Harley Hay

Hay’s Daze: Ig Nobel Prize by Harvard University

I don’t know about you, but if I happen to read something like: “Hanging a rhinoceroses upside down wins Nobel prize” it kind of gets my attention and perks me up a little bit.

As a kid, I was fascinated by Ripley’s Believe It Or Not which is a newspaper column, radio and TV program and even a museum that feeds the insatiably curious public a strange and often questionable diet of bizarre events and weird wonders of the world. So it’s no surprise, really, that I froze with my coffee cup half way to my face when I read the phrase: “Hanging rhinoceroses upside down.” Of course, I had to check it out.

It turns out the it wasn’t quite the legendary and appropriately high-falutin actual Nobel prize given to the rhino hanging people, in my excitement I had read it wrong. It was, in fact, the Ig Nobel Prize which I’ve written about before in this very spot in your paper. In case you missed it, and why wouldn’t you, the Ig Nobel Prize is a pun on the word “ignoble” (which means “not noble”) and the universally admired Nobel Prize (which is noble as well as named after its inventor, Mr. Nobel). But the Ig Nobel Prize (which is presented at Harvard University, of all places) has its metaphorical tongue firmly planted in its metaphorical cheek because gives yearly awards to achievements in scientific that “first make people laugh, and then make them think.” And aren’t we all starved for a good chuckle these days?

So it turns out that veterinarians were hanging rhinoceroses by their feet upside down in order to see if the big beasts liked it a lot or not so much. OK, you may say, but why? The answer is: so they can dangle the massive mammals from helicopters. Again, I hear you. And the answer to that question is because they regularly have to move the rhinos and other humongous beasts to different locations and also, no doubt because it’s quite fun to dangle a mammoth mammal.

The good news is that the mammoth mammal danglers found out that rhinos do much better health-wise when hung upside down by their ankles than when they are “translocated” lying on their side on a wooden platform. And I’m thinking the rhinos probably like the head rush post-landing. A fitting choice for the Ig Nobel Transportation prize, eh?

And I bet you’re just dying to know what other important and basically whack-a-doodle research won prizes. I know I am.

Well, the Biology Prize went to a lady for analyzing cat-human communication. She discovered (and this is a small portion of the intensively long list) “purring, chirping, chattering, trilling, tweedling, moaning, squeaking, hissing, yeowling” and something she cleverly labeled “meowing.”

The Chemistry Prize was awarded to a group for chemically analyzing the air inside movie theatres to see if odours produced by an audience can indicate violence, sex or bad language (among other things) in the movie they are watching. Now, I go to movies a lot, and I can confirm there certainly are a lot of stinkers. The movies – I’m taking about the movies!

And the Physics Prize firmly residing in the “pardon me?” category went to a fellow who conducted experiments to “learn why pedestrians do not constantly collide with other pedestrians.”

Oh, and by the way, the Kinetics Prize went to a completely separate and coincidental group for “conducting experiments to learn why pedestrians do sometimes collide with other pedestrians.”

Ignoble indeed.

Harley Hay is a Red Deer author and filmmaker. Send him a column idea to harleyhay1@hotmail.com.