Stripper tips and Coca-Cola spermicide highlight wacky Ig Nobel awards at Harvard

Nobel Prize parody honors the bizarre

Lap dancer ovulation, the mental state of plants, and the question of whether Coca-Cola is an effective spermicide highlighted the annual Ig Nobel Prize ceremony at Harvard University Thursday.

Awarded since 1991 by the magazine Annals of Improbable Research, which is loosely affiliated with Harvard, the Ig Nobel awards honor "achievements that first make people laugh, and then make them think." Past winners include Dan Quayle and ducks that practice homosexual necrophilia (or at the least the scientists who study such ducks).

(View a slideshow of 2008 Ig Nobels winners.)

Scientists who discovered that professional lap dancers earn higher tips when they enter their fertile periods were awarded the coveted Ig Nobel economics prize on Thursday night at Harvard's Sanders Theatre, during a ceremony in which prizes were handed out by an actual Nobel laureate – William Lipscomb, who won for chemistry in 1976. Lipscomb, 89, was also the "prize" during the "Win-a-date-with-a-Nobel-laureate-contest."  (View a slideshow of past Ig Nobel winners.)

Winners were given a maximum of 60 seconds to deliver an acceptance speech, but will be permitted another 5 minutes to explain themselves during free public lectures on Saturday at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Seven of the 10 winners attended the ceremony Thursday at their own expense.

The chemistry prize went to American researchers who discovered that Coca-Cola is an effective spermicide, and also to a competing team of Taiwan researchers who discovered that it is not. The Peace prize, meanwhile, was awarded to Switzerland for adopting the legal principle that plants have dignity.

Here is the official list of winners, text courtesy of Improbable Research:

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.

PEACE PRIZE

The Swiss Federal Ethics Committee on Non-Human Biotechnology and the citizens of Switzerland for adopting the legal principle that plants have dignity.

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.

BIOLOGY PRIZE

Marie-Christine Cadiergues, Christel Joubert and Michel Franc of Ecole Nationale Veterinaire de Toulouse, France for discovering that fleas that live on a dog can jump higher than the fleas that live on a cat.

MEDICINE PRIZE

Dan Ariely of Duke University, USA, for demonstrating that high-priced fake medicine is more effective than low-priced fake medicine.

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.

ECONOMICS PRIZE

Geoffrey Miller, Joshua Tybur and Brent Jordan of the University of New Mexico for discovering that a professional lap dancer's ovulatory cycle affects her tip earnings.

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.

CHEMISTRY PRIZE

To 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.

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."

Learn more about this topic

Ig Nobel – Where are they now?10/01/08The 2007 Ig Nobel Prize winners10/05/07Ig Nobel: Honoring weird science at Harvard10/02/07
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