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A novel weapon under investigation by the US Air Force has won this year's Ig Nobel peace prize. The Ig Nobel awards, given for science that “first makes you laugh, then makes you think,” were given to recipients from five continents by six winners of the actual Nobel prize last week at Harvard University.
The unusual weapon, confirmed by Pentagon sources, is a “gay bomb” (http://blog.washingtonpost.com/offbeat, 12 Jun, “Sunshine project uncovers US military ‘gay bomb'”). The project, which officials say has now been scrapped, was to come up with a device to release unspecified hormones that could be absorbed through the skin or lungs, thereby incapacitating soldiers who—according to the plan—would be too busy swooning over each other in homosexual ecstasy to waste any time dashing about planting roadside bombs.
The Pentagon did not respond to inquiries from the BMJ about possible future plans for its “make love not war” initiative.
Brian Witcombe, a consultant radiologist from Gloucester, won this year's Ig Nobel medicine prize for his article in the BMJ, “Sword swallowing and its side effects” (BMJ 2006;333:1285-7, doi: 10.1136/bmj.39027.676690.55). Dr Witcombe said: “I was interested in swallowing disorders.”
He accepted the prize jointly with his coauthor, Dan Meyer, a sword swallower from Antioch, Tennessee, who swallowed a 60 cm sword before an awestruck audience at the ceremony. Dr Witcombe said he was surprised that sword swallowers use real, not trick, swords. “They practise their craft up to a dozen times a day,” he said. “They start with knitting needles and coat hangers.”
The biology prize went to Johanna van Bronswijk, of the Eindhoven University of Technology, the Netherlands, for doing a census of “all the mites, insects, spiders, pseudoscorpions, crustaceans, bacteria, algae, ferns, and fungi with whom we share our beds each night.” Professor Bronswijk revealed to the audience that her interest in bed bugs began some 30 years ago when she was a student and first discovered that “you never sleep alone.”
The erectile dysfunction drug sildenafil (Viagra) made its first showing at this year's Ig Nobel ceremony. Patricia Agostino and her colleagues at the Department of Science and Technology at the Universidad Nacional de Quilmes, Argentina, found that sildenafil can alleviate symptoms related to jet lag—in hamsters. Dr Agostino's colleague, Diego Golombek, accepted the award. In an interview with the BMJ he responded to concerns that the erectile side effects of the drug might lead pilots to reach for the wrong joy stick. Dr Golombek said that although his team had yet to conduct clinical trials in humans, he believed that sildenafil might enhance safety in the air, not detract from it, as the drug “speeds up production of cyclic GMP [guanosine monophosphate], allowing faster re-entrainment of circadian rhythms,” so pilots would not be jet lagged.