Brains, debate, and sex were the highlights of Thursday night's Ig Nobel Prize ceremony in Cambridge, Massachusetts. The awards root out achievements that "cannot or should not be reproduced." The ceremony was filled with genuine Nobel laureates, who helped pass out medallions of genuine concrete honoring winners in 10 categories ranging from medicine to economics to peace.
This year's event, the ceremony's 10th, focused on the theme "intelligence." An opera lauded brain foods such as fish and prion-infected bovine gray matter. In between announcements of the Ig Nobel Prize-winners, the audience was subjected to 30-second debates designed to identify the world's smartest person. Politicians, members of Mensa, and the smartest MIT and Harvard students (as determined by a random drawing) competed for the honor. The ground rules? All competitors were given microphones and told to speak at the same time. Due to the nature of the debates, it was unclear whether anything intelligent was said.
Oddly enough, this festival of geekiness often had romantic overtones. The Ig Nobel Prize in Chemistry was awarded to Donatella Marazziti and her colleagues at the University of Pisa for showing that romantic love may be indistinguishable from obsessive-compulsive disorder. The Economics award went to the Reverend Sun Myong Moon, for his increasingly efficient mass marriages: He started with a 36-couple simul-marriage in 1960 and maxed out with 36,000,000 couples joined in holy matrimony at one time in 1998--according to his own reports. A group of researchers in the Netherlands received the Ig Nobel Prize in Medicine for a 10-year study of imaging human genitals in flagrante delicto with magnetic resonance imaging (Science, 24 December 1999). "There was just enough room to make love in the machine ... and we had plenty of volunteers," says award recipient Pek van Andel of the University Hospital Groningen, the Netherlands.
Award-winners don't always show up to claim their prize. The British navy, for example, declined to send a representative to receive the prestigious Ig Nobel Peace Prize. British Nobel laureate Richard Roberts (Medicine, 1993) accepted it on behalf of Her Majesty's Royal Navy, which was recognized for ordering its soldiers to stop using live cannon shells during gunnery training and instead shout "Bang!"
The 2000 Ig Nobel Prize recipients