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Proud winner. James Gundlach (left) receives his silver medal (on his hat) and box of Ig Nobel O's from real-life Nobel laureate Dudley Herschbach, who was himself the prize in the Win-a-Date-With-a-Nobel-Laureate contest.

2004 Ig Nobel Prizes Announced

Amid hula-hooping Nobel Laureates, the Annals of Improbable Research last night awarded 10 Ig Nobel Prizes for research or activities that "cannot or should not be reproduced." Award recipients traveled from as far away as Japan to attend the lavish, chaotic 14th First Annual Ig Nobel Prize ceremony at Harvard University.

Sociologist James Gundlach of Auburn University in Alabama received the Medicine Ig Nobel for finding an association between listening to country music and suicide in the early 1990s. He says the connection no longer exists because the genre has become much more optimistic since then.

Speaking of optimists and music, the Peace prize went to Daisuke Inoue of Hyogo, Japan, for inventing karaoke and providing what the Ig Nobel committee called "an entirely new way for people to learn to tolerate each other." After Inoue's acceptance speech, the laureates sang him a touching rendition of Frankie Valli's classic "Can't Take My Eyes Off of You," which devolved into a large karaoke sing-along when the entire audience joined in.

Other notables included the youngest recipient in the history of the awards. High school graduate Jillian Clarke received the Public Health prize for demonstrating the scientific validity of the Five-Second Rule--if food falls on the floor, it can safely be eaten if recovered within 5 seconds.

And the biology prize went to an international collaboration of scientists who found that fish communicate by farting (ScienceNOW, 7 November 2003). "They do this to bond. They are just doing what preadolescent boys have done for millennia," says recipient Lawrence Dill of Simon Fraser University in British Columbia. One of the most popular hairstyles for balding men also made the list of winners--the prize for Engineering went to the late Frank Smith of Orlando, Florida, for his 1977 patenting of the comb-over, a way to cover up a bare palate using one's own hair.

Physicists Ramesh Balasubramaniam of the University of Ottawa and Michael Turvey of Yale University received the Physics prize for exploring the dynamics of hula hooping. The two vowed to take on another fad next--swallowing goldfish, which they predict has benefits for cardiovascular health.

The Psychology award went to Daniel Simons at the University of Illinois and Christopher Chabris at Harvard for demonstrating "just how oblivious people can be to the world around them" (not noticing a person in a gorilla suit, for example).

Each winner received a medal that appeared to be an aluminum pie tin and a box of "Ig Nobel O's" cereal. Only the winners in Chemistry (the Coca-Cola Co., for purifying Thames River water in such a way that the resulting water contained twice the legal limit of bromate, a carcinogen) and Economics (the Vatican, for outsourcing prayers to India) were unable or unwilling to send representatives to pick up their prizes.

Related Sites
Annals of Improbable Research's Ig Nobel site
The Five-Second Rule
Comb-over patent