502: The Man Who Tried to Clone Himself by Marc Abrahams

by Gerard


502: Abrahams, Marc. The Man Who Tried to Clone Himself—And Other True Stories of the World’s Most Bizarre Research and the Ig Nobel Prizes. New York: Plume, 2006. 250 pp. ISBN 0-452-28772-3.

Dewey Breakdown:

  • 500: Science
  • 502: Miscellany (General science)

Every year (and every day, sometimes), landmark research is published and the results amaze, shock, or comfort the world. Cures and vaccines and psychological insights are gleaned from meticulous scientific research. But not all science is groundbreaking and world-changing; sometimes it’s just one person or a small group looking into the unlit areas of the world. They prod and examine the natural world for even the most esoteric knowledge, hoping that one day, it will be understand in a much larger context. And even for these off-the-beaten-path researchers, there are yearly awards—the Ig Nobels. Marc Abrahams The Man Who Tried to Clone Himself is a collection of the most delightful, most disconcerting, and most distinguished winners from the last 22 years.

The Ig Nobels are meant to award research and events that first “make you laugh, and then make you think.” Not all science is serious nor is it immediately useful, but it’s still science. Every year, the Ig Nobels, awarded by the Annals of Improbable Research, gather together the awardees at a small auditorium where paper airplanes fly and a sweet little girl annoys recipients to get them off the stage if they stay longer than a minute. The books details the stories behind the awards and anecdotes from the researcher’s trip to the ceremony. From this collection, here are some of my favorites:

  • Physics (2001): David Schmidt, for his partial solution on why shower curtains billow inward
  • Interdisciplinary Research (2003): Stefano Ghirlanda, Liseolette Jansson, and Magnus Enquist, for a study on chickens’ preference for beautiful humans
  • Biology (1997): T. Yagyu et al., for a study measuring brain waves while chewing different flavor of gum
  • Medicine (1992): F. Kanda et al., for a study into the components of the chemicals that cause foot malodor

Each study looks at the natural world from a perspective previously un-investigated and gives a small piece of the puzzle. While there are many who would argue that this research is frivolous and expensive, most undirected research usually is. And many of the world’s great discoveries were found when no one was looking for them. This was a great book for a quick read into some of the fringe science being done in the world, and some of it is a bit satirical: for example, the Ig Nobel in Peace is usually given to a group who do their best to foment unrest or ignore civil problems. All in all, though, a pretty interesting book.