Let’s face it; the Nobel prizes may be more pricey and prestigious but they don’t make for sexy copy. Sure, some eye-popping breakthrough in, say, qu
antum chromodynamics may be bleeding-edge science which is sure to make life more simple for us soon but right now at the print stage it’s just a yawn away from drop dead dull. But an alarm clock, like the one developed by Gauri Nanda, a graduate student at MIT, which runs away and hides itself in order to force the owner to find it and shut the damn thing off, is freaky stuff even to read about. That kind of chutzpah qualifies for an Ig Nobel Prize. Nanda got hers in 2005. However, unlike the Golden Raspberry awards for the worst film work of the year and the Darwin awards which are given to people who do a service to humanity by removing themselves from the gene pool in a sublimely idiotic fashion, the Ig Nobel Prize is given for achievements that first make people laugh, but then later make them think too. Like the chemistry Ig Nobel in 1999 for an infidelity detection spray that wives can apply to their husband’s underwear or a 2004 economics prize presented to the Vatican for outsourcing prayers to India. Organised by the scientific humour magazine ‘Annals of Improbable Research’, the Ig Nobels which debuted in 1991 were originally awarded for discoveries that “cannot or should not be reproduced”. Accordingly, among the earliest recipients were people like Edward Teller, father of the hydrogen bomb, “for his lifelong efforts to change the meaning of peace as we know it” and L Ron Hubbard, founder of scientology, “for his book ‘Dianetics’ which is highly profitable to mankind, or a portion thereof”. This year’s Iggys were awarded, as usual, in early October — around the time the Nobel prizes are announced. The winners from several continents travelled, at their own expense, to the ceremony that included a variety of momentously inconsequential events to be handed their prizes by genuine Nobel laureates before a standing-room audience of over 1,200 people. The world’s top thinkers then had to explain their subject twice: first with a complete technical description in 24 seconds, followed by a clear summary that anyone could understand in seven. We need more sane voices like these.
6 months ago