Big Brains Line Up for Ig Nobel Abuse

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Among the gaffes that won the vice president his Ig were: "It isn't pollution that's harming the environment. It's the impurities in our air and water that are doing it" and, "Space is almost infinite. As a matter of fact, we think it is infinite."

This year's festivities will feature Nobel Prize winners performing with professional opera singers in a production of Atom and Eve, the musical tale of a scientist who falls in love with an oxygen atom.

To keep things moving fast, this year's honorees (read: victims) will be asked to explain their life's work in 24 seconds and then in seven words. Go over the time limit and you'll be ushered off the podium by an 8-year-old girl known as "Miss Sweetie Poo."

Later, lonely scholars can enter the Ig Nobel's Win-A-Date-With-A-Nobel Laureate contest.

The grand event kicks off with a keynote address from Edward A. Murphy III, the son of the man who gave us Murphy's Law, so if something can go wrong at the Ig Nobels, it probably will. But if you can't make it up to Harvard, you can watch the proceedings on the Internet (see link on the right).

As we wait for this year's winners to be announced, let's look back on past winners. While some scientists have mused over the proper way to dunk a cookie in a cup of coffee — and that's an issue I deal with every morning — here are some of my favorite Ig Nobel Prize winners:

Laughingstock Laureates

ENVIRONMENTAL PROTECTION The Self-Perfuming Suit (1999) — When you work all day, party all night, and have a limited number of outfits, you might need a $400, self-perfuming suit, made of a special scratch-and-sniff fabric. The South Korean manufacturer Hyuk-ho Kwon of Kolon offers peppermint-scented attire can be repeatedly dry-cleaned without losing its special feature. Just rub the sleeves, and your B.O. disappears.

PSYCHOLOGY Pigeons Learn Fine Art (1995) — When a pigeon leaves poop on a statue, is that a form of artistic criticism? Three Japanese psychologists at Keio University were honored for training pigeons to discriminate between the paintings of Picasso and those of Monet.

BIOLOGY Airtight Underwear (2001) — If there's a market for Beano, there might also be one for Under-Ease, airtight underwear with a charcoal flatulence filter. Buck Weimer, a psychotherapist from Pueblo, Colo., says he was inspired six years ago, after a huge Thanksgiving dinner, when his bedroom got a little gassy. "I don't mind the jokes," Weimer says, but folks like his wife, who suffers from inflammatory bowel syndrome, can really benefit from Under-Ease.

PUBLIC HEALTH Nose Picking (2001) — If you are searching for a highfalutin word for "compulsive nose picking," it's rhinotillexomania. Chittaranjan Andrade and B.S. Srihari, researchers at India's National Institute of Mental Health and Neurosciences, received honors for their probing medical discovery last year that nose picking is a common activity among adolescents.