Today I Learned…

…the winners of the 2008 Ig Nobel Prizes!  These were announced early last month, but I had forgotten about them.  So when I stumbled on tonight I realized that I had to post the winners in case any of you out there in blagland haven’t seen it yet!  They are as follows (c/p from above site):

NUTRITION PRIZE. Massimiliano Zampini of the University of Trento, Italy and Charles Spence of Oxford University, UK, for electronically modifying the sound of a potato chip to make the person chewing the chip believe it to be crisper and fresher than it really is.
REFERENCE: “The Role of Auditory Cues in Modulating the Perceived Crispness and Staleness of Potato Chips,” Massimiliano Zampini and Charles Spence, Journal of Sensory Studies, vol. 19, October 2004,  pp. 347-63.
WHO ATTENDED THE CEREMONY: Massimiliano Zampini. unable to attend the ceremony, was presented with the prize at a special ceremony, later in the month, at the Genoa Science Festival.

PEACE PRIZE. The Swiss Federal Ethics Committee on Non-Human Biotechnology (ECNH) and the citizens of Switzerland for adopting the legal principle that plants have dignity.
REFERENCE: “The Dignity of Living Beings With Regard to Plants. Moral Consideration of Plants for Their Own Sake
WHO ATTENDED THE CEREMONY: Urs Thurnherr, member of the committee.

ARCHAEOLOGY PRIZE. Astolfo G. Mello Araujo and José Carlos Marcelino of Universidade de São Paulo, Brazil, for measuring how the course of history, or at least the contents of an archaeological dig site, can be scrambled by the actions of a live armadillo.
REFERENCE: “The Role of Armadillos in the Movement of Archaeological Materials: An Experimental Approach,” Astolfo G. Mello Araujo and José Carlos Marcelino, Geoarchaeology, vol. 18, no. 4, April 2003, pp. 433-60.

BIOLOGY PRIZE. Marie-Christine Cadiergues, Christel Joubert, and  Michel Franc of Ecole Nationale Veterinaire de Toulouse, France for discovering that the fleas that live on a dog can jump higher than the fleas that live on a cat.
REFERENCE: “A Comparison of Jump Performances of the Dog Flea, Ctenocephalides canis (Curtis, 1826) and the Cat Flea, Ctenocephalides felis felis (Bouche, 1835),” M.C. Cadiergues, C. Joubert, and M. Franc, Veterinary Parasitology, vol. 92, no. 3, October 1, 2000, pp. 239-41.
WHO ATTENDED THE CEREMONY: Marie-Christine Cadiergues and Christel Joubert, unable to attend the ceremony, were presented with the prize at a special ceremony, later in the month, at the Genoa Science Festival.

MEDICINE PRIZE. Dan Ariely of Duke University (USA), Rebecca L. Waber of MIT (USA), Baba Shiv of Stanford University (USA), and Ziv Carmon of INSEAD (Singapore) for demonstrating that high-priced fake medicine is more effective than low-priced fake medicine..
REFERENCE: “Commercial Features of Placebo and Therapeutic Efficacy,” Rebecca L. Waber; Baba Shiv; Ziv Carmon; Dan Ariely, Journal of the American Medical Association, March 5, 2008; 299: 1016-1017.

COGNITIVE SCIENCE PRIZE. Toshiyuki Nakagaki of Hokkaido University, Japan, Hiroyasu Yamada of Nagoya, Japan, Ryo Kobayashi of Hiroshima University, Atsushi Tero of Presto JST, Akio Ishiguro of Tohoku University, and Ágotá Tóth of the University of Szeged, Hungary, for discovering that slime molds can solve puzzles.
REFERENCE: “Intelligence: Maze-Solving by an Amoeboid Organism,” Toshiyuki Nakagaki, Hiroyasu Yamada, and Ágota Tóth, Nature, vol. 407, September 2000, p. 470.
WHO ATTENDED THE CEREMONY: Toshiyuki Nakagaki, Ryo Kobayashi, Atsushi Tero

ECONOMICS PRIZE. Geoffrey Miller, Joshua Tybur and Brent Jordan of the University of New Mexico, USA, for discovering that professional lap dancers earn higher tips when they are ovulating.
REFERENCE: “Ovulatory Cycle Effects on Tip Earnings by Lap Dancers: Economic Evidence for Human Estrus?” Geoffrey Miller, Joshua M. Tybur, Brent D. Jordan, Evolution and Human Behavior, vol. 28, 2007, pp. 375-81.
WHO ATTENDED THE CEREMONY: Geoffrey Miller and Brent Jordan

PHYSICS PRIZE. Dorian Raymer of the Ocean Observatories Initiative at Scripps Institution of Oceanography, USA, and Douglas Smith of the University of California, San Diego, USA, for proving mathematically that heaps of string or hair or almost anything else will inevitably tangle themselves up in knots.
REFERENCE: “Spontaneous Knotting of an Agitated String,” Dorian M. Raymer and Douglas E. Smith, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, vol. 104, no. 42, October 16, 2007, pp. 16432-7.

CHEMISTRY PRIZE. Sharee A. Umpierre of the University of Puerto Rico, Joseph A. Hill of The Fertility Centers of New England (USA), Deborah J. Anderson of Boston University School of Medicine and Harvard Medical School (USA), for discovering that Coca-Cola is an effective spermicide, and to Chuang-Ye Hong of Taipei Medical University (Taiwan), C.C. Shieh, P. Wu, and B.N. Chiang (all of Taiwan) for discovering that it is not.
REFERENCE: “Effect of ‘Coke’ on Sperm Motility,” Sharee A. Umpierre, Joseph A. Hill, and Deborah J. Anderson, New England Journal of Medicine, 1985, vol. 313, no. 21, p. 1351.
REFERENCE: “The Spermicidal Potency of Coca-Cola and Pepsi-Cola,” C.Y. Hong, C.C. Shieh, P. Wu, and B.N. Chiang, Human Toxicology, vol. 6, no. 5, September 1987, pp. 395-6. [NOTE: THE JOURNAL LATER CHANGED ITS NAME. NOW CALLED “Human & experimental toxicology”]
WHO ATTENDED THE CEREMONY: Deborah Anderson, and C.Y. Hong’s daughter Wan Hong

LITERATURE PRIZE. David Sims of Cass Business School. London, UK, for his lovingly written study “You Bastard: A Narrative Exploration of the Experience of Indignation within Organizations.”
REFERENCE: “You Bastard: A Narrative Exploration of the Experience of Indignation within Organizations,” David Sims, Organization Studies, vol. 26, no. 11, 2005, pp. 1625-40.

Today I Learned…

…about the “Sokal Affair,” another tidbit gleaned from the Ig Nobel awards.  The Wikipedia article on this is much more eloquent than I have a chance of being, so I will quote it:

The Sokal affair (also Sokal’s hoax) was a hoax by physicist Alan Sokal perpetrated on the editorial staff and readership of the postmodern cultural studies journal Social Text (published by Duke University). In 1996, Sokal, a professor of physics at New York University, submitted a paper of nonsense camouflaged in jargon for publication in Social Text, as an experiment to see if a journal in that field would, in Sokal’s words: “publish an article liberally salted with nonsense if (a) it sounded good and (b) it flattered the editors’ ideological preconceptions.”[1]

The paper, titled “Transgressing the Boundaries: Towards a Transformative Hermeneutics of Quantum Gravity[2], was published in the Spring/Summer 1996 “Science Wars” issue of Social Text, which at that time had no peer review process, and so did not submit it for outside review. On the day of its publication, Sokal announced in another publication, Lingua Franca, that the article was a hoax, calling his paper “a pastiche of left-wing cant, fawning references, grandiose quotations, and outright nonsense”, which was “structured around the silliest quotations I could find about mathematics and physics” made by postmodernist academics.

The resulting debate focused on the relative scholarly merits or lack thereof of sociological commentary on the physical sciences and of postmodern-influenced sociological disciplines in general, as well as on academic ethics, including both whether it was appropriate for Sokal to deliberately defraud an academic journal, as well as whether Social Text took appropriate precautions in publishing the paper.

First of all: Duke sucks.  Second of all: so does postmodernism.  Check out the Wikipedia article for more specific references to the paper itself — some of which are very funny.

The editorial staff of Social Text won the 1996 Ig Nobel prize in Literature for “eagerly publishing research that they could not understand, that the author said was meaningless, and which claimed that reality does not exist.”

Today I Learned…

…that scientists may have discovered an Achilles’ Heel for HIV, the virus which causes AIDS.  The secret apparently lies in a particular protein in the virus, which is necessary for HIV to attach itself to host cells.

Since HIV changes so quickly and limits the body’s ability to create antibodies, traditional preventative vaccines which stimulate antibody production are not really viable options.  The identification of this protein has opened up avenues of research into new therapies which target the virus’s ability to infect host cells.

The article (from is quite technical in parts, but I encourage you to read it if you’re so inclined and want more details about the research or the lab team at the University of Houston which has performed this promising research.  Here’s hoping their next step in this process is fruitful.

Further Reading…