|*SCIENCE FLASH* Ostrich perverts.
||[May. 3rd, 2004|12:12 am]
It is highly unlikely that you have ever wondered whether it’s better to be standing or lying down when hit by a coconut, sat lost in thought pondering the eternal question of whether most adolescents pick their noses, or even been kept awake at night trying to figure out why toilet seats are more likely to collapse in Glasgow than anywhere else.
But, believe it or not, someone did. And not only did the wonder about such bizarre queries, they actually spent time and money trying to find answers - all in the name of science. Even more improbably, this type of research even gets its own reward, or perhaps just desserts is more apt.
The IgNobel Prizes were set up specifically to recognise and reward the weird and downright peculiar research conducted around the world by scientists, who are looking to answer eternal questions such as what happens if you feed Prozac to clams, how long you should dunk a biscuit in tea before it gets too soggy, and can pigeons differentiate between Picasso and Monet?
For instance, scientists in India actually proved that most teenagers pick their noses, British researchers discovered that 3.5 seconds is the correct length of biscuit dunking time. Mexican academics bred a chilli that didn’t burn your mouth off, while in Australia the world’s first comprehensive survey into belly-button fluff found that 96 per cent of people who get fluff have an inny rather than outty.
And they were all perfectly serious when they did it.
British scientists have gone on to win Igs for physics (showing that toast is more likely to fall buttered side down), medicine ("a man who pricked his finger and smelled putrid for 5 years") and public health (those collapsing toilets in Glasgow). For that particular award a lot of excitement was generated when researcher Gordon McNaughton went on stage to collect his prize wearing his kilt. Scientific speculation amongst the women in the audience as to what he was wearing under it could be an Ig winner of the future.
Last year, the biology IgNobel Prize went to Dr Charles Paxton, a post-doctoral research fellow at the University of St Andrews, for "Courtship Behaviour of Ostriches (Struthio camelus) Towards Humans Under Farming Conditions in Britain".
"We were conducting a very serious piece of research," says Dr Paxton. "At the time the ostrich farming business was booming, but farmers were finding that although their ostriches were doing their courtship routines, they were not reproducing as quickly as they would have liked. One of my colleagues on the paper wondered whether the ostriches were ‘inappropriately directing’ their courtship towards the farmers and not to other ostriches.
"Although the results of the study were fairly inconclusive, it did look like the ostriches that had been reared by hand were courting the farmers instead of their own kind. Since then, the ostrich farm bubble has burst, but whether this was due to ostriches fancying humans I couldn’t say."