September 29, 2016
Living Like A Goat Or Rats In Pants? Who Won An Ig Nobel?
By Mark Pratt
Boston (AP) - A Swede who wrote a trilogy about collecting bugs, an Egyptian doctor who put pants on rats to study their sex lives and a British researcher who lived like an animal have been named winners of the Ig Nobels, the annual spoof prizes for quirky scientific achievement.
The winners were honored - or maybe dishonored - Thursday in a zany ceremony at Harvard University.
The 26th annual event featured a paper airplane air raid and a tic-tac-toe contest with a brain surgeon, a rocket scientist and four real Nobel laureates.
Winners receive $10 trillion cash prizes - in virtually worthless Zimbabwean money.
This year’s Ig Nobels, sponsored by the science humor magazine Annals of Improbable Research , included research by Fredrik Sjoberg, who published three volumes about collecting hoverflies on the sparsely populated Swedish island where he lives.
It sounds downright dull, but Sjoberg’s books are a hit in his homeland, and the first volume’s English translation, ``The Fly Trap,’’ has earned rave reviews.
Charles Foster at work on his Ig Nobel
``I had written books for 15 years (read by no one) when I finally understood it’s a good thing to write about something you really know, no matter what that might be,’’ Sjoberg said in an email, describing the award as the pinnacle of his career.
``The Ig Nobel Prize beats everything,’’ he said. ``At last I hope to become a rock star. Leather pants, dark sunglasses, groupies. All that.’’
Ahmed Shafik decided rats needed pants.
He dressed his rodents in polyester, cotton, wool and polyester-cotton blend pants to determine the different textiles’ effects on sex drive. The professor at Cairo University in Egypt, who died in 2007, found that rats that wore polyester or polyester blend pants displayed less sexual activity, perhaps because of the electrostatic charges created by polyester. He suggested that the results could be applied to humans.
The study did not explain how he measured a rat’s waist and inseam.
Charles Foster, a fellow at the University of Oxford in the United Kingdom, won for literally living like an animal. He spent months mimicking a badger, an otter, a fox, a deer and a bird in an attempt to see the world through their eyes, then wrote a book, ``Being a Beast,’’ about his experiences.
He lived as a badger in a hole in a Welsh hillside; rummaged like a fox through trash cans in London’s East End looking for scraps of chicken tikka masala and pepperoni pizza; and was tracked by bloodhounds through the Scottish countryside to learn what it’s like to be a deer.
It wasn’t much fun.
``I was hunted down quite quickly,’’ he said.
Andreas Sprenger was part of a team at the University of Luebeck in Germany that found that if you have an itch on one arm, you can relieve it by looking in a mirror and scratching the opposite arm. Sound silly? But imagine, Sprenger said via email, if you have a skin condition with an intolerable itch, you can scratch the other arm to relieve it without rubbing the affected arm raw.
Gordon Logan, a professor of psychology at Vanderbilt University, and colleagues from Canada and Europe won for their research on lying. Their study of more than 1,000 people who are ages 6 to 77 - ``From junior to senior Pinocchio: A cross-sectional lifespan investigation of deception’’ - found that young adults are the best liars.
How do the scientists know their subjects weren’t lying to them?
Rare Wrought Iron Sailing Ship Returns To NYC Seaport Museum
By Ula Ilnytzky
New York (AP) - After a yearlong renovation, an iron-hulled sailing ship built in 1885 is returning to New York City’s seaport district as the centerpiece of a museum that is making a comeback after having the wind knocked out of its sails after Superstorm Sandy.
The Wavertree, one of the last large sailing ships made of wrought-iron and the largest still afloat, is scheduled to be moved Saturday to a South Street Seaport Museum berth at the southern tip of Manhattan.
Its return marks a major step in the recovery of the museum, a 49-year-old institution that interprets New York City’s maritime history through exhibitions and a fleet of historic ships. The museum is set in an 11-block historic district of former mercantile buildings.
The museum was already on shaky financial ground when tourism in the seaport was hit by three consecutive blows: the 9/11 attacks, the 2008 Recession and major flooding when Sandy hit in 2012.
``Sandy was just a devastating body blow just as we were already beginning to recover from the other two. So that we’re even alive is really miraculous,’’ said the museum’s executive director, Jonathan Boulware, a lifelong sailor and historic ship expert.
The museum’s struggles parallel the seaport district’s attempts to revive itself after the hurricane. While its brick and cobblestone bones survived the flooding, the district largely became a flooded-out shell. A shopping mall that drew tourist traffic, situated on a pier below the Brooklyn Bridge, was demolished.
The Wavertree, prior to Superstorm Sandy damage
Now the area, too, is getting back on track.
A new 300,000-square-foot retail center is under construction to replace the torn-down mall on Pier 17. A multiplex theater is set to open. Other projects include conversion of the historic Tin Building into a fish hall. Outdoor cafes have opened and a pair of acclaimed chefs, Jean-Georges Vongerichten and David Chang, have plans to open restaurants.
The Wavertree’s return comes just weeks after the other flagship in the Seaport Museum’s fleet, a huge 1911 four-mast sailing ship called the Peking, departed Manhattan for good. The museum couldn’t afford to keep the ship and it is being given to an organization in Hamburg, Germany, where it was manufactured, Boulware said.
Even before Sandy, the museum had an operating deficit. At the city’s request, the Museum of the City of New York, with a $2 million grant from the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation, took over management from 2011 to 2013. Boulware took the helm in 2015 after previously serving as its interim president.
While the seaport museum’s fleet of ships and collections were largely undamaged in Sandy’s flooding, the salt water damaged the museum buildings’ electrical, heating, cooling and fire safety systems. State and federal grant money helped rebuild the infrastructure.
Since the storm, the museum has increased membership and attendance, rebuilt its education and public programming and reactivated an 1893 schooner as a sailing school vessel. In March, it opened its first exhibition since Sandy that examines the seaport’s role in securing New York’s place as America’s largest city and its rise to become the world’s busiest port by the early 20th century.
Boulware estimates it will take five to seven years before the museum is ``where I want us to be in terms of attendance, programmatic diversity and institutional stability.’’
Amid the changes, the Wavertree will stand as the type of merchant ship that would have dominated the seaport in the 19th century. It plied the seas for 25 years carrying cargo to ports all over the world.
In 1910, a Cape Horn gale tore off its masts and the windjammer was sold and used as a floating warehouse in Chile and decades later as a sand barge in Argentina. The museum acquired it in 1968.
Over the last 16 months, the 325-foot ship got a mast-to-hull, city-funded restoration that included a steel deck to keep water out of the vessel.
Now that it’s shipshape, visitors will be able to go aboard ``and actually work the gear of the ship,’’ said Boulware.
Steve White, the president of Mystic Seaport museum in Mystic, Connecticut, said it is important ``to protect and preserve these vessels that are as iconic to American history as a Monet would be to the period of impressionism.’’
``These are our Monets, our Mona Lisas,’’ he said. ``They’re very big and much more difficult to conserve but in our minds just as important.’’