Reprinted from JAMA
Journal of the American Medical Association

News & Perspectives - April 1, 1998

In this  Boost or Boot or Just Ig Nored?

AFTER bringing home the gold from Stockholm, relatively
few Nobel laureates go on to add major new discoveries
to their resumes. Is the same true for winners of the
Ig Nobels? Medical News & Perspectives contacted many
of the Ig Nobel laureates who work in health care
fields to find out whether the honor has made them fat
and lazy. Those who didn't hang up had reassuring
things to say: there is life after an Ig Nobel.

Richard C. Dart, MD, director of the Rocky Mountain
Poison Center in Denver, Colo, reports suffering no
significant adverse effects from Ig
Nobelization. Indeed, he has since married, had a
child, and been appointed to his current position. "I
was stunned to receive the 1994 Ig Nobel Prize in
Medicine," Dart said, "although not as shocked as our

Dart shared his prize with coauthor Richard
A. Gustafson, MD, of the University of Arizona Health
Sciences Center, in Tucson, and "patient X," who had an
electrifying idea and a propensity for receiving
venomous snakebites. The patient insisted that his
second bite, which had been delivered to his lip by a
pet rattlesnake, be treated with electric shock
therapy. He had a spark plug wire from an automobile
clipped to his lip and had the engine revved to 3000
rpm for 5 minutes. It didn't help, the researchers
reported in their article, "Failure of Electric Shock
Treatment for Rattlesnake Envenomation" (Ann Emerg
Med. 1991;20:659-661). Fortunately, the antivenin he
received did.

Also bullish about being an Ig Nobel laureate is Harald
Moi, MD, now chief of the Sexually Transmitted Disease
(STD) Clinic at Ulleval University Hospital in Oslo,
Norway, who with Ellen Kleist, MD, of Nuuk, Greenland,
won the 1994 Ig Nobel in public health for their
report, "Transmission of Gonorrhea Through an
Inflatable Doll" (Genitourin Med. 1993;69:322).

According to the authors, the case, the first described
in medical literature, involved a sea captain who
sneaked into a sailor's quarters and borrowed his
toy. Moi, who traveled from Oslo to accept the prize,
said his trip was paid for by his hospital, which
appreciated all the publicity, including front page
stories in Norway's leading newspapers. While at
Harvard, Moi delivered a lecture on his epidemiologic
studies of STDs in Greenland. Other than enabling him
to make many new friends, the prize has not had much
effect on his professional or personal life, said Moi,
vehemently denying any plans to seek a second Ig
Nobel. "But, of course, I would not turn down another
one if offered," he added. "It's not every day a
scientist can be so honored."

Even prouder of his Ig Nobel is James F. Nolan, MD, the
urologist who shared the 1993 prize in medicine with
coauthors of the article, "Acute Management of the
Zipper-Entrapped Penis" (J Emerg Med. 1990;8:305-307).
The report describes a simple and safe procedure for
freeing the skin of a penis caught in the teeth of a
zipper. The information had never been published in an
emergency medicine journal before, he said, "so many
emergency docs don't know what to do to save countless
men from the painful penile predicament." They usually
wind up calling in a urologist, which is how he got
involved in this area of medicine. Because the injury
is so common, Nolan suggests that people keep a copy of
the article in the medicine cabinet, "next to the
ipecac," in all homes with young males.

Nolan, now in private practice in Fayetteville, NC,
said he drove to the ceremony from Pennsylvania and had
a wonderful time. His award was presented by Russell
Johnson, the actor who played "the Professor" on the TV
show Gilligan's Island, which made it an even greater
honor. "Urology has been a lot of fun even before the
advent of the Ig Nobel Prize," Nolan said. "The prize
just helped the world to recognize it." Has Ig Nobel
glory caused any professional jealousy from his
colleagues? "No," he said. "I've experienced no penis
paper envy." Would he like to be a candidate for a
second Ig Nobel? "Well, I presented a paper on human
bites to the penis at the 1993 meeting of the
Southwestern American Urologist Association. The paper
is a report of 5 naval men who were wounded in
action. So who knows?"

No one yet has been honored with a second Ig Nobel,
although some AIRheads (see main story) are predicting
that 1998 will be the year of the first double
Ig. Rumor has it that the likely candidates are the
tobacco industry executives who won the 1996 Ig Nobel
in medicine "for their unshakable discovery, as
testified before the US Congress, that nicotine is not
addictive." Thanks to new information uncovered in old
industry documents, tobacco executives have recently
announced the unshakable discovery that nicotine may be
addictive after all, if one accepts certain definitions
of addiction. Ig Nobel emcee Marc Abrahams would
neither confirm nor deny the rumor.

-A. A. S.

(JAMA. 1998;279:980)

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