Feathers Fly at Ig Nobel Ceremony

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Science  17 Oct 2003:
Vol. 302, Issue 5644, pp. 387
DOI: 10.1126/science.302.5644.387a

There was an avian note to the proceedings this year for the Ig Nobels, the annual anti-Nobel rite held in Cambridge, Massachusetts, by the Annals of Improbable Research.

CREDIT: USDA/ARS

Stefano Ghirlanda of Stockholm University in Sweden got the interdisciplinary research prize for proving that chickens appreciate beauty. Through a scheme involving training chickens and roosters to peck at computer screens displaying a range of feminine and masculine faces, the scientists ascertained that the birds pecked most enthusiastically on the same opposite-sex faces that human volunteers selected as the most datable. The authors say this suggests that human preferences arise from general properties of nervous systems rather than from face-specific adaptations.

On the biology front, Kees Moeliker, curator of the Natuurmuseum Rotterdam in the Netherlands, won an Ig Nobel for illuminating the dark side of duck sexuality: He became the first to document a homosexual act of necrophilia in mallards. And in chemistry, Yukio Hirose of Kanazawa University in Japan won for his discovery that pigeons avoided a bronze statue because it contained arsenic.

Animals also figured in the physics award, which went to an Australian team for working out the “forces required to drag sheep over various surfaces.”

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