Ig Nobel pair tries to nail the bogey of nose-picking

October 5, 2001

In the name of science they studied shower curtains, nose-pickers and the wounds inflicted by falling coconuts. Last night, the proud winners of the annual Ig Nobel prizes picked up their gongs at Harvard University.

All but one of the ten laureates sent videotaped acceptance speeches or attended the ceremony, which was organised by the satirical magazine The Annals of Improbable Research .

The awards, in their 11th year, recognise scientific achievements that "cannot or should not be reproduced".

The United Kingdom boasted just one winner, John Richards, who received the literature prize as founder of the Apostrophe Protection Society.

The former newspaper sub-editor of Boston, Lincolnshire, welcomed his Ig Nobel. "Anything that raises awareness about the misuse of apostrophes and encourages people to care about their language is right," he said.

Chittaranjan Andrade, professor of psychopharmacology at the National Institute of Mental Health and Neurosciences, India, was pleased to win public health for an investigation with colleague B. S. Srihari into the prevalence of adolescent nose-picking.

The Ig Nobel was "the highest honour in the world paid to entertaining science," he said.

But Dr Andrade confirmed that his study was a genuine look at a compulsive behavioural problem: "Several patients have been recorded who have suffered so seriously from the disorder that they have even perforated their nasal septum."

David Schmidt, assistant professor of mechanical and industrial engineering at the University of Massachusetts, won physics for his investigation into why shower curtains billow inwards.

Medicine was claimed by Peter Barss, professor of epidemiology at McGill University, Canada, for his report on "injuries due to falling coconuts" - a cause of fatality in Papua New Guinea.

Economics went to Joel Slemrod and Wojciech Kopczuk from the University of Michigan. Their study found that people seemed able to postpone death if it meant a lower rate of inheritance tax.

Lawrence Sherman, professor of educational psychology at Miami University, Ohio, won psychology for his paper "An ecological study of glee in small groups of pre-school children".

Like his fellow Ig Nobel laureates, Professor Sherman's research into the factors influencing the spread of high spirits, was seriously undertaken.

And his definition of glee? "We recognise various elements such as laughter, from a little chuckle to something a bit more intense. We also accept joyful screaming."

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