The Motives...(Nobel Prizes)

robison at golgi.harvard.edu robison at golgi.harvard.edu
Tue Oct 10 12:52:45 EST 1995


Alexander Berezin (berezin at MCMAIL.CIS.MCMASTER.CA) wrote:
: The above comes as no surprise.
: Despite that there are, of course, exceptions, 
: pattern of Nobel Prizes (all areas) shows a
: consistent moral decline over the last years 
: (if not decades).

: Every year several of them (senile or not ?) got
: together at MIT (Mass.Inst.of Technology) dressed
: at gorilla suits for a strange feast called 
: "Ig-Nobele Prize award" to laugh at other scientists
: (sometime deceased) who somehow did not make it to 
: their "Nobel Club". A short letter on this is
: attached. - Alex Berezin

: (the following letter was published recently in 
: the "American Physical Society News", July 1995)
: --------------------------------------------------------- 

: Ig NOBEL PRIZES

: Marc Abrahams' "Improbable Research" (APS News, March 1995)
: and numerous (mostly critical) comments on it in the May
: issue raise the question of credibility of *real* (not Ig)
: Nobel Prize laureats who regularly (or occasionally)
: participate in Ig-ceremonies.

: We are fortunate to live in a (relatively) free society
: and the right to openly ridicule anything you wish is, of
: course, among its fundamental cornerstones. But it is not
: a free ride. The price for this right is that nothing,
: not even the genuinely deserved Nobel Prize, make people
: fully immune from the possibility to damaging the level
: of respect they enjoy in the eyes of others. 

: We all know that many scientific breakthroughs in the past
: were first met with jeers and scorn. When the freshmen or
: sophomores make a humorous pantomime on fringe science 
: claims, this can be both funny and nice. But when the people
: blessed with the highest scientific honour on Earth play
: the Zoo on their, often equally distinguished, colleagues
: (yes, who will deny that Edward Teller has the same
: scientific calibre as many *real*, not Ig, nobelists ?), 
: it lookes planly stupid. And as a result, the players 
: look far more ridiculous than the targets of their wit.

: Please, Nobel guys, we give you the benefit of doubt, but
: find other stage for your suppressed clownistic talents !         

: Alexander A. Berezin,
: McMaster University, Hamilton, Ontario

Dr. Berezin has obviously never attended an Ig Nobel ceremony,
and really hasn't the slightest clue about them.  Alternatively,
he completely lacks the soh (sense of humor) locus.

I have attended two Ig Nobel ceremonies.  They are, indeed,
silly, slapstick, and a bit sophomorish.  They also skewer some
of the sillier research and claims in the world, and poke gentle fun at 
some of the other things which science has brought us (for example,
the previous prize in Chemistry for the invention of blue jello).
Often what is mocked is not science, but the all too abundant 
pseudoscience in the world, and the silly excesses within the scientific
community.  Yes, a few local Nobel laureates show up (though I have
yet to see one in a gorilla suit), and not one of them shows any
sign of senility.  Instead, they get up and enjoy themselves, and
help deflate the excess seriousness that Dr Berezin appears to covet.

Perhaps if Dr. Berezin would lend his sterling talents the quality
of humor would be raised.  But, I suspect he is too busy writing his
next screed on the evils of the research funding system.  I'm actually
quite shocked he forgot to mention a nefarious connection between
peer review and the Ig Nobels.

Keith Robison
Harvard University
Department of Cellular and Developmental Biology
Department of Genetics / HHMI

robison at mito.harvard.edu 







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