Minneapolis Star-Tribune

Sunday, December 13, 1998

Science Writer Discovers an Unlikely Formula for Laughs

Robert Armstrong

If you never liked science because you thought
it was dry and humorless, you've got another
think coming. Mark Abrahams is just the person
to show you how wrong you've been.

Abrahams is the editor and a co-founder of the
Annals of ImprobableResearch, an international
science humor magazine featuring parodies,
interviews, limericks, lyrics ("Fifty Ways to
Love Your Liver") and articles. He is also
creator and master of ceremonies of the annual
Ig Nobel Prize Ceremony, which has awarded 70
prizes to scientists and public figures since
1991. His latest effort is The Best of Annals of
ImprobableResearch(W.H. Freeman and Co.,
$14.95), a completely unrevised, unaltered
republication of the first edition.

"We didn't even correct the spelling mistakes --
because we want you to think they were done on
purpose the first time," Abrahams says.

If you come unsuspecting to the book, the table
of contents tips you off: "Items marked with a
star (*) are based on material taken straight
from standard research (and other Official and
Therefore Always Correct) literature. Many of
the other items are genuine, too, but we don't
know which ones."

Among the articles are "Transmission of
Gonorrhea Through an Inflatable Doll," "The
Effects of Peanut Butter on the Rotation of the
Earth," "How Dead is a Doornail" and "The
Taxonomy of Barney." Residents of the Upper
Midwest might find something useful in "The
Correlation Between Tornadoes and Trailer Homes"
by Frank Wu of the University of Wisconsin.
During his study, Wu found that "a recent
addition to tornado lore is the notion that
rising sales of video camcorders somehow
increased the number of tornadoes, as if,
perhaps, tornadoes were 'posing' for pictures."

There are also interviews with nine Nobel Prize
winners, among them the late Linus Pauling, one
of the magazine's founders and a member of its
editorial board. There is also a list of Ig
Nobel Prize winners and some of their acceptance
speeches. Minnesotans will be pleased to note
that one of the 1995 winners was Shoreview's
Robert H. Beaumont "for his incisive study
'Patient Preference for Waxed or Unwaxed Dental
Floss.' "

There is, near the end, a chapter on "How to
Write a Scientific Paper" should you hunger to
be included in the next issue of AIR, but
because that, too, is likely to be unrevised, it
will prove of little use.

-- Robert Armstrong is a sports news editor at
the Star Tribune.

Copyright 1998 Star Tribune.
All rights reserved.