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Games: The Ignobel prizes

Wednesday 15 October 1997 23:02 BST

Last weekend, in a ceremony at Harvard University, the annual "Ig Nobel" Prizes were awarded. Named after Alfred Nobel's justly little- known brother Ignatius (allegedly the inventor of soda pop) the Ig Nobel prizes are awarded to academics whose works the other Nobel committee have chosen to IgNore. The Medicine prize, for example, went to two Wilkes University researchers for their discovery that listening to music in lifts stimulates the production of immunoglobin in the brain and thus may help prevent the common cold. The Economics prize went to the Japanese inventors of the Tamagotchi "for its contribution to economics by wasting millions of working hours".

But it was the Ig Nobel Peace prize in which this country can take most pride, for not only was the winner an Englishman, but The Independent itself - though this has not been given the recognition it deserves - played a crucial role in the nomination process. In January 1994 in these pages, we reported the Ig Nobel awards for 1993 (including the Biology prize to the authors of a paper entitled "Salmonella Excretion in Joy- Riding Pigs" and a Mathematics prize to a man from South Carolina who had calculated the exact odds that Mikhail Gorbachev was the Anti-Christ - 8,606,091,751,882 to 1).

Our report ended, however, with the words: "None of the papers mentioned ... have the ... significance of `The Possible Pain Experienced During Execution by Different Methods' by Harold Hillman, which appeared in Perception 1993, Vol 22, pp745-753." After a wait of nearly four years, the Ig Nobel committee have finally taken our advice and offered overdue recognition to Dr Hillman's work. On a serious note, it is a paper that should be read by anyone who believes that beheading, shooting, hanging, stoning or electrocution are humane ways of putting a criminal to death.

The Ig Nobel awards were presented by four Nobel Laureates, including William Lipscomb, winner of the 1976 Chemistry prize, who was also raffled off in the Win-a-Date-With-a-Nobel-Laureate Contest.

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