Science, in its ceaseless quest to serve humanity, marches ever onward in pursuit of truth and wisdom. But at the annual Ig Nobel Prize ceremony, science takes a break, pours itself a drink, and has a good, hearty laugh at itself.
"The Ig Nobel Prizes honor achievements that first make people laugh, and then make them think," according to a press release from Improbable Research, the organization that awards the Ig Nobels. "The prizes are intended to celebrate the unusual, honor the imaginative — and spur people's interest in science, medicine and technology."
This year's Ig Nobel event is scheduled for Thursday night (Sept. 12) in the historic Sanders Theater on the campus of Harvard University. As in years past, the ceremony will be enlivened by unceremonious shenanigans, including bizarre costumes, irreverent speeches and the tossing of countless paper airplanes. [Hilarious Science: Gallery of the 2012 Ig Nobel Prize Winners]
The infamous award ceremony will be webcast live on LiveScience; this year, we will also feature a behind-the-scenes webcast showing how the ceremony is produced and footage of the presenters of the awards (who are recipients of the somewhat more-prestigious Nobel Prize). This year's presenters will include Nobel laureates Dudley Herschbach (chemistry, 1986), Eric Maskin (economics, 2007) and Roy Glauber (physics, 2009).
Previous Ig Nobel winners have included researchers who study beetles that have sex with beer bottles, doctors who discovered how to keep patients' bowels from exploding during colonoscopies, and engineers who invented a way to convert unused military ammunition into diamonds.
"I think that we have an important role in making science more popular among a large group of people," biologist Kees Moeliker (who won a 2003 Ig Nobel for his probing research into homosexual necrophilia among ducks) told Live Science. "We try to show that scientists aren't dull people in lab coats with long beards — you know, the stereotype of the mad scientist. There are people who can have very bright ideas and do great research and are very inspiring."
Not all recipients are equally amused by the dubious honor that comes from winning an Ig Nobel. When the executives of Goldman Sachs, Lehman Brothers, Merrill Lynch and other wizards of Wall Street were awarded the 2010 economics prize for "creating and promoting new ways to invest money — ways that maximize financial gain and minimize financial risk for the world economy, or a portion thereof," they declined to accept in person.
Improbable Research also publishes the journal Annals of Improbable Research. Their editorial board, according to the group's website, "consists of fifty-odd eminent scientists, doctors, etc. from around the world, including several Nobel Prize winners and a convicted felon."