IgNobel Awards inhabited by Dendrites

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It was 1995, we bribed our way into the IgNobel awards ceremony (honoring dubious scientific achievements that cannot, and should not, be reproduced), held at Harvard that year (the year MIT refused them space!).  We actually walked in the procession, dressed in ... well, read below!  This was our letter to the Awards Committee.  Note the outdated email address, predating our dendritics.com domain.

Dendritics, Inc.


The DentritIGS of Dendritics will wear their Official Research and Development Lab Coats (they look like ordinary bathrobes to the lay person) to the ceremony. They will merrily toast the participants with the Official Dendritics Drink (that tastes like coffee to the lay person) and the Official Dendritics Slogan (which sounds like "Wake up and smell the coffee" to the lay person). The placard will read DendritIGS of Dendritics (not Dendritix) with our slogan, in Latin ,if anyone can figure that one out. It will be pretty classy if I do say so myself.


4 whole people

$20 whole dollars

Marian Dioguardi H.H.

P.S. Oh, dear Exalted Grand High Panjandrum of Delegations, Please consider our petition And allow us to honor the IGNOBLE AWARDS with our humble but pretty classy DENDRITIGNITARY DELEGATION. One of us actually had a Swedish step grandfather. We also believe , possibly delusionaly, but never-the-less all so sincerely that our little company holds the world's record of name misspellings (if there were such a record). And besides, the real reason truly being that we need the IGS. Our lives are quite boring and being IGNITARIES will give us something to talk about to people who talk to us first. And please accept our "special gift" (bribe to the lay person) on our behalf. It is a real .03ct. diamond weighed on the Official Dendritics GEMSCALE-100, which we invented. We are truly a small scale operation.

The Ig Nobel Prizes surprise again

On October 6 in greater Boston, two perennial tragedies played themselves out. At Fenway Park, the Red Sox lost to Cleveland, making it 77 years in a row without a World Championship. At Harvard University, the fifth First Annual Ig Nobel Prizes were announced.

The Igs, as they are fondly called by those who do not win them, are awarded to "individuals whose achievements cannot or should not be reproduced," according to the sponsors, among them the Annals of Improbable Research. Some 500 people who couldn't find a date on a Friday night watched the ceremony at Harvard's Lowell Lecture Hall, joined by five actual, honest-to-goodness Nobel laureates, who awarded the Igs: Sheldon Glashow
(physics, 1979), Dudley Herschbach (chemistry, 1986), Joseph Murray (physiology or medicine, 1990), Richard Roberts (physiology or medicine, 1993) and William Lipscomb (chemistry, 1976). Lipscomb doubled as a member of the orchestra, revealing considerable ability as a clarinetist. "I can get a relief from the way my brain always works on science," he said of his playing-a description that may also explain his annual presence at the Igs.

This year's theme was DNA, or "deoxyribowhatever," as a slide informed the audience. Twelve-year-old Kate Eppers, allegedly the spokesperson for Kids for DNA, delivered a position statement. "My favorite singer is Mariah Carey," she explained. "She's really, really beautiful and a really good singer. If it weren't for DNA, she'd be a fish or something. So that's why I think DNA is great."

The first Ig of the evening, the Nutrition prize, went to John Martinez of J. Martinez & Company for the creation of Luak Coffee-the most expensive in the world-made from beans ingested and excreted by the luak, a bobcatlike native of Indonesia. Mart inez accepted with a poem, the last stanza of which read, "Luak, luak, after you've gorged/ A new taste sensation though has been forged/We're all gathered here, this is the scoop/We're drinking coffee made from your poop." The Nobelists sampled the brew, which Herschbach promptly spit into a handy ice bucket.

The Medicine Ig went to the researchers who published "The Effects of Unilateral Forced Nostril Breathing on Cognition" in the International Journal of Neuroscience. This decision forced the awarding committee to fall back on the Literature prize for the authors of an article in the journal Surgery entitled "Rectal Foreign Bodies: Case Reports and a Comprehensive Review of the World's Literature." The items physicians documented removing from various patients included a magazine, the identity of which this reporter was too apprehensive to attempt to discover.

A Japanese research team won the Psychology Ig for turning pigeons into art students. Their paper, "Pigeons' Discrimination of Paintings by Monet and Picasso," appeared in the Journal of the Experimental Analysis of Behavior. No word yet on whether t he birds can distinguish between Monet and Manet.

Along with the awarding of Igs, the ceremony featured the Heisenberg Certainty Lectures, named for the Heisenberg uncertainty principle, which describes limitations of knowledge about position and velocity of elementary particles. Because quantum mec hanics on the macroscopic level collapses to automechanics, the hosts of National Public Radio's popular "Car Talk," Tom and Ray Magliozzi, also known as Click and Clack, gave a Heisenberg: "Is it possible for two people who don't know what they're talking about to know less than one person who doesn't?"

Nobelist Roberts apparently regarded that question as a challenge. "I have an amazing discovery about certain DNA, cDNA, which is made by copying RNA," he said in his allotted half-minute. "Now, RNA contains four bases: A, C, G and U. If C stands for certain, then U must be uncertain. Since base pairing says that C is opposite G, then G must be uncertain, too. Thus, in RNA, both G and U are uncertain. With all this uncertainty about RNA, no wonder DNA decided to become the genetic material."

Last year's Entomology winner, Robert Lopez, who proved that cats' ear mites could attack human ears by experimenting on himself, delivered the keynote address: "Dare to Be Bold." Lopez tried to quell fears about American health care. "Don't worry ab out germs and bugs," he said. "If your time ain't come, not even a doctor can kill you."

The final Ig, for Chemistry, went to designer Bijan Pakzad for DNA Cologne and DNA Perfume, neither of which contains any DNA and both of which come in triple-helix-shaped bottles. James Watson commented on tape, saying that Francis Crick, codiscover er of the structure of DNA, always said that an idea was good if it smelled right. "The double helix smelt right," Watson noted. "I have to ask now, Would the double helix have received a better reception if on the manuscript we sent off we had spray ed DNA Perfume? I don't think so. My feeling is, if you want to succeed in science, don't smell." -Steve Mirsky

And Those Other Ig Winners Are...

ECONOMICS Awarded jointly to Nick Leeson and his superiors at Barings Bank and to Robert Citron of Orange County, California, for using the calculus of derivatives to prove that every financial institution has its limits.

PEACE The Taiwan National Parliament, for demonstrating that politicians gain ore by punching, kicking and gouging one another than by waging war against other nations.

PUBLIC HEALTH Martha Kold Bakkevig of Sintef Unimed in Trondheim, Norway, and Ruth Nielson of the Technical University of Denmark, for their study "Impact of Wet Underwear on Thermoregulatory Responses and Thermal Comfort in the Cold," published in Ergonomics.

PHYSICS D.M.R. Georget, R. Parker and A. C. Smith of the Institute of Food Research in Norwich, England, for their report "A Study of the Effects of Water Content on the Compaction Behaviour of Breakfast Cereal Flakes," published in Powder Technology . -Mervin Stykes

Mirrored from the SCIENTIFIC AMERICAN December 1995 Volume 273 Number 6 Page 14

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