From eating dead shrews to the arrest of one-armed men, Ig Nobel pursuits win plaudits - Today's news, tomorrow's lesson - 13 September

One of Zen Buddhism’s most famous sayings seeks to solve the mystery of what it means to hear one hand clapping. And it appears that the president of the Eastern European nation of Belarus has finally come up with an answer: it’s illegal.


From eating dead shrews to the arrest of one-armed men, Ig Nobel pursuits win plaudits

Today's news, tomorrow's lesson - 13 September


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One of Zen Buddhism’s most famous sayings seeks to solve the mystery of what it means to hear one hand clapping. And it appears that the president of the Eastern European nation of Belarus has finally come up with an answer: it’s illegal.

Alexander Lukashenko, president of the former Soviet republic, which is Europe’s only remaining dictatorship, has outlawed public applause. He has been rewarded for his efforts with the Ig Nobel Peace Prize, shared with the country’s state police, which arrested a one-armed man for flouting the ban.

The Ig Nobel Prizes are a parody of the Nobel prizes, which recognise scientific and cultural advances. In contrast, the aim of the Ig Nobel Prizes is, in the words of the organisers, to “honour achievements that first make people laugh, and then make them think”.

Both the prizes and the annual ceremonies at which the winners are revealed manage to combine the lofty with the absurd. Each ceremony traditionally takes place at Harvard University in the US and pays homage to genuine scientific research and achievements. However, speakers need to get to their point before Miss Sweetie Poo, a young girl, ushers them off the stage by repeatedly shouting “Please stop: I’m bored”.

In addition to the Belarusian president and police force, winners of this year’s 23rd set of prizes include Brian Crandall and Peter Stahl, who won the Ig Nobel Prize for Archaeology. Their research involved swallowing a dead shrew that had been briefly parboiled. The pair then examined all excreted matter over the subsequent days to discover whether the human body could digest the bones and, if so, which ones.

Maths was also recognised with the probability prize, given jointly to six scientists for their research into the sitting and standing habits of cows. One of their main discoveries was the revelation that the longer a cow had been sitting down, the more likely it was to stand up.

The safety engineering prize was posthumously bestowed on Gustano Pizzo for his anti-hijacking system for aeroplanes. In a plan that seems more suited to a high-octane action film than the real world, Pizzo’s electro-mechanical system would cause the hijacker to be dropped through a trapdoor, bundled into a package and then parachuted down to the ground for the police to deal with.

The remaining categories honoured outlandish research in medicine, psychology, biology and astronomy, physics, chemistry and public health.

After all 10 awards were given out, Marc Abrahams, editor of the Annals of Improbable Research and founder of the Ig Nobel Prizes, ended the event with his traditional farewell: “If you didn’t win an Ig Nobel prize tonight – and especially if you did – better luck next year.”

But, amid all these celebrations, perhaps we should spare a thought for the president and police force of Belarus, who, in a cruel twist of irony, have presumably been left without a way to legally acknowledge their own achievements.


Questions

1.) What are the Nobel Prizes? Find out five facts about them.
2.) What does "parody" mean? Can you think of any examples of parody?
3.) How many famous awards ceremonies can you think of? What is the point of holding these events?
4.) If you were going to hold your own awards ceremony, what qualities or achievements would you reward?


Related resources


Who are the real heroes?

  • A whole school assembly investigating what constitutes a heroic act.

What are we celebrating?

  • Topic planning around celebrations that can easily be adapted for other ages/abilities.

Success and failure

  • A great introduction to the topic, including the relevant worksheets and a real example for the pupils to dissect and to contextualise the issue.

Research methods handbook

  • Get your students to start their own Ig Nobel-worthy research with this handy guide.


Further news resources


First News front page

  • Help your pupils understand the features of the front page of a newspaper.

Write all about it

  • Get students creating their own news report with this step-by-step guide.

What is the News?

  • A sociological and media perspective on what makes an event 'newsworthy'.

On the box

  • Help pupils to write their own TV news broadcast with this handy PowerPoint.

Structuring stories

  • A scheme of work to help students structure news stories.

In the news this week


A new report has crowned Denmark as the “happiest” nation in the world.

After a cold summer, Arctic sea ice levels are 60 per cent higher than they were at this time last year, according to a United Nations report.

A team of scientists has discovered the world’s largest volcano 2km beneath the Pacific Ocean.

Graphic images of diseased lungs and heart surgery on cigarette packets have little impact on teenagers who have already taken up smoking, a new study has found.



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