SCIENCE (insert dramatic music). It’s serious stuff. Graduate students across the world work for years to solve one tiny piece of the gigantic puzzle that is modern science. Our papers are written in dry technical prose that the majority of people couldn’t decode even if they wanted to, which they probably don’t. We’re skeptics and cynics, and taking ourselves seriously appears to be an important part of the gig, and justifiably so. We have to convince our peers that we deserve their admiration and respect, and this constant striving to impress each other can result in some pretty inflated scientific egos.
But every year the Improbable Research group awards Ig Nobel prizes for “achievements that first make people laugh, then make them think.” Nobel laureates and many other renowned scientists attended the 2011 award ceremony, which showcased a sword swallower, two scientists singing the names of all the elements accompanied by an accordion, and the throwing of a plethora of paper airplanes. Watch the video here.
Here are a few of the entertaining and thought-provoking award-winners:
-Physiology Prize awarded for work revealing no evidence of contagious yawning in the red-footed tortoise.
-Chemistry Prize awarded for determining the ideal density of airborne wasabi (pungent horseradish) to awaken sleeping people in case of a fire or other emergency, and for applying this knowledge to invent the wasabi alarm.
-Medicine Prize awarded for demonstrating that people make better decisions about some kinds of things - and worse decisions about other kinds of things - when they have a strong urge to urinate.
-Literature Prize awarded for a Theory of Structured Procrastination, which says: To be a high achiever, always work on something important, using it as a way to avoid doing something that's even more important.
-Biology Prize awarded for discovering that a certain kind of beetle mates with a certain kind of Australian beer bottle.
-Peace Prize awarded to the mayor of Vilnius, Lithuania, for demonstrating that the problem of illegally parked luxury cars can be solved by running them over with an armored tank (video here).
I think that all scientists could learn a lesson from the Ig Nobel prize committee. Maybe we should take our serious-caps off every once in a while, and just have a good laugh. Who knows? Perhaps rather than intimidating our colleagues (and the public at large) with displays of brain-flexing, we might be able to impress them with our jovial, personable demeanor. Let’s sit back, have a beer, and show them scientists can be “just one of the guys” too. Perhaps we’ll always be a little nerdier than your average Joe, but we don’t have to be unapproachable.
Nobody likes the guy who takes himself too seriously, so let’s not be that guy, okay?