Archive for 'Ig Nobel'

Improbable Research at AAAS — Saturday Night in Austin

Thursday, February 15th, 2018

Join us for the Improbable Research session at the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) Annual Meeting, in Austin Texas!

When: Saturday night, February 17, 8:00 pm.
Where: Hilton Austin Hotel— Salon H, Austin, Texas

The event will include will include:

This special session is open to the public, free of charge. This is the twenty-somethingth year we’ve done this kind of event at the AAAS meeting. It always draws an overflow crowd. So… we suggest you arrive a little early, to ensure finding a seat.

Here’s an image from one of the Ig Nobel Prize-winning studies we will discuss. The study asks the question “Can a cat be both a solid and a liquid?”

Underplayed redundancy in placebo effect research (on cheap vs costly fake medicine)

Friday, January 26th, 2018

Alberto J. Espay, M.D., lead author of the later study

A celebrated 2015 research paper makes much the same discovery as a paper that won an Ig Nobel Prize for medicine years earlier. The discovery is about the power of pricing fake medicines. The new paper makes only an indirect, beery allusion to the earlier, Ig Nobel Prize-winning research.

That 2008 Ig Nobel Prize for medicine was awarded to Dan ArielyRebecca L. WaberBaba Shiv, and Ziv Carmon, for demonstrating that high-priced fake medicine is more effective than low-priced fake medicine. Their prize-winning paper is “Commercial Features of Placebo and Therapeutic Efficacy,” Rebecca L. Waber; Baba Shiv; Ziv Carmon; Dan Ariely, Journal of the American Medical Association, March 5, 2008; 299: 1016-1017.

The more recent published study is: “Placebo effect of medication cost in Parkinson disease—A randomized double-blind study,” Alberto J. Espay [pictured here], Matthew M. Norris, James C. Eliassen, Alok Dwivedi, Matthew S. Smith, Christi Banks, Jane B. Allendorfer, Anthony E. Lang, David E. Fleck, Michael J. Linke, and Jerzy P. Szaflarski, Neurology, vol. 84, no. 8, 2015.

[EDITOR’S NOTE: In the first version of this blog item we had the dates scrambled. Sorry about that!]

The newer paper does cite one of the Ig Nobel Prize-winning authors (Dan Ariely), but  indirectly, in this footnote allusion:

Lee L, Frederick S, Ariely D. “Try it, you’ll like it: the influence of expectation, consumption, and revelation on preferences for beer. Psychol Sci 2006;17:1054–1058.

The Los Angeles Times did a report about the new report, with the headline ” ‘Expensive’ placebos work better than ‘cheap’ ones, study finds.” The news report about the medical report says:

How do you convert a simple saline solution into a useful treatment for people with Parkinson’s disease? Tell them it’s a drug that costs $100 per dose. And if you want to make it even more effective, tell them it costs $1,500 instead.
That’s what researchers from the University of Cincinnati discovered in an unusual clinical trial. Instead of testing a placebo against an actual drug, they pitted two placebos against each other. The only difference between the two sham treatments was their purported price….

“Placebo can be the physician’s friend,” a pair of neurologists wrote an editorial that accompanied the study. “The outcome of this study … opens our eyes to another nuance of placebo effect.”

(Thanks to Scott Langill for bringing this to our attention.)

Volkswagen’s Ig Nobel Prize-winning research also used cartoon-watching monkeys

Thursday, January 25th, 2018

The research that won an Ig Nobel Chemistry Prize for Volkswagen also involved monkeys watching cartoons while they inhaled automobile fumes — a fact that was not publicly known at the time the prize was awarded. Nor was it known to the Ig Nobel Board of Governors. The monkeys/cartoons news was reported today by Jack Ewing, in the New York Times, with the headline “10 Monkeys and a Beetle: Inside VW’s Campaign for ‘Clean Diesel’. ” That report begins:

FRANKFURT — In 2014, as evidence mounted about the harmful effects of diesel exhaust on human health, scientists in an Albuquerque laboratory conducted an unusual experiment: Ten monkeys squatted in airtight chambers, watching cartoons for entertainment as they inhaled fumes from a diesel Volkswagen Beetle.

German automakers had financed the experiment in a bid to prove that diesel vehicles with the latest technology were cleaner than the smoky models of old. But the American scientists conducting the test were unaware of one critical fact: The Beetle provided by Volkswagen had been rigged to produce pollution levels that were far less harmful in the lab than they were on the road….

That 2016 Ig Nobel Prize for chemistry was awarded to Volkswagen, for solving the problem of excessive automobile pollution emissions by automatically, electromechanically producing fewer emissions whenever the cars are being tested.

REFERENCE FOR THE 2016 PRIZE ANNOUNCEMENT: “EPA, California Notify Volkswagen of Clean Air Act Violations“, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) news release, September 18, 2015. [NOTE: The EPA recently moved or removed that news release from its original location on the EPA web site. The link we give here is the original link.]

BONUS: Additional news today, about a different Ig Nobel Prize winner.

BONUS: And here’s some news from 2015 about the Albuquerque laboratory that reportedly did the monkey/cartoons/fumes research.

A new life portrait of Troy, the inventive, prize-winning Grizzly Suit-of-Armor inventor

Thursday, January 25th, 2018

Troy Hurtubise enjoys and does not enjoy a deep biographical look at him that’s headlined “HE WAS A VIRAL SENSATION BEFORE THE INTERNET CHEAPENED THAT STATUS.” Troy was awarded a 1998 Ig Nobel Prize in the field of Safety Engineering, for developing and personally testing a suit of armor that is impervious to grizzly bears.

Here’s the documentary film about Troy, “Project Grizzly“, produced in 1996 by the National Film Board of Canada:

Troy has had many adventures, quite a few of which we have chronicled here. He is a an exemplar of perseverance and fortitude, and other qualities.

BONUS: Additional news today, about a different Ig Nobel Prize winner.

The Dunning-Kruger Song

Tuesday, January 16th, 2018

By somewhat popular demand, here’s a video of “The Dunning-Kruger Song”:

The song honors the research study “Unskilled and Unaware of It: How Difficulties in Recognizing One’s Own Incompetence Lead to Inflated Self-Assessments,” by David Dunning and Justin Kruger, published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, vol. 77, no. 6, December 1999, pp. 1121-34.

For writing that paper, Dunning and Kruger were awarded the Ig Nobel Prize for psychology, in the year 2000.

The behavior described in Dunning and Kruger’s study has become known as “the Dunning-Kruger Effect.” The Dunning-Kruger effect is on display every day, all around you.

“The Dunning Kruger Song” is the thrilling conclusion of “The Incompetence Opera,” which you can watch in its entity, if you wish.