Ig Nobel Prize winner ponders and muses on how to win one

Len Fisher, who won an Ig Nobel physics prize in 1999, for calculating the optimal way to dunk a biscuit, wrote an essay about what wins people an Ig. That essay begins more or less:

…I suggested that the use of blue light to stimulate erections was a sure-fire candidate for an Ig Nobel Prize. But what is an Ig Nobel Prize? How does one go about winning one? And should one want to win one?

When they were initiated in 1991 as a parody of the real Nobel Prizes, the answer to the last question was “certainly not!” When Marc Abrahams from Harvard University created the prizes, part of his intention was to vilify pseudoscience and unscientific thinking, and the motto was “for research that cannot or should not be reproduced.”

But this was not the only intention, although many people interpreted it in that way. According to Marc: “That original phrase was the best short summary we managed to come up with at the beginning, but we were not entirely happy with it — because some people interpreted it ONLY [in that] the way … . Whenever I would TALK with someone, or had a more extensive email (or whatever) exchange, I’d explain that the “Cannot be reproduced” part included “cannot be the FIRST to LEGITIMATELY claim FIRSTNESS,” and thus the prizes could honor pretty much anything, good or bad.

But it took about seven frustrating years or so to come up with a reliably better phrase.


BONUS: Theo Gray, who was awarded the 2002 Ig Nobel chemistry prize, for inventing the four-legged periodic table table, later developed a set of periodic table flash cards. Those cards have drawn some attention.