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2010 Ig Nobel Winners Announced

kdawson posted more than 3 years ago | from the whale-snot dept.

It's funny.  Laugh. 111

Velcroman1 writes "Having trouble breathing? Try riding a roller-coaster. Really. A pair of Dutch researchers who discovered that the symptoms of asthma can be treated with a roller-coaster ride are among this year's winners of the Ig Nobel awards, the infamous annual tribute to scientific research that seems wacky — but also has real world applications. FoxNews.com has interviews with several award winners, who are all ecstatic to win, despite the fact that they're all gently being poked fun at."

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111 comments

Fox News! Burn it! Burn it with fire! (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33755140)

Just getting that out of the way. It's Fox News, so it must be wrong. Right?

Re:Fox News! Burn it! Burn it with fire! (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33755160)

Wrong! Only if it has been spun like a roller coaster.

Re:Fox News! Burn it! Burn it with fire! (3, Insightful)

clang_jangle (975789) | more than 3 years ago | (#33755368)

Actually yes, pretty much. Using Fox News as a source for a story is like using Encyclopedia Dramatica as a source. It may have amusement value, but as far as finding literal truth you're probably out of luck. Of course, this is also at least partly true of nearly all the mainstream media outlets nowadays, but Fox is by far the worst. It's where people go to have their belief systems affirmed, not where they go for actual news.

Re:Fox News! Burn it! Burn it with fire! (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33755532)

It may have amusement value, but as far as finding liberal "truth" you're probably out of luck. FTFY.

Re:Fox News! Burn it! Burn it with fire! (2, Insightful)

arth1 (260657) | more than 3 years ago | (#33755738)

It may have amusement value, but as far as finding liberal "truth" you're probably out of luck.

That's a tautology. All truth is liberal.
Unless free from prejudice and narrow-mindedness, i.e. liberal, it can't progress from an opinion or a belief to the independent verification that truth survives.

Re:Fox News! Burn it! Burn it with fire! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33755782)

Unless free from prejudice and narrow-mindedness, i.e. liberal ...

So you're in effect saying that many progressives are not liberal?

Re:Fox News! Burn it! Burn it with fire! (3, Insightful)

arth1 (260657) | more than 3 years ago | (#33755862)

Indeed -- no group has monopoly on narrow-mindedness; there is just a higher proportion of liberals among progressives than many other groups, but each individual progressive can be as close minded and prejudiced as a trailer park reverend.

Re:Fox News! Burn it! Burn it with fire! (1, Offtopic)

ArcherB (796902) | more than 3 years ago | (#33755950)

Unless free from prejudice and narrow-mindedness, i.e. liberal,

Like when conservatives get shouted down [examiner.com] whenever they are to speak at college campuses? Like how brown^H^H^H purple shirted SEIU [sweetness-light.com] thugs lock out anyone with an opposing view, sometimes using violence? that kind of "free from prejudice and narrow-mindedness"?

Sorry, but liberals are no longer the ones with open minds, willing to listen to all opinions and give them a fair shot and even consider foreign ideas in their own minds. Those true liberals got shouted down and mashed under the thumb of "progressive" liberals long ago. Even other progressives who stray too far from the group think gets silenced [blogspot.com].

You should have seen the way Democrats treated each other at the local Democratic caucuses required by Democrats in Texas to elect a candidate. It was held in my local town at City Hall. I was there. It was a sight to see:
Manuella: "Excuse me, every one of you up there is an Obama supporter. Wouldn't it be fair if we had some Clinton supporters up there?'
Person in charge: "Denied"
Manuella: "Well, shouldn't there at least be one Clinton supporter there to oversee everything?"
Person in charge: "Who would you recommend?"
Manuella: "Well, I could do it."
Person in charge: "OK. What's your name? OK, Manuella. Anyone else? John? OK. All in favor of Manuella?"
Group: "Aye"
Person in charge: "OK, all in favor of John?"
Group: "Aye"
Person in charge: "John is the Clinton monitor"
Manuella: "But John has an Obama button on..."

Re:Fox News! Burn it! Burn it with fire! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33756750)

You're funny.
I hope you were trying to be.

Re:Fox News! Burn it! Burn it with fire! (0)

kainosnous (1753770) | more than 3 years ago | (#33756190)

That's a tautology. All truth is liberal.

To the contrary, by your definition of "liberal", no truth is liberal.

For instance, "1x1=1" is pretty narrow-minded. In fact, for most people who support that statement, it's not even up to debate. Liberal implies that everything is subjective, hence the "open-mindedness". Truth, by it's very nature must be objective. Therefore, while any statement may be accepted by a liberal thinker, to hold it as truth is to betray liberality.

Open-mindedness is great for creating art and brainstorming. However, narrow-mindedness is required to form rational thought. A closed mind, on the other hand, only repeats what it has learned.

Re:Fox News! Burn it! Burn it with fire! (1)

Daniel Dvorkin (106857) | more than 3 years ago | (#33756294)

That's quite an impressive straw man you've built there. And I'm in awe of the ferocity you display in tearing it down. You must be very proud of yourself.

Re:Fox News! Burn it! Burn it with fire! (1, Insightful)

uglyduckling (103926) | more than 3 years ago | (#33757228)

By stating that '"1x1=1"' is 'true' you're interpreting the meanings of the symbols '"', 'x', '=,' and '1' in a very conservative manner.

Re:Fox News! Burn it! Burn it with fire! (5, Funny)

cavePrisoner (1184997) | more than 3 years ago | (#33755434)

Since you mention it, they incorrectly state that the economics prize was awarded "for determining by experiment that microbes cling to bearded scientists." I guess it was a copy and paste error, since that is the same listing they have for the public health award directly above it. If you want to be paranoid (realistic?--I can't even tell anymore) about it, you could say the mistake was made intentionally to avoid publishing how the award poked fun at Wall Street's creative investment schemes.

Re:Fox News! Burn it! Burn it with fire! (5, Informative)

Ezel (249772) | more than 3 years ago | (#33756792)

Yes, there is an error in the Fox News article. Here is a quote from the official site instead:

ECONOMICS PRIZE: The executives and directors of Goldman Sachs, AIG, Lehman Brothers, Bear Stearns, Merrill Lynch, and Magnetar for creating and promoting new ways to invest money -- ways that maximize financial gain and minimize financial risk for the world economy, or for a portion thereof.

http://improbable.com/ig/winners/ [improbable.com]

Re:Fox News! Burn it! Burn it with fire! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33759174)

And it can't be coincidence that the lead author of the paper on microbes and bearded scientists has the surname Barbeiro. Looks like he tried to avoid the obvious profession by going into microbiology but fate proved too strong.

Re:Fox News! Burn it! Burn it with fire! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33755472)

Don't forget to blame Obama's failings on Bush.

Re:Fox News! Burn it! Burn it with fire! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33756084)

The thing about that is: Obama has all kinds of problems, is still chipping away at our liberties and rights, and giving it up for corporate interests at the expense of the people, etc. So, on the one hand, I'm not exactly huge fan, even though I believe he was the lesser evil in the last election. Despite all his problems, you have to be an absolute moron not to see that the country is still carrying a ton of baggage from the last administration. It should be obvious to everyone that the affairs of nations have a lot of inertia and their direction cannot be changed with ease. Now, we're a year and eight and a third months into his administration, so we're getting close to the point where it's almost fair to start complaining about his results. Problem is, I've been listening to partisan maniacs like you mock him for his "failings" as president since about a month before he was inaugurated. Since so many of his vocal critics are so obviously insane, it kind of compels you to jump to his defense when they go off, regardless of your own reservations. I guess it's just natural instinct for a geek. When you hear people having a moronic argument with faulty reasoning and a clear absence of facts or any sort of understanding, you just need to correct them and try to teach them how to actually think. When you do it though, your typical partisan maniac will assume that you're allied with their "enemy" and attack them as members or lovers of $other_party.

It's just sad. Democracy in the US (many other places as well) is just sad. The race to the bottom has completed, the judgment is in and a we've all tied for last place. Greed, cynicism and stupidity rule. It's reached the point where it's safe to assume that most people who get into power are corrupt. Note that when I say corrupt, I don't specifically mean that they all take bribes in exchange for their votes, though clearly many do. Many people don't think that they're corrupt if they're not doing things for their own benefit, but merely doing a friend a favor. All they have to do to be corrupt is to ignore the vows and oaths they've taken to uphold the spirit of the laws that govern them (in the US, that principally means the constitution) and to cease to act in the public interest. They're also too lazy or incompetent to do their jobs. They don't read or write the legislation, they just introduce what lobbyists hand them without reading it, relying instead on simplistic summations and analogies given to them by staffers or lobbyists (because, to paraphrase the late Senator Ted Stevens, who will probably live on in the hearts and minds of geeks everywhere for decades, even if he was an enemy of our kind, politics it's, it's not a big dumptruck, it's a series of tubes...). They don't fix what's broken, they just introduce reams of new laws to pile on top of all the old bad ones leaving a dangerous, stupid, disorganized minefield in which even the greatest experts in the land can no longer actually be sure in many cases what the law actually is for many situations.

Party politics are a major part of this. Nothing but insidious tentacles of compromise, ultimately leaching any virtue out of any effort. I remember seeing a photo in a time magazine article on teaching democracy in the classroom from a decade or more ago. It was apparently meant to be endearing. It was a photo of a ballot box the kids had made and decorated with american flag colors. It had two slots on it on the left and right. One was decorated with an elephant, the other with a donkey. It wasn't endearing, it was heartbreaking. That's what they were teaching these kids what democracy is: a choice between one of two scheming, backstabbing, entrenched, supposedly diametrically opposite, but actually depressingly similar parties. The kids from that classroom are all voting age now. Some of them will have voted in the last election. Possibly the one before it as well as I don't quite remember how old they were or how old the article was.

The two-party system stinks. For one thing, most big companies that want to bribe politicians (I'm not going to use the euphemism "lobby") with campaign funds have figured out the trick of giving to both the Democrats and the Republicans. The strategy is painfully transparent, it means that both sides are beholden to the giver for not too great a cost. But what if there were three viable parties, or four, or fourteen? No-one would have the cash to back more than a few of them. Of course, the US is completely broken in that regard. The plurality voting system it uses where there's one pass where everyone gets one vote to cast in favor of one candidate is awful. It's been shown again and again that it's perfect where you have exactly two candidates, and the worst possible system anyone has ever come up with when you have more than two because of the paradoxes you get when people actually vote their conscience. The main paradox is called the spoiler effect. It happens when you have a viable third party candidate like Nader or Perot. A number of left leaning folks voted for Nader rather than Gore because he's the one they would have preferred, so Gore lost. A number of right leaning folks voted for Perot (he did get more centrists, but his support was definitely overall right-leaning given the US definition of the political right) and voted for Perot rather than Bush Sr., so Bush Sr. lost. Clearly, that's broken. One of the last people the Nader-leaning candidates wanted to win was Bush Jr. and one of the last people the Perot-leaning voters wanted to win was Clinton, but their votes for the candidates they really wanted effectively became votes for the candidate they didn't want, skipping their second, third, fourth, etc. choices. This is crazy. Now, what many people will tell you is that politics is compromise, and those people should have just compromised on the major party candidate closest to their position. I'm sure there were plenty of Nader favoring voters who voted for Gore because they saw Nader as a lost cause. Same for Perot. The thing is, these players are all playing in the dark. No-one knows who is going to win until the votes are counted, and therefore no-one knows which way their votes will swing things, so they don't know when they have to compromise and when they don't and so they fall back to compromising all the time, so the system polarizes on two parties. It's not an absolute. The heavens can move, the poles can shift, but it's a very strong bias inherent in the mechanics of the system, meaning that the system is essentially completely broken and that which party wins major elections might as well be down to a random coin flip, like it was when Bush won by less than the margin of error in a state where his brother was essentially in charge of the election. Make no mistake, except for the fact that he didn't have family members in power there, if Gore had won, it would have still been just as bad.

So, the mechanics of US Democracy are fundamentally broken, and there are tons of ways to make it better. The most simple way, although it would have paradoxes of its own, just not as bad, would be to let people cast their one vote either for or against one candidate. That way, the Democrats and Republicans could mutually annihilate one another and then everyone else could get on with some real voting. Still a bit too blind though. Another way is to have everyone rank all the candidates in order of preference, or possibly just the ones they actually care about or at least know about. Once again, that should probably include a want and a do not want pile (that should help stop parties with small but rabid followings but that most of the population despises from getting a chance to win. ie, the nazi party candidate gets negative 60 million votes). There are a lot of systems that have been worked out, many with very few paradoxes (I'm not sure, but I think it may have actually been proven that you can't have a single pass system without paradoxes), that are better than the one the US uses. Partly that's because they've been worked out by very clever people who know what they're doing and how to mathematically vet the system, and partly because _ALL_ other systems of vote-taking are superior to the US system when it comes to accurately measuring the will of the populace.

Bleh. So anyway. Rant mostly over. To sum up: yes, Obama stinks. So did Bush, and Clinton before him, and Bush before him, and Reagan before him, etc. They all suck. Some less than others, but the ones that suck the least still suck. Also, most of the countries current dire straits really are Bush's leftovers. He screwed up royally in many, many ways. Obama is on his way to screwing things up in his own way, and is repairing some of Bush's damage, but not all of it. Some of it he's just making worse. But he's going to need a second term before he can really mess things up on Bush's scale all by himself. So, things are just awful all around and most political activists can't raise their heads out of the mud long enough to notice the underlying problems that, if they were fixed, might start to improve the country after a decade or so.

Re:Fox News! Burn it! Burn it with fire! (1)

matfud (464184) | more than 3 years ago | (#33756336)

"So, the mechanics of US Democracy are fundamentally broken, and there are tons of ways to make it better. The most simple way, although it would have paradoxes of its own, just not as bad, would be to let people cast their one vote either for or against one candidate. That way, the Democrats and Republicans could mutually annihilate one another and then everyone else could get on with some real voting. Still a bit too blind though. Another way is to have everyone rank all the candidates in order of preference, or possibly just the ones they actually care about or at least know about. Once again, that should probably include a want and a do not want pile (that should help stop parties with small but rabid followings but that most of the population despises from getting a chance to win. ie, the nazi party candidate gets negative 60 million votes). There are a lot of systems that have been worked out, many with very few paradoxes (I'm not sure, but I think it may have actually been proven that you can't have a single pass system without paradoxes), that are better than the one the US uses. Partly that's because they've been worked out by very clever people who know what they're doing and how to mathematically vet the system, and partly because _ALL_ other systems of vote-taking are superior to the US system when it comes to accurately measuring the will of the populace."

I agree but the UK system is not much better. And when it comes to voting systems there are many and they all have flaws. Try getting a computer to agree with its self! then wade through the various modes and discover the problems every one has.
matfud

Last prize really Ig Nobel? (5, Insightful)

line-bundle (235965) | more than 3 years ago | (#33755156)


And finally, a project at the University of Catania in Italy was awarded the management prize for demonstrating mathematically that organizations can improve efficiency by promoting people randomly.

This research deserves a far better prize than the Ig Nobel. Just look at the management in companies! An algorithm far worse than random is being used to select the worst of the worst to run companies.

I believe most institutions run in spite of management.

And don't mod this funny.

Re:Last prize really Ig Nobel? (4, Insightful)

sznupi (719324) | more than 3 years ago | (#33755302)

From their site: "The Ig Nobel Prizes honor achievements that first make people laugh, and then make them think. The prizes are intended to celebrate the unusual, honor the imaginative -- and spur people's interest in science, medicine, and technology." Certainly fits; contrary to what many people think it's not about "stupid" research. After all, the prizes "are physically handed out by genuinely bemused Nobel laureates" - would perceiving the whole thing only as harmless fun be enough to get them so easily aboard?

PS. Also, you jump too quickly to conclusions - the effect might as well be, for example, that when people know the promotions will be random, they don't care too much / there's no infighting / the random ones aren't worse enough (but with other positive effects it pays off) / etc.

Re:Last prize really Ig Nobel? (5, Informative)

Ethanol-fueled (1125189) | more than 3 years ago | (#33755430)

You quoted their website, which stated that their solutions are unusual and imaginative. The summary:

Having trouble breathing? Try riding a roller-coaster. Really. A pair of Dutch researchers who discovered that the symptoms of asthma can be treated with a roller-coaster ride...

Most asthmatics know that the emergency treatment for severe attacks is a shot of adrenaline. A ride on a rollercoaster is also kinda a shot of adrenaline. I suppose holding a loaded gun to one's head may also alleviate symptoms.

Kinda like that Simpsons episode where Bart has all this stuff super-glued to his face, and Dr. Hibert breaks out a menacing-looking nailgun to remove them. Bart simply sweats them off as Dr. Hibert laughs. Bart asks why Dr. Hibert couldnt've just turned up the thermostat, and Dr. Hibert responds evilly,

No, it had to be terror sweat!

Re:Last prize really Ig Nobel? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33757654)

Most if not all antihistamines work by increasing the adrenaline levels. This wasn't news, it wasn't groundbreaking, and it didn't deserve an award of any kind. The conclusion of this research apparently boils down to "Riding a rollercoaster increases adrenaline levels", which is about as shocking a find as "Students drink more during the weekends".

Re:Last prize really Ig Nobel? (1)

Red Flayer (890720) | more than 3 years ago | (#33758694)

Most if not all antihistamines work by increasing the adrenaline levels.

What? That's not true at all.

Antihistamines work exactly as their name implies -- they block the histamine response that causes inflammation, etc. They do not increase adrenaline levels.

Re:Last prize really Ig Nobel? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33758024)

I wonder about anaphylactic shock. Would naturally produced adrenaline work at least as a palliative until proper medical treatment can be provided? I wonder what the judge would say if one was to water-board a person suffering anaphylactic shock though.

Re:Last prize really Ig Nobel? (2, Interesting)

mdielmann (514750) | more than 3 years ago | (#33758964)

I wonder about anaphylactic shock. Would naturally produced adrenaline work at least as a palliative until proper medical treatment can be provided? I wonder what the judge would say if one was to water-board a person suffering anaphylactic shock though.

My kid carries an epi-pen, which led to this story from one of my friends. One day he was hanging out with a girl who was allergic to bee stings. Of course, she got stung, and he tried to help her out with the epi-pen. Unfortunately, he was holding the pen backwards, with his thumb over the end, and when he pushed it into her thigh, it stabbed his finger. The needle is spring-loaded, and reasonably forceful, so it went right in, hit the bone, and curled into a hook. Now he has to pull this thing out, and it's hard. When he finally drags it out, there's a string of tissue hanging from the little hook the pen made. The girl was so freaked out that she was okay until they got to the hospital.

The two things I took away from this were: natural adrenaline can work is you're sufficiently freaked out; and, never put your thumb over the end of an epi-pen.

Re:Last prize really Ig Nobel? (1)

Opyros (1153335) | more than 3 years ago | (#33755774)

physically handed out by genuinely bemused Nobel laureates

Is bemused [onelook.com] the right word here? It isn't synonymous with "amused". (Sorry for the pedantry, but I am the penultimate prescriptivist.)

Re:Last prize really Ig Nobel? (1)

nacturation (646836) | more than 3 years ago | (#33755852)

physically handed out by genuinely bemused Nobel laureates

Is bemused [onelook.com] the right word here? It isn't synonymous with "amused". (Sorry for the pedantry, but I am the penultimate prescriptivist.)

Does that make me the ultimate prescriptivist? Follow your own link or try this one: http://www.google.com/dictionary?q=bemuse&langpair=en|en [google.com]

Re:Last prize really Ig Nobel? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33757648)

Is bemused [onelook.com] the right word here? It isn't synonymous with "amused". (Sorry for the pedantry, but I am the penultimate prescriptivist.)

No it isn't. Nor does penultimate mean what you think it means.

Re:Last prize really Ig Nobel? (1)

quintessencesluglord (652360) | more than 3 years ago | (#33759584)

I have long advocated sortition (choosing positions in government through lottery).

It appears now there is some research to justify this.

Re:Last prize really Ig Nobel? (3, Insightful)

ceoyoyo (59147) | more than 3 years ago | (#33755354)

Ig Nobels are not really an insult. They CAN be, but they aren't necessarily.

Re:Last prize really Ig Nobel? (1)

youn (1516637) | more than 3 years ago | (#33755358)

Too bad I don't have mod points, I did find the end of the post funny :)

Re:Last prize really Ig Nobel? (2, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33755550)

Like the old saying goes: Those that can, do; Those that can't are promoted to management" Of course, then there is the old saying that "You only get promoted to the level of your incompetency"

A randomized promotion system would tend to push the real workers, the ones who make things happen, into positions where they can affect change.

Re:Last prize really Ig Nobel? (1)

tehcyder (746570) | more than 3 years ago | (#33757692)

A randomized promotion system would tend to push the real workers, the ones who make things happen, into positions where they can affect change.

Effect. You fail at management speak.

Re:Last prize really Ig Nobel? (1)

cellocgw (617879) | more than 3 years ago | (#33757902)

        A randomized promotion system would tend to push the real workers, the ones who make things happen, into positions where they can affect change.

Effect. You fail at management speak.

That rather depends on what the OP actually meant. A manager can certainly effect changes, but he/she can also affect changes.

Re:Last prize really Ig Nobel? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33758580)

If a manager is particularly effective, he can effect an affectation of affecting the effective rate at which changes are effected. Whereas in reality he is (extremely effectively) eating donuts.

Re:Last prize really Ig Nobel? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33758306)

It's called The Peter Principle:

"In a Hierarchy Every Employee Tends to Rise to His Level of Incompetence"

(from _The_Peter_Principle_, by Dr. Laurence J. Peter and Raymond Hull, copyright 1969)

Re:Last prize really Ig Nobel? (1, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33755618)

Just got done reading The Peter Principle (http://www.amazon.com/Peter-Principle-Laurence-J/dp/1568491611), so this looks like a dangerously accurate theory.

Re:Last prize really Ig Nobel? (1)

david_thornley (598059) | more than 3 years ago | (#33759928)

I once had a manager tell me the Peter Principle was company policy. He didn't use the same words, and didn't call it the Peter Principle, but the meaning was dead on.

That was not a good place to work.

Re:Last prize really Ig Nobel? (4, Interesting)

hedwards (940851) | more than 3 years ago | (#33755792)

Precisely, the way that many organizations promote people you wind up with incompetent butt kissers and psychopaths being promoted. Whereas if you promote people at random, you get those individuals roughly proportional to their representation at the bottom. The individuals who can't cut it would then tend to drop out leaving you with better managers.

OTOH that's terribly depressing, if a validation of the general observation about management practices.

Re:Last prize really Ig Nobel? (1)

Boju! (31741) | more than 3 years ago | (#33756420)

Sounds like they have mathematical demonstration of the Peter principle. This is where "in a hierarchy every employee tends to rise to their level of incompetence".

Re:Last prize really Ig Nobel? (1)

jimicus (737525) | more than 3 years ago | (#33756488)


And finally, a project at the University of Catania in Italy was awarded the management prize for demonstrating mathematically that organizations can improve efficiency by promoting people randomly.

This research deserves a far better prize than the Ig Nobel. Just look at the management in companies! An algorithm far worse than random is being used to select the worst of the worst to run companies.

I believe most institutions run in spite of management.

And don't mod this funny.

That doesn't actually hugely surprise me. At least one well-known jobhunting book claims that companies get just as good results choosing new staff by pulling names out of a hat as they do through the traditional application/interview process, and I first read that in around 2002.

Re:Last prize really Ig Nobel? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33757486)

While I was working at IBM I was told that they considered a good manager's decision was at least as good as tossing a coin.
Management was always promoted from within and was never considered a special career path.

Re:Last prize really Ig Nobel? (3, Informative)

VJ42 (860241) | more than 3 years ago | (#33756664)

Here's a link to the actual paper: http://arxiv.org/abs/0907.0455 [arxiv.org]

Re:Last prize really Ig Nobel? (1)

anonicow (1850904) | more than 3 years ago | (#33760704)

The only way this "scientific" paper could have been given a prize is because it rubs people's preconceived notions the right way: the grand-parent post is living proof of this. But scientifically, it's absolutely worthless.

Here is the paper in a nutshell: if you operate under the crazy assumption that the competence of someone has absolutely NO IMPACT WHATSOEVER on how well they will do their job when they get promoted to a higher level, then it makes no sense to promote skilled people since they won't do any better than any bottom-of-the-ladder grunt. And it's actually counter-productive: because those skilled people you promoted will get assigned a new (unrelated) random skill level, the average skill level will drop more if you promote skilled people than if you promote unskilled people...

Now these are the WTFs that come to mind:
- why on Earth did they need a crazy numerical simulation to figure that out?
- why on Earth did they not put a sensible explanation like this one anywhere? before diving into the paper the abstract and conclusions were so devoid of any insight that I was expecting something much more subtle and hard to explain than the trivial reason I outlined above

The really disappointing part is not that they have a completely unrealistic model, it's that they're trying to hide it behind fancy-looking graphs so that the science appears superficially sound. But before you call me a nay-sayer, I'll throw in some constructive criticism. Here is a simple way to analyze the problem that could have saved some computer cluster energy: Let Xi be a random variable describing the current value of employee number i. Let Yi be his value at his new job if he were to be promoted. When a new higher-level position needs to be filled, we seek to find i maximizing E(Yi | Xi=xi) + Sum(j!=i) xj. This is equivalent to maximizing E(Yi | Xi=xi) - xi. Hence, if the E(...) term depends neither on i nor on xi (as in their hypothesis), the best way is to minimize xi, hence promote the lowest-skilled person (which in the real world makes zero sense at all as they are likely to be complete newbies, difficult to work with, not giving a shit, or otherwise moronic).

So that's how you can prove their simulation result. However, you can go further: if you look at the last formula, you see that there are two terms: one term E(Yi | Xi=xi) that increases as xi increases (skilled people are good at their current job, so they are more likely to be good at their next job), and one term -xi that decreases as xi increases (it's better not to risk losing a valuable person+job combination: that's why it's well-known that being indispensable to your specific position is bad for your career as management will be reluctant to promote you). So the real job of management is to understand those two contrary goals, and balance the forces due to "skill" and to "inertia" together. You shouldn't under-estimate the first term and promote random or unskilled people, just like you shouldn't under-estimate the second term and promote the single most valuable employee blindly.

And that's where you see why using a numeric model while wearing a blindfold is a bad idea: not only is it overkill for simple phenomena like this one, but it also deprives you of a deeper understanding of the subject. Don't get me wrong, what I said in the previous paragraph wasn't all that deep: I'm pretty sure most competent managers have internalized the equilibrium, without the fancy statistic notation; but at least it goes way deeper than the paper's computer simulation. At the end of the day, a manager reading the Ig Nobel paper is going to be misled into thinking that there is proof he should try to disregard skill (or, on the contrary, that he should disregard scientific papers), while being offered no reason apart from scary computer models. True science is about enlightening people by giving them tools to understand reality: this article is about getting mainstream media coverage by giving pseudo-proof of a popular theory, with no concern for scientific honesty or a wider search for truth. If you think I'm being unfairly harsh, the authors have a webpage dedicated to media coverage of their paper, so they are clearly comfortable with their paper reaching a wide audience and didn't feel necessary to make any addition or clarification of the scope of their paper.

Re:Last prize really Ig Nobel? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33758240)

Its not funny but true, we have a saying here where I work:

They promote you out(of the tech jobs) to minimize the damage.

Re:Last prize really Ig Nobel? (1)

GooberToo (74388) | more than 3 years ago | (#33758542)

That's because its about who you know, who you went to school with, which buddy is on your board, which board your buddy wants you on and what back room deals you can swap with each other to make each of you look good; in the short term. And once you look good, you all get together for a circle jerk to give each other a raise.

Most companies today are led by people whos sole desire is to see how much they can legally plunder - even while they are sinking the ship they plunder. But, what do you expect when literal sociopaths are considered good leaders?

These days, its rare for a US CEO to make a long term decision. They almost always make a decision for tomorrow, knowing for well its a very bad decision for day after tomorrow. But they don't care because they'll be long gone with their golden parachute before they have to deal with their poor decisions. And even better, the next guy gets blamed. We even see this happen in politics too - all the time.

Re:Last prize really Ig Nobel? (1)

Xyrus (755017) | more than 3 years ago | (#33758880)

I wonder if the same principle would apply to government. Let's start assigning random people to public office and see if that helps.

Asthma is cured while you are on a roller coaster (4, Funny)

Meshach (578918) | more than 3 years ago | (#33755166)

That should cover three minutes twice a year.

Re:Asthma is cured while you are on a roller coast (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33756192)

What? Sex works too?

Woah missread (3, Informative)

furgle (1825812) | more than 3 years ago | (#33755190)

I thought it was lg as in LG nobel Winners Announced Can you tell the difference : lg Ig

Re:Woah missread (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33755478)

Why would the name of a company that is universally written as LG (note the CAPITAL letters) suddenly show up as lg (lowercase)? Even slashdot isn't that sloppy. Don't be an idiot.

Re:Woah missread (2, Funny)

BluBrick (1924) | more than 3 years ago | (#33756510)

Even slashdot isn't that sloppy. Don't be an idiot.

You must be new here, Mr. Coward.

Re:Woah missread (3, Interesting)

arth1 (260657) | more than 3 years ago | (#33755812)

1: If you haven't heard about the Ig Nobel prize before now, I wonder where you've been. I'm pretty sure that most slashdotters can list more Ig Nobel winning research than Alfred Nobel winning research. On the geek scale, Ig Nobel ranks up there with Darwin awards, knowing Binky's colour and the 20th decimal of pi.

2: Not everyone uses a font where I and l look similar. In fact, programmers, sysadmins and other computer geeks tend to abhor fonts with ambiguity. If you can't tell an Omelet from an 0rneIet, you need to change your font NOW.

Re:Woah missread (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33756144)

Always use Topaz-8.

Re:Woah missread (1)

tehcyder (746570) | more than 3 years ago | (#33757742)

Not everyone uses a font where I and l look similar

But I and I are identical, as are l and l, not just similar, so I don't see what you're getting at.

Re:Woah missread (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33758222)

I've taken (and am currently taking) courses taught by an Ig Nobel prize winning professor - do I get some geek cred?

My favorite one (1)

inode_buddha (576844) | more than 3 years ago | (#33755356)

My favorite one was the youtube video of the fruit bat giving head... maybe I need to get out more....

I am surprised to hear (1)

drainbramage (588291) | more than 3 years ago | (#33755556)

That they let you out.
Surprised and worried.

Re:I am surprised to hear (1)

inode_buddha (576844) | more than 3 years ago | (#33757044)

Well, it was nice to see something with some hard proof behind it. OK, I'll be getting me coat now...

Socks (4, Informative)

shermo (1284310) | more than 3 years ago | (#33755362)

"In research that could boost the sales of socks in New England, a study out of the University of Otago in New Zealand found that wearing socks over shoes results in far fewer slips and falls on icy footpaths. It won the physics prize."

This is common knowledge here amongst yachties and other people who walk on green covered slipways (they're not called that for nothing). Put on some rugby socks and you won't fall over. It's counter-intuitive but it works.

Re:Socks (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33756348)

The role of science has always been either to experiment on what everybody knows or on what nobody ever guessed.

And hey, now your common knowledge is backed up by a scientific study meaning people can't call it anecdotal anymore.

Re:Socks (1)

techno-vampire (666512) | more than 3 years ago | (#33756382)

It's counter-intuitive but it works.

It's not even counter-intuitive, at least, not to me. In the Navy, decks topside are painted with something called "non-skid," a mixture of paint and sand. (Five gallons of the stuff have only two gallons of liquid; the rest is pigment and sand.) You'd think that this would be enough to keep people from slipping on wet decks, but I can assure you from personal experience that it's not always! Of course, the deck was not only wet, it was moving when I lost my footing. Wearing coarse socks over my shoes may well have added just enough traction to keep me standing that day because anything that gives you more traction on a wet surface is going to help.

Re:Socks (1)

paiute (550198) | more than 3 years ago | (#33756910)

"In research that could boost the sales of socks in New England, a study out of the University of Otago in New Zealand found that wearing socks over shoes results in far fewer slips and falls on icy footpaths. It won the physics prize."

This is common knowledge here amongst yachties and other people who walk on green covered slipways (they're not called that for nothing). Put on some rugby socks and you won't fall over. It's counter-intuitive but it works.

Counter-intuitive? It seemed very intuitive to me. But I can't find socks to fit my big feet. Good luck finding ones to go over my shoes.

Re:Socks (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33757152)

I live in Dunedin, and studied at Otago University.

My grandfather also lived in Dunedin for most of his life. He's been telling me for most of my life that I should wear socks over my shoes so I don't slip on ice.

Given that this has been known for probably most of his life, if not longer, why are they getting an award for restating something that is known?

Re:Socks (1)

Iskender (1040286) | more than 3 years ago | (#33757404)

Given that this has been known for probably most of his life, if not longer, why are they getting an award for restating something that is known?

One common reply to this is that it used to be "known" that non-white people are sub-human. That didn't make it true.

To use a less emotional topic it is "known" by many that tapping cans of carbonated beverage before opening will make them not explode. I seem to recall someone looking into this and finding that waiting for the same amount of time as the tapping would take had the same effect.

Basically, it comes down to this: scientific knowledge and scientific trial and error aren't the same as common knowledge and common trial and error.

Re:Socks (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33761472)

I thought the reason for this trick was sound (At least in theory)
You tap the can to dislodge bubbles clinging to the sides. This reduces the number of nucleation sites that cause the CO2 to come out of solution rapidly (which makes the mess)

The mentos+diet coke trick relies on this effect. Turns out the surface of the mentos are a perfect storm of nucleation sites, as far as diet coke is concerned.

Another myth busted (5, Funny)

oldhack (1037484) | more than 3 years ago | (#33755374)

Plainly, women are no longer underrepresented in science and whatnot. Look up the winners' names.

And this year's winner is... (0, Offtopic)

nanospook (521118) | more than 3 years ago | (#33755418)

Obama!!! For discovering that chickens do come before the egg..

Re:And this year's winner is... (1)

codepunk (167897) | more than 3 years ago | (#33755658)

Darn shame I don't have any mod points right now, you would certainly be getting one.

Nobel prize going downhill... (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33755512)

"And the economics prize went to executives and directors at Goldman Sachs, AIG, Lehman Brothers, Bear Stearns, Merrill Lynch, and Magnetar "for creating and promoting new ways to invest money--ways that maximize financial gain and minimize financial risk for the world economy, or for a portion thereof."

*jawdropping speechless* D-8

Re:Nobel prize going downhill... (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33756296)

Don't ignore that "or for a portion thereof." at the end. They certainly did manage to maximize gain and minimize financial risk for certain members of the economy. It's actually a simple equation. The way it works is, you take money from someone who trusts you to invest it and make a return for them, then you use various kinds of complex accounting tricks to give that money to yourself. Voila, financial gain for you at no risk, because you gave all the risk to some sucker. True genius.

Slime Molds (4, Interesting)

Nyeerrmm (940927) | more than 3 years ago | (#33755560)

I'm glad to see the use of slime molds to study transport networks on there.

I honestly thought it was one of the most interesting bits of research I'd seen all year.

Re:Slime Molds (4, Funny)

MichaelSmith (789609) | more than 3 years ago | (#33755612)

I'm glad to see the use of slime molds to study transport networks on there.

Sounds like an ideal model for Melbourne drivers.

Slime Molds and Traffic (2, Funny)

zooblethorpe (686757) | more than 3 years ago | (#33755672)

DC, too -- being stuck on 395 at rush hour sure makes a slime mold look like a speed demon.

Cheers,

Re:Slime Molds (1)

kainosnous (1753770) | more than 3 years ago | (#33756242)

It is interesting, but I always thought that slime molds were just randomly generated. Of course, I would still like to see them used to trace a path for a railway through the Dungeons of Doom.

Sure (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33755688)

Is Steven Hawkins legally allowed to go into a Utah Cathedral? He has dreams of great asperation.

...they're all gently being poked fun at (0)

techno-vampire (666512) | more than 3 years ago | (#33756426)

Not all of them. It's not unheard of, or even uncommon for winners to be self-nominated. I remember back in 1996 when the award in Public Health [wikipedia.org] went to a pair of doctors who'd nominated themselves for a paper they'd published about a case of VD he'd treated for a Norwegian ship captain. He won because it turned out that said captain had caught the disease at sea from an inflatable partner.

The site itself (2, Informative)

Trevelyan (535381) | more than 3 years ago | (#33756758)

I note that TFA summary lacks a link to the ig Nobels own site..
So here it is [nyud.net] although via Corel Cache since the site appears to be taking quite a heavy hit.

I think I'm probably the first to try via corel cache so its still loading for me, but I hope giving this link will improve that...

Mystery solved (1)

paiute (550198) | more than 3 years ago | (#33756898)

I was there, and as we left the place there were people handing out small packages of red Swedish fish. So the mystery is solved(?)

The winners are... (1)

Cyko_01 (1092499) | more than 3 years ago | (#33757338)

ENGINEERING PRIZE: for perfecting a method to collect whale snot, using a remote-control helicopter.

MEDICINE PRIZE: for discovering that symptoms of asthma can be treated with a roller-coaster ride.

TRANSPORTATION PLANNING PRIZE: for using slime mold to determine the optimal routes for railroad tracks.

PHYSICS PRIZE: for demonstrating that, on icy footpaths in wintertime, people slip and fall less often if they wear socks on the outside of their shoes.

PEACE PRIZE: for confirming the widely held belief that swearing relieves pain.

PUBLIC HEALTH PRIZE: for determining by experiment that microbes cling to bearded scientists.

ECONOMICS PRIZE: for determining by experiment that microbes cling to bearded scientists.

CHEMISTRY PRIZE: for disproving the old belief that oil and water don't mix.

MANAGEMENT PRIZE: for demonstrating mathematically that organizations would become more efficient if they promoted people at random.

BIOLOGY PRIZE: for scientifically documenting fellatio in fruit bats.

Awesome! (1)

EmagGeek (574360) | more than 3 years ago | (#33757372)

Once we get FDA Approval for the use of roller coasters to treat asthma, I will look forward to forcing my insurance company to build one for me in my back yard. YAY!

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