Back in my graduate school days, science humor and parody were spread through academia in a manner akin to samizdat — someone in a lab you knew would pass along a fifth generation Xerox copy of Cool, a parody of a table of contents of Cell, and you’d realize you were part of a community, and that community had the presence of mind to laugh at its own foibles.

The Journal of Irreproducible Results was a delightful discovery, as was The Annals of Improbable Research (AIR). To be honest, it wasn’t until the writing of this post that I realized these were two separate publications, with an apparent history of controversy between them.

Over time, as the research community grew, and as digital communication created new opportunities for us to connect, these parodies have gone more mainstream, and are a YouTube staple for graduate students driven a bit mad by the demands of the early research career. Over the years though, the IgNobel Prizes, an annual celebration of, “achievements that first make people laugh, and then make them think,” has endured.

While both publications above claim to have originated the prize, the AIR has brought it to greater attention through an annual awards ceremony, complete with its own traditions.  The 25th such ceremony took place earlier this month and is captured on video below.

Perhaps the greatest tradition from the IgNobels is the role of “Miss Sweetie Poo”, where each year an eight year old girl sits on the stage for the winners’ speeches:

Whenever Miss Sweetie Poo feels that a speaker has talked long enough, she goes up to that person and says, “Please stop. I’m bored. Please stop. I’m bored. Please stop. I’m bored. Please stop. I’m bored.” She continues doing this until the speaker stops speaking. Thanks to Miss Sweetie Poo, the ceremony always proceeds briskly.

If this process could be implemented at more meetings, both publishing and scientific, I think all of our lives would be greatly improved.

David Crotty

David Crotty

David Crotty is the Editorial Director, Journals Policy for Oxford University Press. He serves on the Board of Directors for the STM Association, the Society for Scholarly Publishing and CHOR, Inc. David received his PhD in Genetics from Columbia University and did developmental neuroscience research at Caltech before moving from the bench to publishing.

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