‘Liq­uid cats’ and other odd­i­ties honored at spoof awards

China Daily - - WORLD -

CAM­BRIDGE, Mas­sachusetts — Sci­en­tists tak­ing on the deep ques­tions of whether cats are liq­uid or solid, how hold­ing a croc­o­dile in­flu­ences gam­bling and whether play­ing the didgeri­doo can help cure snor­ing were honored on Thurs­day at the Ig No­bel Prize spoof awards.

The prizes are the brain­child of Marc Abra­hams, edi­tor of the An­nals of Im­prob­a­ble Re­search, and are in­tended not to honor the best or worst in science but rather to high­light re­search that en­cour­ages peo­ple to think in un­usual ways.

“We hope that this will get peo­ple back into the habits they prob­a­bly had when they were kids of pay­ing at­ten­tion to odd things and hold­ing out for a mo­ment and de­cid­ing whether they are good or bad only af­ter they have a chance to think,” Abra­hams said.

Some of the hon­orees tend to­ward the spu­ri­ous: French re­searcher Marc-An­toine Fardin’s 2014 study “Can a Cat Be Both a Solid and a Liq­uid?” was in­spired by in­ter­net pho­tos of cats tucked into glasses, buck­ets and sinks. The win­ner of the Ig No­bel in physics used math­e­mat­i­cal for­mu­lae to con­clude that ac­tive young cats and kit­tens hold their phys­i­cal shape longer than older, lazier fe­lines.

Other work on the prize list has clearer po­ten­tial for prac­ti­cal ap­pli­ca­tions.

Eco­nomics win­ners Matthew Rockloff and Nancy Greer con­ducted an ex­per­i­ment in which prob­lem gam­blers and non-prob­lem gam­blers han­dled 1-me­ter long crocodiles be­fore play­ing a sim­u­lated slot ma­chine.

The 2010 study, con­ducted on 103 peo­ple in Aus­tralia, found that prob­lem gam­blers were likely to place higher bets af­ter han­dling the rep­tiles, as their brains had mis­in­ter­preted the ex­cite­ment of hold­ing a danger­ous an­i­mal as a sign they were on a lucky streak.

A multi­na­tional team of six re­searchers won the Peace Prize for the 2005 pa­per “Didgeri­doo Play­ing as Al­ter­na­tive Treat­ment for Ob­struc­tive Sleep Ap­nea Syn­drome: Ran­dom­ized Con­trolled Trial”.

The con­clu­sion that the Aus­tralian wind in­stru­ment might be of some ben­e­fit was not based on the didgeri­doo’s dron­ing tone but that the daily prac­tice in­volved a lot of blow­ing and may have strength­ened the up­per res­pi­ra­tory tract, mak­ing breathing eas­ier.

The awards, now in their 27th year, are to be handed out by ac­tual No­bel Prize win­ners in a cer­e­mony at Har­vard Uni­ver­sity.

“They are un­usual ap­proaches to things,” Abra­hams said. “It would be dif­fi­cult for some peo­ple to de­cide whether they are im­por­tant or the op­po­site. If you had sleep ap­nea for a long time, the didgeri­doo thing would sound quite in­trigu­ing.”

GRETCHEN ERTL / REUTERS

Didgeri­doo in­struc­tor Alex Suarez per­forms at the Ig No­bel Prize spoof awards at Har­vard Uni­ver­sity.

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