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The opposite of Nobel – Ig Nobel honors the bizarre
The Kansas State Board of Education, a 1999 winner of the Ig Nobel science education prize for deleting the teaching of evolution from the state's science curriculum, got itself back in the headlines in 2005 with another vote casting doubt on the theory of evolution. A group of moderates took over the board in January 2007 but could lose their majority to conservatives in the upcoming November election.
The Ig Nobel award ceremony is Harvard University's way of honoring weird science, from the study of homosexual necrophilia in the mallard duck to monitoring the brain activity of locusts forced to watch Star Wars. While the 2008 winners will be announced later this week, we're taking a look back at some of our favorite past winners and asking the question - where are they now?
Andre Geim, a scientist from the Netherlands, won the 2000 Ig Nobel physics prize for his invaluable work using magnets to levitate a frog. Geim, it turns out, is actually a pretty smart guy. In 2007, the Institute of Physics gave him the Mott medal and prize for discovering graphene and other free-standing two-dimensional crystals. He's also trying to develop super-sticky "gecko tape," that might someday allow people to walk across ceilings.
L. Ron Hubbard, famous author of science fiction and some ... err ... interesting texts on mental health, scored the Ig Nobel prize for literature in 1994. Today, sadly, Hubbard is dead, but his legacy lives on in the Church of Scientology and celebrity members like Tom Cruise, who believes his body is inhabited by alien spirits and is capable of filming some truly scary indoctrination videos.
Prolific Japanese inventor Yoshiro Nakamatsu won the nutrition prize in 2005 for photographing and analyzing every meal he ate for more than three decades. Nakamutsu, who holds more than 3,000 patents, suffered a disappointment in 2007 when he lost a Tokyo gubernatorial election, but he is just 64 years away from fulfilling his goal of living to the age of 144.
Which former Ig Nobel winner has led the most impressive life?
Ellen Greve, an Australian kook who calls herself "Jasmuheen," won the 2000 Ig Nobel in literature for a book describing her contention that humans are better off without any type of food or fluid. (Yes, even beer). Ellen ... err, Jasmuheen, classifies her beliefs under the sort-of-but-not-really-official-sounding title of "breatharianism." A few people apparently starved themselves to death by adhering to Greve's minimalist diet. Jasmuheen still maintains a presence on the Web, "promoting personal & planetary peace via holistic education."
Michael Milken earned the first Ig Nobel economics prize in 1991, just two years after being indicted on 98 counts of racketeering and securities fraud. But as countless financial titans have shown over the years, it pays to be sleazy. Milken's Web site is quick to note that Fortune magazine in 2004 called him "The Man Who Changed Medicine" because of his charity work, and he was worth more than US$2 billion as of 2007.
Lal Bihari, a farmer from India, was classified as officially deceased by the Indian government from 1976 until 1994, and consequently was awarded the prestigious Ig Nobel Peace prize in 2003 for significant posthumous achievements including the founding a group called the Association of the Dead. As Paul McCartney might say, Bihari wasn't really dead - it was a scam in which family members declared relatives dead in order to take over their land. Lal Bihari, born in 1961, is presumably still alive, and as recently as October 2007 there were talks of making a movie about his life and greatly exaggerated demise.
Lee Kuan Yew, prime minister of Singapore from 1959 to 1990, got the 1994 Ig Nobel prize in psychology "for his thirty-year study of the effects of punishing three million citizens of Singapore whenever they spat, chewed gum, or fed pigeons." Lee just turned 85 but remains one of Singapore's most influential officials. His son is prime minister and Lee himself serves in the newly created position of "Minister Mentor."
A revolting brand of canned "meat," Spam and the people who eat it were awarded an Ig Nobel prize in nutrition in 1992. Spam, created by the Hormel Foods Corporation in 1937, is still going strong after seven decades, with sales of more than six billion cans. Serving up 15 grams of fat in each two-ounce serving, Spam is poised to fuel America's obesity epidemic for years to come.
Karl Kruszelnicki of the University of Sydney scored a 2002 Ig Nobel prize for his exhaustive research on the nature of human belly button fluff. Kruszelnick ran for the Australian Senate in 2007 with a party that advocates solutions to climate change. No word yet on whether belly button fluff will survive the impact of global warming.