BP, Street Titans 'Win' Ig Nobel Awards

CAMBRIDGE, Mass. (TheStreet) -- Executives of Goldman Sachs (GS), BP (BP), the former financial powerhouse Lehman Brothers, Merril Lynch (BAC), Magnetar Capital and AIG (AIG) were lauded Thursday night at Harvard University by a who's who of the world's top academics and several Nobel Prize recipients.

Sort of.

A sold-out theater in Cambridge, Mass., was the setting for the "20th first annual" Ig Nobel Awards, an off-kilter event that has become a must for academics from across the globe and the geeks who love them.

The annual Economics Prize was awarded to the above-mentioned Wall Street executives and directors for "creating and promoting new ways to invest money -- ways that maximize financial gain and minimize financial risk for the world economy, or for a portion thereof."

Nobel laureates Roy Glauber, Sheldon Glashow and James Muller demonstrate the "Emergency Bra" during the Ig Nobel Awards ceremony Thursday at Harvard University in Cambridge, Mass.

One wonders if the Dick Fulds of the world would have grasped the subtlety of the final wait-for-it-wait-for-it clause or angrily protested "too soon, too soon." We'll never know, as the winners were "unable to join us tonight."

Eric Adams of MIT, Scott Socolofsky of Texas A&M University and Stephen Masutani of the University of Hawaii were other winners. Their combined grasp of physics and chemistry relied on the research gold mine provided by BP's oil rigs to, once and for all, disprove "the old belief that oil and water don't mix." The company actually donated $500,000 a decade ago for the team's research into dispersing oil in the case of a spill, but clearly not enough to prevent an ecological and investor nightmare. "It's one of those cautionary tales. One should understand you have certain technologies that operate very well -- oil and gas recovery in the deep ocean -- but perhaps some of the technologies necessary to address," and here Masutani paused, "unpleasant events such as this past summer may not be in the same state of development. There's kind of a mismatch."

The event is the brainchild of the science journal/humor magazine the Annals of Improbable Research and co-sponsored by the Harvard Computer Society, Harvard-Radcliffe Society of Physics Students and the Harvard-Radcliffe Science Fiction Association.

The latter group must have been happy with special guest Neil Gaiman, an acclaimed author and groundbreaking comic book creator.

Joining the fray was the Siamese-twin singing duo Evelyn Evelyn (one half of which curiously resembled Gaiman's finance and collaborator, Amanda Palmer of the Dresden Dolls).

Marc Abrahams, editor of the journal, served as master of ceremonies and lyricist behind the world-premiere mini-opera interspersed with the awards, "The Bacterial Opera," about the gunk that lives on a sleeping woman's front tooth.

Endearingly low-tech plaques were presented to winners by five Nobel Laureates, Sheldon Glashow (physics, 1979), Roy Glauber (physics, 2005), Frank Wilczek (physics, 2004), James Muller (peace, 1985) and William Lipscomb (chemistry, 1976). The revered cadre of minds also took part in an Ig Nobel tradition, the Win-A-Date-With-A-Nobel-Laureate contest.

The meticulously researched and sourced work included the paper Rollercoaster Asthma: When Positive Emotional Stress Interferes with Dyspnea Perception; a team from the University of Otago, New Zealand, demonstrating that "on icy footpaths in wintertime, people slip and fall less often if they wear socks on the outside of their shoes"; and a live demonstration of the principles behind Swearing as a Response to Pain.

Former winners returned to the stage as well to offer updates to their past research, such as "homosexual necrophilia in the mallard duck," "people can overlook anything, even a woman in a gorilla suit" and empirical proof that "high-priced fake medicine is more effective than low-priced fake medicine."

The event was streamed on YouTube this year, with its parent company, Google ( GOOG), assisting as a corporate sponsor. An edited recording of the ceremony will be broadcast on National Public Radio's Science Friday program the day after Thanksgiving.

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