On December 10, many of the world’s luminaries will gather for the Nobel Prize ceremony. The Nobel winners are being honored for achievements such as “measuring and manipulating quantum fields” and “programming mature cells to become pluripotent.” Whatever.
My aim is to add balance to the universe by calling attention to accomplishments on the other end of the spectrum. For instance, the chemistry student who won a Darwin Award for inadvertently inventing exploding chewing gum. The Darwin Awards celebrate “the improvement of the human genome by honoring those who accidentally remove themselves from it.” Recipients over the years have included a would-be jail escapee whose rope of bed sheets ended up dozens of feet too short, and automobile travelers who decided to swap driving duties without bothering to stop the car first. These and other dubious feats of distinction are chronicled in a series of books and on the web.
The Ig Nobel Prizes also often highlight the ridiculous, but with a focus on research and without the Darwin requirement of lethality. And the 2012 Ig Nobel Prize for Literature goes to…the U.S. Government General Accountability Office “for issuing a report about reports about reports that recommends the preparation of a report about the report about reports about reports.” The criterion for winning an Ig Nobel Prize is: “Do something that first makes people laugh, and then makes them think.” The 2011 award for chemistry went to a group from Japan who invented a wasabi alarm; it wakes people up with a strong scent rather than a loud sound. See the website or the books to have a good laugh (or cry) about the state of humanity.