why does toast usually fall buttered side down? Frivolous question perhaps, but to Marc Abrahams, this is serious work.
Abrahams is the founder of the Ig Nobel Prizes. Like the Nobel Prizes, which laud the world's brightest minds for such things like writing top-notch literature or making the world a better place through scientific achievement, the Ig Nobels are awarded once a year. But there the similarities end.
Since 1991, Abrahams has been handing out Ig Nobels -- prizes awarded to people whose achievements "cannot or should not be reproduced."
Among the first winners was former U.S. Vice President Dan Quayle, who took the education award for, "demonstrating, better than anyone else, the need for science education."
Among the gaffes that won Quayle his Ig were: "It isn't pollution that's harming the environment. It's the impurities in our air and water that are doing it" and, "Space is almost infinite. As a matter of fact, we think it is infinite."
Now, after more than a decade of honoring triumphs of persistence over improbability, Abrahams has compiled a new book -- "The Ig Nobel Prizes: The Annals of Improbable Research."
To those new to Abrahams' work and to long-time fans, the book offers insight into some of the most bizarre research ever presented with a straight face.
Among the classic research recalled is a scientific paper penned by three Scottish doctors entitled, "The Collapse of Toilets in Glasgow." After three patients in the space of six months showed up in their emergency room with injuries sustained while sitting on lavatories, the intrepid doctors decided to investigate.
"Excessive age of the toilets was implicated as a causative factor. As many toilets get older episodes of collapse may become more common, resulting in further injuries," the doctors wrote in their groundbreaking 1993 paper.
"We would therefore advise that the older porcelain familiar to so many of us should be treated with a certain degree of caution. An obvious way of using a toilet without fear of collapse is...not to sit down, but to adopt a hovering stance," the paper offered by way of a solution.
For Abrahams, the key thing to becoming an Ig Nobel winner is to have produced something where, "the only reaction that is at all reasonable is that it makes you laugh and you think about it afterwards."
Abrahams sifts through some 5,000 ideas nominated by scientists and members of the public for the 10 Igs he awards every year. He is also editor and founder of the magazine the Annals of Improbable Research, which deals with such thorny questions as which came first, the chicken or the egg?
But Abrahams didn't always spend his days musing on questions like the best way to dunk a cookie in a cup of coffee. When he started studying applied mathematics at Harvard University, he had relatively normal ambitions like setting up a software company.
But when that company didn't exactly set the world alight, he began editing The Journal of Irreproducible Results before starting up his own magazine and devoting his life's work to the decidedly peculiar.
NOSE PICKING FOR FUN
Among the items highlighted in Abrahams' new book is an academic treatise conducted by Indian scientists, working at a government institute, on adolescent nose picking.
The 2001 report found that nose picking is the same across social classes. They also found that about 80 percent of teenagers do it exclusively with their fingers while the rest are split almost evenly between using tweezers and pencils as their excavator of choice. Delving deeper, the good doctors found about 50 percent of people pick to unclog their nose, 11 percent do so for cosmetic reasons while a similar number does it just for fun.
And then there's the 1995 study published in the European Journal of Physics called "Tumbling Toast, Murphy's Law and the Fundamental Constants." The author, British scientist Robert Matthews of Aston University in Birmingham, concluded after much preamble: "Toast falling off the breakfast table lands butter-side down because the universe is made that way."
This year's Ig Nobel Awards will be presented at Harvard's Sanders Theater on October 2. He promises the winners will be greeted by a hooting audience of about 1,200, many of them throwing paper planes, and will be presented their awards by several Nobel Prize winners.
Winners of Nobel awards take home a gleaming medal and a generous cash prize. Abrahams said Ig Nobel winners each receive a "hand-constructed award made of exceedingly cheap material designed to fall apart within four weeks."
Nose picking AND buttered toast??? EEEWWWW
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