Spoof prize causes stir

October 17, 1997

A SCIENTIST whose research led to the electric chair being outlawed in two US states fears his work has been trivialised by being awarded a spoof Nobel prize.

Neurophysiologist Harold Hillman, formerly of Surrey University, was among this year's recipients of "Ig Nobel" prizes, which honour those whose achievements "cannot or should not be reproduced". Work honoured at the Harvard ceremony included an investigation of chicken plucking as a measure of tornado wind speed.

Dr Hillman, 67, who for several years has been providing scientific evidence to US courts in an attempt to save people from a "cruel and humiliating death", criticised the spoof prize. "The subjects of other papers are trivial. This is a matter of life and death."

Dr Hillman, director of the Unity Laboratory of Applied Neurobiology, has given evidence to help 12 US convicts awaiting death by electric chair. As a result of his evidence suggesting such execution is "like being fried alive", only one was executed in this way.

Organisers honoured his article, The Possible Pain Experienced During Execution by Different Methods. Organiser Marc Abrahams said: "An Ig prize is neither damnation nor appreciation. We hope it will get people to look at the work and decide for themselves."

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