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AIR Editor Shares Scientif Humor

By Naveen Sunkavally

Last Thursday, a small throng of onlookers, some more interested in chucking paper airplanes than listening, gathered in room 10-250 to hear a talk by Marc Abrams, editor of The Annals of Improbable Research.

Annals, which Abrams called the Mad magazine of science, is also responsible for putting on the Ig Nobel Prize ceremonies each October.

The evening's activities, which were sponsored by the Lecture Series Committee and the MIT Press, included a slides slide show depicting the humor typical of AIR. There were also reprisals of several silly theatrical scenes first performed at the Ig Nobels last year.

The most prominent theme in the slides, which displayed real research proposals submitted to the magazine, was sexual innuendo. Slides ranged from a picture of Pamela Anderson Lee straddling Barney to shots of papers with titles like "Transmission of Gonorrhea Through an Inflatable Doll," and "Rectal Impaction Following Enema with Concrete Mix."

By far the best research topic was "Monitoring Electroejaculation in the Rhinoceros with Ultrasonography," an essay which began its commentary on the topic by noting that, "Electroejaculation is hard to perform on a rhinoceros."

Topics soon veered away from sex and towards lunacy. "Spectral Receptance Properties of French Fries," "Rewarming Hypothermic Animals with Microwaves," and "Teaching Independence to Lemmings," popped up as research topics. They were joined by projects such as "The Taxonomy of Barney," and "Infectious Diseases in Bricks."

One research essay focused on "Chicken Plucking as a Measure of Wind Speed," and was written by Bernard Vonnegut, Kurt Vonnegut's brother. A slide showing a picture of Mars taken by the Hubble telescope showed a picture of Satan grinning.

Another crowd favorite was a slide showing the odds that certain famous people could be the Antichrist. Nelson Mandela received a 8.4 * 1011 to 1 odds, while Bill Gates got an 8 to 5 rating.

The evening also included some snippets from plays performed at the Ig Nobel ceremonies. Actors performed two acts from "Il Combune Grosso." In this story, God, while trying to break his smoking addiction, creates the universe through the Big Bang with one last smoke of his cigar.

A scene from "Lament del Cockroach," was also performed. The musical centered on the efforts of various insects, played by sheepish audience members, to carry on their lineage when faced with approaching extinction by mating with a cockroach.

Abrams also recounted incidents that happened at previous Ig Nobel ceremonies. He mentioned how one man spent time feeding coffee beans to palm civets. He recovered the beans from their droppings and created the world's most expensive coffee. This "fresh, steaming coffee," called Luac, was fed to unsuspecting authentic Nobel Laureates at the Ig Nobels.

In another incident, Abrams recounted how a man who had written a paper on "The Effect of Onions, Garlic, and Sour cream on the Appetite of Leeches," flung leeches to an audience at the Ig Nobels.

Another man apparently studied the life cycles and inner workings of cat ear mites by placing them in his own ear for a some months.

The evening on a surreal note with two strange people painted in silver holding lit flashlights above Abrams' head.