It’s a funny thing, cheese. A bit like anchovy. People tend to either love cheese or loathe it.
The population fits into two categories on the cheese front: those who have a wide variety, including plenty of stinking bishop, ever ready for a Mr Creosote-level gorging, and those who buy a small block of cheddar because it may come in handy.
The latter type throws out the cheddar when it becomes hairy after a few months and then buys another sample, just in case.
Blame the Ig Nobels for this fromagian (not a word but it should be) cogitation. Just before the Nobel Prize awards unfold each year with dead importance, their twisted sister, the Ig Nobel, takes centre stage at a knees-up where the world’s scientists come together to honour the silliest research undertaken…and, hell, just have some fun.
September 14 was the presentation night this year and Harvard, of course, was the venue.
It never ceases to amaze me how huge amounts of research money is spent on some seemingly questionable endeavours and it generally takes a few weeks of pondering to digest this heady night of nights.
It is one of my favourite ceremonies because highly serious folks show that they have a fun side. It’s no surprise, for example, that so many scientists are great fans of the sadly retired American cartoon genius Gary Larson.
The Medicine Ig Nobel this year went to a French-UK combo for using advanced brain-scanning technology to measure the extent to which some people are disgusted by cheese (“I’d like to thank my mum and dad, my special friend Tarquin, my agent, and like, wow, I’m so speechless.”)
Remember, actual people were wired (and no doubt a tad nervous) to achieve the results of this ground-breaking wossname.
Space forbids covering all 10 Ig Nobel winners, but it would be remiss not to embrace some of them.
The Physics Prize was shared by a team from France, Singapore and the United States using fluid dynamics to hopefully answer the question Can a Cat Be Both a Solid and a Liquid? What on earth was done to hapless moggies to find this out is best not considered, but hopefully microwaves were not involved.
The Economics Prize was snared, not surprisingly, by an Aussie team – Matthew Rockloff and Nancy Greer – for their experiments to see how contact with a live crocodile affects a person’s willingness to gamble.
They should have won just for the title of their research paper, Never Smile at a Crocodile: Betting on Electronic Gambling Machines is Intensified by Reptile-Induced Arousal. Is it?
Well, if a man-eating crocodile was charging at me, the last thing I would be thinking about would be whether I should put $20 or $40 in the slot machine electronically and winsomely beckoning me o’er the horizon. It’s a wonder the health and safety people weren’t all over this one.
The theoretical research for these august projects would be a piece of cake. The practical side is another story. Take the Anatomy Prize, snared by a UK team. Its research paper is entitled Why Do Old Men Have Big Ears.
I thought that was really quite obvious and didn’t need a research paper. Cartilage keeps growing from birth to death and lobes get bigger as the years go by via gravity pulling them down. But, of course, I’m not a scientist.
Picture this. An old guy, let’s call him Nobby Parker. Nobby is a member of the Angry Geezer sub-species (and my Angry Geezer transmogrification is a work in progress).
Researcher: Hello Mr Parker. I am an important scientist. Why do you have big ears?
Nobby: Sod off!
The South Korean winners of the Fluid Dynamics Prize raise practical questions for studying the dynamics of hot liquid spilling to learn what happens when a person walks backwards while carrying a cup of coffee. Spillage, one would assume.
It’s a wonder the health and safety police weren’t all over that one as well.
And the last wins just for the title. This was the Nutrition Prize shared by researchers from Brazil, Canada and Spain: What is for Dinner? First Report of Human Blood in the Diet of the Hairy-Legged Vampire Bat Diphylla ecaudata. Sheesh.
And now, it’s my turn, perhaps channelling Larson (who thankfully is still with us). I want to dress up like a sheep and live in a paddock for a year with my fellow ovine ruminants to find out what they talk about when we are not around.
They always look like they’re silently plotting when they’re not young and gambolling. I’m sure there’s more to a sheep than a chop. Just send me a cheque for $250,000 – that should cover it – and I will undertake the research post-haste.
As Messrs Trump and Kim continue to indulge in mine-is-so-much-bigger-than-yours playground politics and the world teeters, as the trashier tabloids are wont to print, it’s nice to know that in many quarters, the world titters.
Because, folks, laughter truly is the best medicine.
Trivial footnote: Sigmund Freud, the daddy of psychoanalysis, suffered from pteridophobia, a morbid fear of ferns.
Bernie Leo is a former Editor of the Shanghai Daily where his light-hearted weekly columns had a big following.