Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Highlights(?) in the World of Science

Senator William Proxmire, was noted for bestowing the Golden Fleece Award (1975–1988) to “those public officials in the United States who, the judges feel, waste public money.” Proxmire issued the award monthly until 1988, when he retired from the Senate. In total, he issued 168 Golden Fleece Awards. The following is a partial listing:
  • A National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) funded project by psychologist Harris Rubin for $121,000, on developing "some objective evidence concerning marijuana's effect on sexual arousal by exposing groups of male pot-smokers to pornographic films and measuring their responses by means of sensors attached to their penises.
  • The NSF for spending $103,000 to compare aggressiveness in sun fish that drink tequila as opposed to gin.
  • The National Institute for Mental Health for spending $97,000 to study, among other things, what went on in a Peruvian brothel; the researchers said they made repeated visits in the interests of accuracy.
  • The United States Department of the Army for a 1981 study on how to buy Worcestershire sauce.
  • The United States Department of Defense for a $3,000 study to determine if people in the military should carry umbrellas in the rain.
  • The United States Department of Justice for conducting a study on why prisoners want to escape.
  • Ronald Reagan's 1985 inaugural committee, for spending $15.5 million of taxpayer money on the Second inauguration of Ronald Reagan.

There is little doubt that many, but not all, of these “awards” were justified. The full list is available at:

Although Senator Proxmire has been gone from the Senate since 1989, the idea behind his awards lives on, although it has been given a new twist. Since 1991 Ig Nobel awards have gone to scientists toiling away on “Research that makes people laugh and then think.” They are presented by actual Nobel laureates.
The awards are sometimes veiled criticism (or gentle satire), but are also used to point out that even the most absurd-sounding avenues of research can yield useful knowledge. A few examples follow:
  • Why don’t woodpeckers get headaches?
  • Biochemically, romantic love may be indistinguishable from obsessive-compulsive disorder.
  • Cows that have names give more milk than cows that are nameless.
  • Training pigeons to discriminate between the paintings of Picasso and those of Monet.
The full list can be found at:

Science can be fun.

The Stinker - The Ig Nobel Mascot


My books, “There Are Only Seven Jokes” and “The Spirit Runs Through It” are available in paperback or Kindle at Amazon.


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