Where Who knew? meets Who cares?


Just when it appeared safe to start following the news again, yet another political debate has hit the media. Likely you’ve heard of it.

Bo Thide of the Swedish Institute of Space Physics has apparently claimed he can encode data in twisted light. According to a BBC News report by Jason Palmer, Bob Nevels of Texas A&M University says he can’t.

“This would be worth a Nobel prize, if they’re right,” Nevels told Palmer. “Why isn’t everyone jumping up and down? Because we know it won’t work.”

Thide responded: “The typical wireless engineer, even if a professor, doesn’t know anything about angular momentum.”

The pair, along with a handful of other scientists, hashed out their “Can not!/Can so!” argument in the pages of New Journal of Physics in what reporters often refer to as a spat, set-to or playground brawl.

The upshot is, if Thide is correct, telephone and internet providers could have access to vast amounts of new room to send data via the “twist” in light waves. I hope Chubby Checker is featured in the advertisements.

Of course, if Thide isn’t correct, I, as a highly semi-trained journalist get to make fun of scientists, something I enjoy anyway.

Oh, sure I know science has provided many of the wonderful modern technologies that we enjoy everyday, like atomic weapons, chemical weapons, biological weapons and automobiles, the second leading non-disease related cause of death worldwide.

On the other hand, science has produced some pretty bad ideas as well, and it doesn’t take long to think of a few. Fortunately, we don’t have to think of them because each year the Center for Improbable Research awards the IgNobel awards to scientists who have gone below and beyond in their quest for more grant funding.

This year’s IgNobels were given in 11 categories. (Disclaimer: All of the following is true. No kidding. I don’t get bonuses for being creative, and I’m too lazy to try to make this stuff up.)

The Psychology Prize was awarded to Anita Eerland and Rolf Zwaan, both from The Netherlands, and Tulio Guadalupe of Peru for the study “Leaning to the Left Makes the Eiffel Tower Seem Smaller: Posture-Modulated Estimation.”

Apparently the three discovered that the famous tower in Paris looks smaller when you lean to the left.. At first I thought this was pretty stupid, I have to admit. Then I realized that if this works with other tall things, we could see a trend of basketball coaches shaving down the left soles of their player’s shoes to gain a psychological advantage in tough games.

The Acoustics Prize was awarded to Kazutaka Kurihara and Koji Tsukada of Japan for creating a machine called the SpeachJammer. Apparently the thing disrupts a person’s speech “by making them hear their own spoken words at a very slight delay.” Perfect for anyone who never had kids.

Children do exactly the same thing, only accompanied by life like smells and amazing shin-kicking action. In fact, not only do kids disrupt a person’s speech, they can disrupt all rational thought for extended periods of time. On the other hand, this could be a great tool for preventing teen pregnancy.

The Anatomy Prize was awarded to Frans de Waal of the Netherlands and Jennifer Pokorny of the United States for their foray into chimpanzee pornography in a study titled, “Faces and Behinds: Chimpanzee Sex Perception.”

Apparently, de Waal and Pokorny discovered that chimps can identify other chimps by looking at pictures of their butts.

Maybe there is a good use for this study. Likely as fire starter. Oh, yeah, and possibly to apply for more grant funding from whichever federal agency regulates chimpanzee posteriors.

Joseph Keller, Raymond Goldstein and Patrick Warren were awarded the IgNobel Prize in Physics for their study, “Shape of a Ponytail and the Statistical Physics of Hair Fiber Bundles.” Go Big Bopper.

Keller also received an IgNobel in physics for his work in the 1999 study “Pouring Flows,” which studied how to make a teapot spout that does not drip.

Rouslan Krechetnikov and Hans Mayer were awarded the Fluid Dynamics Prize for their study, “Walking with Coffee: Why does it Spill?”

Not sure about this, but I think its because you are walking? Of course, I won’t be getting a grant to continue smoking po.., er, conducting research at the University of California, Santa Barabara (where Krechetnikov works).

Last, but not least by any means, the U.S. Government of General Accountability Office was awarded the IgNobel in Literature.

Apparently the UGGAO issued a report titled “Actions Needed to Evaluate the Impact of Efforts to Estimate Costs of Reports and Studies.” So this is a report about reports that are also about reports, and recommends preparing a report about the report about reports about reports. Genius.

I hope Robert Pattinson gets to play the lead in the movie version.


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