Big Brains Line Up for Ig Nobel Abuse

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Each year, 10 Ig Nobel winners are invited to the ceremony to collect a trophy that Abrahams promises is something to behold. Each one is handcrafted and "made of exceedingly cheap material designed to fall apart within four weeks."

Abrahams offers a history of the Ig Nobel Awards in his new book, The Ig Nobel Prizes (Dutton), a definitive look into why great minds investigate, among other things, why toast falling off the breakfast table tends to land butter-side down.

Other past Ig Nobel winners include: Peter Barss of McGill University, author of the medical report "Injuries Due to Falling Coconuts"; George and Charlotte Blonsky, who invented a device to help women give birth by spinning them at high speed; the British Standards Institution, for publishing a six-page specification of the proper way to make a cup of tea; and Don Featherstone, the designer of the plastic pink flamingo.

Kligerman’s Gassy Triumph

But just because your research tends to sound silly — even to other scientists — that doesn't mean it's worthless. Some Ig Nobel winners have become rich and famous, like 1990 winner Alan Kligerman, who invented Beano — a dietary supplement that helps folks who suffer from flatulence.

Kligerman was the butt of countless jokes when Beano hit the market, with the media hailing him as "The Vanquisher of Vapor."

Since then, however, Beano has relieved thousands of gas-pain sufferers — not to mention their co-workers and spouses. Kligerman sold his interest in the product for more than $10 million. Talk about the sweet smell of success.

Today, Kligerman is focusing on other products — CurTail, a Beano product for gaseous pets, and CatSip, a milk product for lactose-intolerant cats. Laugh now, but Kligerman will probably be laughing later.

If you laugh at research into the danger of falling coconuts, you probably don't live in Papua New Guinea, where the tropical trees grow more than 100 feet high and the coconuts fall with a force of up to 1 metric ton or more, as Barss noted.

In the doctor's four-year study at one hospital, 2.5 percent of the trauma admissions were coconut-related. "Obviously, over there, it's no laughing matter," said Abrahams.

Of course, most of the Ig Nobel attendees don't come from the tropics. They're happy to make coconut jokes, and so was Barss when he traveled from Asia to collect his dubious award.

Of course, not all winners are vindicated, and sometimes an Ig Nobel is the only attention they'll receive.

Long-Winded Honorees Beware Miss Sweetie Poo

Abrahams and his cohorts sometimes reserve awards to make a statement about society. Among the first winners was then-Vice President Dan Quayle, who took the education award for "demonstrating, better than anyone else, the need for science education."