Humor Medicine Science

The IgNobels winners have been announced

Ah, yes, it’s that time of year again. The winners of the 2007 IgNobel Prize have been announced. There have been several “worthy” winners, for example:

Mayu Yamamoto from Japan won the Ig Nobel prize in chemistry for her development of a novel way to extract vanillin, the main component in vanilla bean extract, from cow dung. In tribute to Yamamoto’s achievement, Toscanni’s imitated her achievement and distributed samples of the resulting ice cream to Nobel laureates seated on the stage. Loud chants of “Eat it! Eat it!” from the audience finally persuaded the skeptical Nobel laureates to try a taste of their samples.

But I think the competition came down to these two:

The Wright Lab of the U.S. Air Force received the peace prize for their “make love not war” research and development of a “Gay bomb” designed to make enemy soldiers sexually irresistible to each other.


The prize in medicine was awarded to Brian Witcombe from the United Kingdom and Dan Meyer from the United States for their study on the “Side Effects of Sword Swallowing,” described by Witcombe as the meeting of a researcher on swallowing disorders and the world’s greatest sword swallower. Meyer gave a nerve-wracking live demonstration of his infamous sword-swallowing abilities following their acceptance speech.

Personally, I lean towards the latter, just because I’m medically inclined. Here’s the winning abstract:

Sword swallowing and its side effects

Brian Witcombe, consultant radiologist1, Dan Meyer, executive director2

1 Department of Radiology, Gloucestershire Royal NHS Foundation Trust, Gloucester GL1 3NN, 2 Sword Swallowers’ Association International, 3729 Belle Oaks Drive, Antioch, Tennessee 37013, USA

Objective To evaluate information on the practice and associated ill effects of sword swallowing.

Design Letters sent to sword swallowers requesting information on technique and complications.

Setting Membership lists of the Sword Swallowers’ Association International.

Participants 110 sword swallowers from 16 countries.

Results We had information from 46 sword swallowers. Major complications are more likely when the swallower is distracted or swallows multiple or unusual swords or when previous injury is present. Perforations mainly involve the oesophagus and usually have a good prognosis. Sore throats are common, particularly while the skill is being learnt or when performances are too frequent. Major gastrointestinal bleeding sometimes occurs, and occasional chest pains tend to be treated without medical advice. Sword swallowers without healthcare coverage expose themselves to financial as well as physical risk.

Conclusions Sword swallowers run a higher risk of injury when they are distracted or adding embellishments to their performance, but injured performers have a better prognosis than patients who suffer iatrogenic perforation.

Truly worthy research. Actually, I’ve always rather wondered about that. ‘Fess up. I bet you probably did too.

Now we’ll see who wins the Nobel Prize in Physiology and Medicine next week.

By Orac

Orac is the nom de blog of a humble surgeon/scientist who has an ego just big enough to delude himself that someone, somewhere might actually give a rodent's posterior about his copious verbal meanderings, but just barely small enough to admit to himself that few probably will. That surgeon is otherwise known as David Gorski.

That this particular surgeon has chosen his nom de blog based on a rather cranky and arrogant computer shaped like a clear box of blinking lights that he originally encountered when he became a fan of a 35 year old British SF television show whose special effects were renowned for their BBC/Doctor Who-style low budget look, but whose stories nonetheless resulted in some of the best, most innovative science fiction ever televised, should tell you nearly all that you need to know about Orac. (That, and the length of the preceding sentence.)

DISCLAIMER:: The various written meanderings here are the opinions of Orac and Orac alone, written on his own time. They should never be construed as representing the opinions of any other person or entity, especially Orac's cancer center, department of surgery, medical school, or university. Also note that Orac is nonpartisan; he is more than willing to criticize the statements of anyone, regardless of of political leanings, if that anyone advocates pseudoscience or quackery. Finally, medical commentary is not to be construed in any way as medical advice.

To contact Orac: [email protected]

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