View from the North 40: A round of applause for the winners
Last updated 10/16/2020 at 11:50am
I love the Ig Nobel Prizes, which are a satiric spoof of the renowned Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences Nobel Prizes — but I watched the 30th First Annual Ig Nobel Prize Ceremony this week, and that’s one hour and 16 minutes of my life that I will never get back.
This is the first time I have actually watched the awards ceremony, which was conducted entirely virtually rather than at the Sanders Theatre at Harvard University. Actual Nobel prize winners hand out the awards, which this year were paper boxes sent in advance of the ceremony to the prize winners along with assembly instructions.
I have to say, I enjoyed watching the ceremony so much that I look forward to reading about the prizes again in the future. My experience watching the online production doesn’t change the fact that the Ig Nobels are funny … and horribly funny sometimes.
The big shocker among news organizations this year is that the Materials Science Prize went to a team of seven researchers in the U.S. and the U.K. who tested the plausibility of an old Inuit tale in which a man made a knife from his frozen feces and used it to cut up some meat. I didn’t read the full research report, so I don’t know if the modern researchers used proper sharpening techniques, but the consensus was that, no, this scenario could not happen.
I could’ve lived the entirety of my life without knowing about the story or the research.
My almost-favorite of the prizes this year is the one for Management which was shared among five men from China. These men were not researchers, rather they were professional hit men who demonstrated the problem of having too many managers pushing work off to those lower in the chain of command.
A hit man named Xi Guang-An was contracted to perform a murder for hire. He subcontracted the job to another hit man, who subcontracted to a third hit man, who subcontracted to a fourth hit man, who, yes, subcontracted to a fifth hit man. Each subsequent hit man contracted for a progressively smaller portion of the fee, but nobody actually murdered anybody.
Which is good for other reasons than winning an Ig Nobel prize.
But, in a nod to my husband and his one arm, my favorite prize is related to the Medical Education Prize which went to the leaders of Belarus, Brazil, India, Mexico, Russia, U.K., U.S., Turkey and Turkmenistan “for using the COVID-19 viral pandemic to teach the world that politicians can have a more immediate effect on life and death than scientists and doctors can.”
What does that have to do with a one-armed man?
Good question. The answer is about a previous Ig Nobel award.
This is the second Ig Nobel prize for the leader of Belarus, Alexander Lukashenko, who jointly won the 2013 Peace Prize along with the Belarus State Police. In 2011, Lukashenko made it illegal to applaud in public, then his co-winner, the Belarus State Police, arrested a one-armed man for applauding.
Soon after Lukashenko, referred to sometimes as “Europe’s last dictator,” had won an election that he rigged, Lukashenko realized that flash mobs of people who seemed to be clapping and cheering for him were actually being sarcastic.
He did not take this well.
Eventually his orders expanded to arresting any kind of street gatherings, after protest organizers changed their tactics to events like gathering to stand around a street corner where, at some point, every participant’s phone rang at the exact same time.
In the meantime, though, the unemployed one-armed man who was arrested, Konstantin Kaplin, went before a judge and was fined $200.
Kaplin later told csmonitor.com that he had just been taking a photo of the crowd when he was arrested, and the judge didn’t even hear his testimony, or listen to the evidence of the sound of one hand clapping.