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Harvard honours ridiculous research

The technology world lives and dies by the quality of R&D. Necessity may be the mother of invention, but researchers, beavering away in labs, are its foster father. Albeit, in some cases, slightly dubious foster fathers who are in it for the money.

Harvard University last night hosted the 2008 Ig Nobel awards, spoof awards that recognise genuine pieces of research that "cannot, or should not, be reproduced" - achievements that "first make people laugh, and then make them think".

This year's Ig Nobel winners, awarded by the Annals of Improbable Research magazine, are:

NUTRITION: Massimiliano Zampini and Charles Spence. They demonstrated that food tastes better when it sounds better. Great!

PEACE: Congratulations to the Swiss Federal Ethics Committee on Non-Human Biotechnology and the citizens of Switzerland. Why? They adopted the legal principle that plants have dignity.

ARCHAEOLOGY: Ever wondered if armadillos can scramble the contents of an archaeological dig? Wonder no more. Astolfo Gomes de Mello Araujo and Jose Carlos Marcelino have proved that they do.

BIOLOGY: Apparently, fleas that live on a dog can jump higher than fleas that live on a cat. And we wouldn't know this if it were not for Marie-Christine Cadiergues, Christel Joubert and Michel Franc.

MEDICINE: You know the placebo effect? It's expensive. Dan Ariely has scientifically shown that expensive fake medicine is more effective than cheap fake medicine. Get your wallet out.

COGNITIVE SCIENCE: Don't even think about feeling superior to slime. According to science, in the form of Toshiyuki Nakagaki, Hiroyasu Yamada, Ryo Kobayashi, Atsushi Tero, Akio Ishiguro and Agota Toth, slime moulds can solve puzzles. Really tough ones, too.

ECONOMICS: Geoffrey Miller, Joshua Tyber and Brent Jordan get this prestigious award for discovering that exotic dancers earn more when at peak fertility. So long as they don't make use of such fertility.

PHYSICS: Bundles of string or hair will inevitably tangle, right? Well, yes. Right. And now it's science fact. All thanks to Dorian Raymer and Douglas Smith.

CHEMISTRY: Two winners in this important category. Ever wondered if Coke is an effective spermicide? Course you have. Well, Sheree Umpierre, Joseph Hill and Deborah Anderson have learnt that Coca-Cola is an effective spermicide. Unfortunately, CY Hong, CC Shieh, P Wu and BN Chiang believe they've proud it isn't. Don't rely on it.

LITERATURE: The Ig Nobel award for literature is awarded to David Sims for his study "You Bastard: A Narrative Exploration of the Experience of Indignation within Organizations." Nuff said.

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