Doing my daily blog scan, I ran into a fairly odd post at a consistently odd site, but in this case the oddity was compounded.
This post at Improbable Research (blog of the Annals of Improbable Research, the folks who bring you the recently-awarded Ig Nobel prizes for “research that makes you laugh…then think”) includes the text of a letter to The Guardian.
Here’s a bit of the letter, but you need to click the link above for the full outraged flavor (or flavour, in this case):
Iâ€™m thinking that to make fun of these efforts is to belittle them unfairly. This is hurtful and insulting to the researchers; and might possibly do actual harm by inhibiting future grants. Not funny. Not funny at all. The IG really seems to stand for the IG Norant morons who are â€œawardingâ€™ these prizes without thinking their consequences through.
The writer–Mark State–says the Ig Nobel awards “spoof” research and that the group hides the “actual information” about the research papers (and researchers) it honors. Given that the awards PR accurately states the nature of each paper or research effort and provides bibliographic information and links when available, that’s pushing the truth.
The reality is a little different than this outraged letter suggests. Most Ig Nobel award winners attend the ceremony. That would suggest to most reasonable people (I believe) that they understand that the Ig Nobels are joshing, not attacks–and that, in fact, Ig Nobels help to humanize what can be pretty arcane fields by making a little friendly fun. I’d be astonished to hear of a case where a researcher couldn’t get a grant because and earlier paper had won an Ig Nobel; I would not be surprised at all to see Ig Nobel recipients include the honor in their vitas. (I’d be surprised if they didn’t!)
I mean, would you go to an awards ceremony if you felt the award was actually an attack that could do you harm?
I was going to point back to a post I’d written about an Ig Nobel-award winning paper by a librarian–and then realized that it wasn’t a post; it’s a brief section of Trends & Quick Takes in the next issue of Cites & Insights (not out yet, and the essays aren’t edited; some time in the next two weeks, for sure).
Here’s what I wrote:
The Trouble with The
Once in a while, something jumps the queueâ€”such as a librarian winning the Ig Nobel prize for Literature. That happened this year, and Glenda Browne (of Blaxland, Blue Mountains, Australia) managed to attend the ceremonies. The award was for â€œThe definite article: acknowledging â€˜Theâ€™ in index entries,â€ which appeared in The Indexer 22:3 (April 2001â€”the Ig Nobel people need time to recognize worth).
Itâ€™s a four-page articleâ€”well, actually just over three, plus references. Itâ€™s also a legitimate articleâ€”Browne explicates some of the bedevilment caused by The as an initial word. In â€œindexingâ€ Cites & Insights, I drop â€œTheâ€ in every caseâ€”and that sometimes yields slightly odd results. (I used to invert them, but thatâ€™s even stranger.) Butâ€¦
Where does The Hague belong? (One answer: Use the proper name of the city, Den Haagâ€”but I jest, of course.) It belongs in the Tâ€™s. And if youâ€™re indexing first lines of poems, all those lines starting with â€œTheâ€ also go in the Tsâ€”but not corporate names. Or do they? The Los Angeles Symphony goes in the Ls, not the Asâ€¦see The Hague. Isnâ€™t this fun?
Browneâ€™s discussion of â€œThe nature of â€˜Theâ€™â€ is excellent and might itself justify the Ig Nobelâ€”you might laugh, but youâ€™ll also think. Browne suggests double-indexing as a solution and offers reasons for doing soâ€”and also reasons for ignoring the The.
Of course, if you use most any PC-based system that sorts (for example, music organizers), thereâ€™s a pretty good chance youâ€™ll find The Beatles and all those other groups down in the Tâ€™sâ€”but some systems are clever. Sometimes.
I love the last sentence: â€œSimilar arguments apply to â€˜Aâ€™ and â€˜Anâ€™ but these are beyond the scope of this article.â€ Indeed.
Of course it’s a serious paper, albeit done with some recognition that it’s a tough topic to keep an entirely straight face about.Had it not been for the Ig Nobel awards, I wouldn’t have heard about the paper. Oh, and by the way, Glenda Browne attended the awards. Somehow, I don’t believe she feels she’s been damaged or belittled.
Sidebar: The IR post can’t be sure which Mark State wrote this letter, but suggests the possibility that he’s a 2006 candidate for the Toronto Mayoralty–State signs himself as a Toronto resident. State must have run an interesting race: He seems to have come in last in a field of 30+ candidates, with 194 votes out of 584,484 cast. I guess that would leave me feeling a little peevish too…