Whale snot, bat sex win 2010 IgNobel spoof prizes

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Researchers who used a remote-controlled helicopter to collect whale snot, documented bats having oral sex and showed that swearing makes you feel better when you stub a toe were among the winners of spoof IgNobel prizes on Thursday.

The prizes, meant to be both humorous and to encourage scientific research, are given every year by the Journal of Improbable Research as a whimsical counterpart to the Nobel Prizes, which will be awarded starting next week.

IgNobels also went to researchers who found that wearing socks outside shoes can prevent slipping on ice and that organizations would fare better if managers were promoted randomly.

Former winners of the real Nobel prizes hand out the prizes at a ceremony held at Harvard University in Massachusetts.

"There are four winners from Britain this year," said Marc Abrahams, editor of the Annals and architect of the IgNobels.

"The British Empire had a rough 20th century. Maybe this is the best sign that the empire is surging back to prominence."

Karina Acevedo-Whitehouse and Agnes Rocha-Gosselin of Britain's Zoological Society and Diane Gendron of Instituto Politecnico Nacional in Mexico won an engineering IgNobel for a new way to study respiratory diseases in whales.

"The technique involves flying a remote-controlled helicopter above a whale as it surfaces and catching the whale blow in petri dishes attached to the underside of the helicopter," they said in a statement.

A team of Chinese researchers led by Min Tan of Guangdong Entomological Institute and including Gareth Jones of Britain's University of Bristol won a biology IgNobel for scientifically documenting oral sex between fruit bats.

"Our observations are the first to show regular fellatio in adult animals other than humans," they wrote in their paper, published at http://www.plosone.org/article/info:doi%2F10.1371%2Fjournal.pone.0007595.

Oil spill researchers Eric Adams of Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Scott Socolofsky of Texas A&M University and Stephen Masutani of the University of Hawaii, along with BP Plc, won a prize "for disproving the old belief that oil and water don't mix."

Other winners:

-- Simon Rietveld of the University of Amsterdam and Ilja van Beest of Tilburg University in the Netherlands for discovering that asthma symptoms abate with a roller-coaster ride.

-- Alessandro Pluchino and colleagues at the University of Catania in Italy for showing mathematically that organizations would become more efficient if they promoted people at random.

-- Toshiyuki Nakagaki of Future University Hakodate in Japan and colleagues for using slime mold to route railroad tracks.

-- Lianne Parkin and colleagues of the University of Otago, New Zealand for demonstrating that people slip and fall less often on ice if they wear socks on the outside of their shoes.

-- Richard Stephens and colleagues of Britain's Keele University for confirming that swearing relieves pain.

-- Manuel Barbeito and colleagues of Fort Detrick in Maryland for demonstrating that microbes cling to beards.

An economics prize was given to the "executives and directors of Goldman Sachs, AIG, Lehman Brothers, Bear Stearns, Merrill Lynch, and Magnetar for creating and promoting new ways to invest money."

The awards ceremony can be seen at http://www.youtube.com/improbableresearch

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