mini-AIR Oct 97 -- Being Sued; Ig Telecast; Sing, Sing,

Rohit Khare (
Tue, 14 Oct 1997 09:24:45 -0700

The mini-Annals of Improbable Research ("mini-AIR")
Issue Number 1997-09
September, 1997
ISSN 1076-500X
Key words: improbable research, science humor, Ig Nobel, AIR, the
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A free newsletter of tidbits too tiny to fit in
The Annals of Improbable Research (AIR),
the journal of inflated research and personalities

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1997-09-01 Table of Contents
1997-09-02 mini-Housekeeping Notes
1997-09-03 What's New in AIR
1997-09-04 Philosophical Correctness Survey: Power
1997-09-05 Wilde Improbability
1997-09-06 Teachers' Guide
1997-09-07 The Persistence of Reality
1997-09-08 The 1997 Heisenberg Certainty Lecturers
1997-09-09 Ig Live Telecast (and a highlight reel!)
1997-09-10 Ig Informal Lectures (on the day AFTER the ceremony)
1997-09-11 Accentuate the Negative, De-glorify the Positive
1997-09-12 Lava Enthusiast
1997-09-13 Someone Doesn't Like Us
1997-09-14 Sing, Sing, Sing of Singmaster
1997-09-15 Tootsies on Display
1997-09-16 Announcing: The AIR book!
1997-09-17 AIRhead Project 2000
1997-09-18 May We Recommend
1997-09-19 AIRhead Events
1997-09-20 How to Subscribe to AIR (*)
1997-09-21 How to Receive mini-AIR, etc. (*)
1997-09-22 Our Address (*)
1997-09-23 Please Forward/Post This Issue! (*)

Items marked (*) are reprinted in every issue.

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1997-09-02 mini-Housekeeping notes

1. LAWSUIT: We are being sued (how fashionable!). For details, see
section 1997-09-13 below).
2. IG TIX: Tickets for this year's Ig Nobel Prize Ceremony (to be
held October 9) are going fast, but there are still some available
from the Sanders Theatre Box Office: 617-496-2222.
3. IG TV: If you plan to watch the Ig ceremony live on the
Internet telecast, see section 1997-09-09 below!!!!!!

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1997-09-03 What's New in AIR

Here are some alluring abstracts from volume 3, number 5 (the
Sept/Oct 97 issue) of the Annals of Improbable Research (AIR).
3:5 is the special How-To Issue.

Features in the issue include:

"How to Resurrect Houseflies," by Cathy Allen. The author presents
concise, easy-to-follow instructions.

"How to Stiff a Taxi Driver (Part 1)" by Kurt Vial. The author
describes the techniques needed for successful taxidermy. General
readers, especially those in New York City, may also find it of

"How to Write a Ph.D. Thesis," by Eric Schulman. The author
presents a complete guide not only to how to write a thesis, but
also to what steps can and should be skipped.

"Why There are No Men Available," by David Schlinkert. The author,
who is not available, gives his analysis of why women who seek men
can and should despair.

"A Space Child's Mother Goose," by Fredrick Winsor and Marian
Parry. The wonderful book of this name is long out of print. By
spacial arrangement with the artist, we are reprinting an
occasional series of illustrated poems from the book. It is our
hope that some sensible publisher will realize that 21st century
space children, too, will crave these book!

And much, much more...
Full text and illustrations of these and many other articles and
citations (including the full citation for "Response of Dairy
Cattle to Transient Voltages and Magnetic Fields") appear in the
Sept/Oct issue of AIR.

[mini-AIR, which you are reading at this moment, is a tiny
*supplement* to what's in the print publication. As always, we
urge you to subscribe to the real thing -- and to submit your own
research and images for publication.]

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1997-09-04 Philosophical Correctness Survey: Power

In our continual effort to settle the world's great mysteries by
fiat, this month we present a philosophical survey. Please answer
to these three questions, and send the answers to
<>. Please try to limit your answers to an
aggregate maximum of 100 words.

1. Can God create a rock so heavy that He cannot lift it?

2. Can Superman pull his own head off?

3. Are these two questions equivalent?

(For historical reference, we note that this survey was inspired
by the work of philosophers Ariane Eigen and Sam Dionne.)

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1997-09-05 Wilde Improbability

Last month we asked if anyone could track down the citation for
Oscar Wilde's epigram:

One should always be a little improbable.

Many thanks to the hundreds of you who did in fact track it down.
(A simple web search was all it took, and we sheepishly admit that
we ought to have done that ourselves in the first place.) It comes
from the work "Phrases and Philosophies for the Use of the Young",
which was originally published in the Oxford student publication,
"The Chameleon," December 1894. Thank you to Robert Coyle of The
Oscar Wilde Project, and to a horde of other Wilde devotees and
search engineers. One good trove of Wilde's works is at

Here is another Wilde nugget to ponder as we build, build, build
our techno-bridges to the 21st century:

"It is a very sad thing that nowadays there is so little useless
information." (Thanks to investigator Lars-Erik Kronberg for
bringing this to our attention.)

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1997-09-06 Teachers' Guide

[This Teachers' Guide appears in every issue of AIR. By popular
request, we also reprint it once or twice a year in mini-AIR.]

Three out of five teachers agree: curiosity is a dangerous thing,
especially in students. If you are one of the other two teachers,
AIR and mini-AIR can be powerful tools. Choose your favorite hAIR-
raising article and give copies to your students. The approach is
simple. The scientist thinks that he (or she, or whatever), of all
people, has discovered something about how the universe behaves.
1. Is this scientist right--and what does "right" mean, anyway?
2. Can you think of even one different explanation that works as
well or better?
3. Did the test really, really, truly, unquestionably, completely
test what the author thought he was testing?
4. Is the scientist ruthlessly honest with himself about how well
his idea explains everything, or could he be suffering from
wishful thinking?
5. Some people might say this is foolish. Should you take their
word for it?
6. Other people might say this is absolutely correct and
important. Should you take their word for it?
* * *
Kids are naturally good scientists. Help them stay that way.

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1997-09-07 The Persistence of Reality

Here are three further data from our Scientific Correctness Survey
on the topic "Does reality exist?"

Investigator M.D. Sofka posed the question to several prominent
philosophers while standing in the wine and cheese line at a
faculty mixer. Sofka reports that he was inundated with more than
just wine and cheese. Sofka spared us some of the details. We will
spare you all of them.

Investigator M. Gibbs informs us that the question "Does reality
exist?" is covered in an economics modeling course at the
University of Chicago.

Investigator D. Kincade reports that "the only existing thing is

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1997-09-08 The 1997 Heisenberg Certainty Lecturers

One aspect of the Ig Nobel Prize Ceremony is a series of five
Heisenberg Certainty Lectures. Each lecturer speaks on a topic of
his or her own choosing. A time limit of 30 (thirty) seconds is
strictly enforced by the Ig Nobel Referee, John Barrett.
This year's Heisenberg Certainty Lecturers include:

Boston University Chancellor John Silber
Harvard Astronomer Melissa Franklin
MIT Biologist/Psychiatrist/Engineer Jerome Lettvin
Harvard Astronomer/Physicist William Press
A Troika of Nobel Laureates

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1997-09-09 Ig Live Telecast (and a highlight reel!)

If you plan to watch the live Internet Telecast of this year's Ig
Nobel Prize Ceremony on Thursday night, Oct. 9, please check out
( or)
at least a day or so BEFORE the Ig! Don't wait till the night of
the event -- you might have to do some minor software twiddling

The telecast will be via CUSeeMe (it might also be available over
the MBONE -- check the web site for detials). The quality will be
somewhere in the range excellent to cheesy, depending on your
communications line and on your computer. ALL NECESSARY TECHNICAL
INFO (or at least as much as we can manage) WILL BE POSTED ON THE

* * * A special three-minute video highlight reel of Ig Nobel
Ceremonies past is now up and running (we think) on our web site.
It was edited by Erin Delaney, and Internetified by Robert T.
Morris and Andrew Pimlott. The music is from Deborah Henson-
Conant's splendid "Danger Zone" from her most recent album (for
further info on Deborah, see Warm thanks and
huzzahs to all of these people. * * *

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1997-09-10 Ig Informal Lectures (on the day AFTER the ceremony)

As mentioned above, this year's Ig Nobel Prize Ceremony will take
place at Harvard's Sanders Theatre on Thursday evening, October 9.

The following day, Friday, October 10, AIR and the Harvard-
Radcliffe Science Fiction Association present a new adjunct event:
The Ig Informal Lectures. These will be a series of 15-minute
humorous lectures by Ig winners and others.

The lectures will be held at the Harvard Science Center lecture
hall C, beginning at 1:15 pm. Admission is free, but seating is
limited and it's first come, first served. This year's scheduled
Ig lecturers include:

1. A 1997 Ig Nobel Prize winner.
2. 1996 Ig Nobel Art Prize winner Don Featherstone, creator of the
plastic pink flamingo.
3. Eric Schulman, Caroline V. Cox, and Emily Schulman: "How to
Write a Scientific Research Report."
4. Karen Hopkin, creator of the Studmuffins of Science Calendar,
who will propose a happy new biochemical nomenclature.
5. Prof. Jerome Lettvin, MIT, who will discuss a curious case of
possible self-impregnation.
6. Jerry Reilly, Executive Director of the Museum of Bad Art.

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1997-09-11 Accentuate the Negative, De-glorify the Positive

The curious incident of the dog in the night-time is familiar to
everyone who follows the exploits of Sherlock Holmes. (The dog did
nothing in the night-time -- that was the curious incident.) In
science, as elsewhere, what does not happen can be as important as
what does happen. Congratulations and huzzas to the founders of a
terrific new journal called "NOGO." NOGO is a sub-acronym for
"Journal of Negative Observations in Genetic Oncology." NOGO's
purpose is to prevent hordes of researchers from stumbling down
the paths that others have already shown to be dead ends. Humble
as this may sound, it is a tremendously valuable thing. Let us
hope that other specialties will establish their own journals of
negative results. NOGO is web-based. You can find it at or
NOGO's founding editor, Scott Kern, can be reached at

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1997-09-12 Lava Enthusiast

Investigator Andy Papp <tritech_research@LAMG.COM> loves lava
lamps. Papp writes:

"I know how a lava lamp works, and why the stuff ends up as 'turds
on the bottom,' and will be happy to share if anyone wants
specific info. I would like to construct the world's largest lava
lamp. if you can help me, I will dedicate it to AIR, and write an
article about it for you."

We wish him the best.

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1997-09-13 Someone Doesn't Like Us

We are being sued. A man named George Scherr has filed a lawsuit
in federal court against our editor, Marc Abrahams, and against
AIR. George wants us to (a) stop publishing AIR and (b) pay him
$4.2 million.

George's lawsuit contains twenty (20) pages of accusations,
including conspiracy, fraud, trademark infringement, and (our
favorite!) racketeering.

George is acting as his own lawyer. Several years ago, George told
Marc that he (George) had taken legal action against most of the
people with whom he had ever had business relationships, including
one of his children.

George is the current publisher of The Journal of Irreproducible
Results, having obtained ownership of that publication in 1994 --
some months after Marc resigned as its editor. George was also
publisher of the Journal from 1964-1989; in 1989 he sold the
Journal to a different publisher, against whom he then took legal

[SOME BACKGROUND for those who are interested: The Journal of
Irreproducible Results was founded in 1955 by Alex Kohn and Harry
Lipkin. In 1964, George got involved, becoming the Journal's
publisher, a relationship that apparently was inharmonious from
the start (please do not ask Marc for details, as he knows them
only second hand from Alex and Harry). Many years later, Alex and
Marc co-founded the Annals of Improbable Research, with Harry as a
founding editorial board member. The entire editorial staff (1955-
94) of the Journal moved to the Annals, as did most of the
editorial board.]

George claims that the name "Annals of Improbable Research" is
deceptively similar to "Journal of Irreproducible Results" and
that it infringes the trademark of the "Journal." He also claims
that Marc conspired to (a) ruin the Journal while he was its
editor and then later (b) pretend that the Annals is really the

George also claims that the idea of having a limerick contest in
the July 1995 (that's nineteen ninety-FIVE) issue of mini-AIR was
copied from a 1996 (that's nineteen ninety-SIX) issue of George's

George had previously claimed that neither Marc nor the Annals was
"ever associated with the Ig Nobel Prize." [See the Jan 8, 1996,
issue of "The Scientist" for George's full letter on this, and the
January 22 and March 4 issues for responses from Marc and from two
Nobel Laureates who participated in various Ig ceremonies.] Those
of you who have attended the many Ig Ceremonies may have memories
of Marc (and friends) creating the Ig ceremony in 1991, and of
Marc serving as emcee every year.

Absurd as this lawsuit is, we have no choice other than to fight
it -- and fighting it WILL be expensive. While George is acting as
his own lawyer, we believe the old saying that anyone who does
that has a fool for a client. Therefore, we have retained an
excellent law firm. The firm has agreed to defend the case at a
reduced rate, but even with the reduction there will likely be
thousands of dollars of legal costs (not on the Bill Clinton/Paula
Jones million dollar level, but possibly enough to destroy earth's
vital supply of AIR).
Therefore, we proudly yet sheepishly announce:

* The Strategic AIR Defense Fund *

The Strategic AIR Defense Fund will be used to help defray these
legal costs. Honorary co-chairs are Nobel Laureates Dudley
Herschbach, William Lipscomb, and Richard Roberts.

If you would like to help us fight this improbable lawsuit (and
receive a nifty certificate of thanks!), please send donations
(whatever you can contribute -- $25, $50, or $100, will help) to
the following address:

Strategic AIR Defense Fund
c/o Robert Dushman
Brown, Rudnick, Freed & Gesmer
One Financial Center
Boston, MA 02111

If you have questions, please get in touch with Marc. (But please
wait till after the Ig -- this week is VERY busy!)

We plan to post George's entire complaint on our web site

The October 2 issue of Nature has a news article about this

As Dave Barry would say: we are not making this up.

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1997-09-14 Sing, Sing, Sing of Singmaster

The controversial views of British mathematician David Singmaster
- -- that one should always use two spaces after a period --
continue to inspire frenzy in the halls of science. We received an
anguished letter in response to Professor Singmaster's statement

"As a mathematician, the problems of typesetting and of typing
mathematical text have made me aware of the problems of legibility
of typescript and I am not convinced that typographers have got it

Here is the aforementioned anguished response, with the signature
reproduced faithfully:

"Proof by assertion of superiority of discipline. An oft-used
method, akin
to proof by higher position in a hierarchy, of the family proof by
--Doug Merrill (not anyone in particular)

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1997-09-15 Tootsies on Display

The left feet of Nobel Laureates Dudley Herschbach, William
Lipscomb, and Walter Gilbert have been cast in plaster, as have
five toes from scientist/supermodel Symmetra. All of these plaster
pedal extremities will be auctioned off at the 7th First Annaul Ig
Nobel Prize Ceremony. (All proceeds of the auction will go to the
science programs of the Cambridge public schools.)

These objects are on public display until the evening of the
ceremony, Thursday, October 9. Two feet and five toes are in the
lobby of the Sackler Art Museum at Harvard. The other foot is at
the MIT Press Bookstore in Kendall Square, Cambridge.

Go ye and gawk, while you can.

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1997-09-16 Announcing: The AIR book!

We are improbably proud, pleased, happy, etc. to announce the
publication of the "The Best of Annals of Improbable Research,"
Marc Abrahams, editor, W.H. Freeman, New York. It is a commendable
book -- 200 or so pages long, constructed with genuine ink and
paper, and containing 100% mass (both inertial AND
gravitational!). It should begin appearing in bookstores in
October. If your bookstore doesn't yet have it, ask, request,
petition, entreat, demand, beseech, plead, implore the nice book
store people to order several copies.

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1997-09-17 AIRhead Project 2000

Since June, 1994, we have been compiling a list of everything that
has 2000 as part of its name. Here is an item sent in from Hungary
by investigator George Valas. He writes:

"MM is an abbreviation for Magyar Millenium (Hungarian Millenium),
the celebration of 1000th anniversary of the founding of the
European-type Hungarian monarchy, of founding a permanent
Hungarian state here in the Carpathian basin after many centuries
of migration. But it is officially stated that MM can be read as a
Roman number (2000), as well."

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1997-09-18 May We Recommend

Research reports that merit a trip to the library.
(These items are additional to the many, many which appear in the
pages of AIR itself.)

"The Dielectric Properties of Apples in the Range 0.1 to 100 kHz,"
F.X. Hart and W.H. Cole, "Journals of Materials Science," vol. 28,
1993, pp. 621-31.

"Association between toenail selenium and risk of acute myocardial
infarction in European men -- The EURAMIC study," A.F.M.
Kardinaal, F.J. Kok, et al., "American Journal of Epidemiology,"
vol. 145, no. 4, pp. 373-9, 1997. (Thanks to Julio F. Turrens for
bringing this to our attention.)

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1997-09-19 AIRhead Events

==> Updates of this schedule are available from
Want to host an event? E-mail to <>

IG NOBEL FEET AND TOES *until* Thursday, Oct. 9
Plaster casts of the left feet of three Nobel Laureates, and of
five toes of scientist/supermodel Symmetra are on public display
at Harvard's Sackler Art Museum and at the MIT Press Bookstore (in
Kendall Square, Cambridge). These items will be auctioned off a
the Ig Nobel Prize Ceremony.

Sanders Theatre, Harvard University. The event will be recorded
for later broadcast on NPR's "Science Friday"" program.
TICKETS: Sanders Theatre box office, 617-496-2222
LIVE INTERNET TELECAST (you may have to twiddle your computer, so
check it out at least a day in advance!):

ANNUAL IG LECTURES Fri, Oct 10, 1:15 pm
Harvard Science Center lecture hall C. Lectures by Ig Nobel Prize
winners and other worthies. This event is free, but seating is

AIR Tour of America October and ongoing
Schedule to be announced. If you would like to host an event,
please email <>

ASSOCIATION JOINT CONVENTION Fri, April 17, 1988, 1:00 pm
Hyatt Regency Hotel, Albuquerque Convention Center, Albuquerque,

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1997-09-20 How to Subscribe to AIR (*)

Here's how to subscribe to the magnificent bi-monthly print
journal The Annals of Improbable Research -- (the real thing, not
just the little bits of overflow material you have been reading
here in mini-AIR)
City and State: Zip or postal code:
Phone: FAX: E-mail:
USA 1 year/$23 2 years/$39
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Overseas 1 year/$40 US 2 years/$70 US

[Copies of back issues are each $8 in the USA,
$11 in Canada/Mexico, $16 overseas.]
Send payment (US bank check, or international money order, or
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The Annals of Improbable Research (AIR)
PO Box 380853, Cambridge, MA 02238 USA
617-491-4437 FAX:617-661-0927

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1997-09-21 How to Receive mini-AIR, etc. (*)

What you are reading right now is mini-AIR. It is NOT a tiny
version of AIR -- rather, it is overflow from the real magazine.
To subscribe, send a brief E-mail message to:
The body of your message should contain ONLY the words
(You may substitute your own name for that of Madame Curie.)
To stop subscribing, send the following message: SIGNOFF MINI-AIR
To obtain a list of back issues, send this message: INDEX MINI-AIR
To retrieve a particular back issue, send a message specifying
which issue you want. For example, to retrieve the issue dated
950706, send this message: GET MINI-AIR MINI-AIR.950706

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1997-09-22 Our Address (*)

The Annals of Improbable Research (AIR)
PO Box 380853, Cambridge, MA 02238 USA
617-491-4437 FAX:617-661-0927

GENERAL INFO (supplied automatically):


We read everything we receive, but are unable to answer all of it.
If you need a reply, please include your Internet address and/or a
SASE in all printed correspondence.

A monthly column of improbable computer-related items appears on
the back page of Byte magazine.

a weekly column appears in

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1997-09-23 Please Forward/Post This Issue! (*)

Please distribute copies of mini-AIR (or excerpts!) wherever
appropriate. The only limitations are:
A) Please indicate that the material comes from mini-AIR.
B) You may NOT distribute mini-AIR for commercial purposes.

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(c) copyright 1997, The Annals of Improbable Research
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EDITOR: Marc Abrahams (
MINI-PROOFREADER AND PICKER OF NITS (before we introduce the last
few at the last moment): Wendy Mattson <>
CO-CONSPIRATORS: Gary Dryfoos, Craig Haggart, Deb Kreuze, Nicki
AUTHORITY FIGURES: Nobel Laureates Dudley Herschbach, Sheldon
Glashow, William Lipscomb, Richard Roberts

------- End of Forwarded Message

Rohit Khare /// Graduate Student /// UC Irvine Computer Science /// Work: (714) 824-3100 /// Home: (714) 823-9705

[Urgent? (617) 960-5131 still works to page me]