Spermicide Coke, stale chips research wins Ig Nobels

WASHINGTON Fri Oct 3, 2008 7:01pm EDT

A can of Coca-Cola is pictured in San Diego June 23, 2008. REUTERS/Mike Blake

A can of Coca-Cola is pictured in San Diego June 23, 2008.

Credit: Reuters/Mike Blake

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A researcher who figured out that Coke explodes sperm and scientists who discovered that people will happily eat stale chips if they crunch loudly enough won alternative "Ig Nobel" prizes Thursday.

Other winners included physicists who found out that anything that can tangle, will tangle and a team of biologists who ascertained that dog fleas jump farther than cat fleas.

The Ig Nobels honor real research, but are meant as a funny alternative to next week's deadly serious Nobel prizes for medicine, chemistry, physics, economics, literature and peace.

Awarded by the editors of the Annals of Improbable Research, a scientific humor magazine, the prizes are based on published research, some intended to be humorous but often not. Usually the "honored" researchers go along with the joke.

Deborah Anderson of Boston University Medical Center and colleagues were awarded the chemistry prize for a 1985 study published in the New England Journal of Medicine that found Coca-Cola kills sperm.

She said she was serious in testing the soft drink because women were using it in a douche as a contraceptive and, later, to try to protect themselves from the AIDS virus.

"It definitely wouldn't work as a contraceptive because sperm swims so fast," Anderson said. But Coke made with sugar quickly kills sperm, she said, probably because sperm soak it up. "The sperm just kind of explode," she said in a telephone interview.

It kills the AIDS virus too, she said.

The Ig Nobel committee made up a "nutrition prize" to go to Massimiliano Zampini of the University of Trento, Italy and Charles Spence of Britain's Oxford University, who tricked people into thinking they were eating fresh potato chips by playing them loud, crunching sounds when they bit one.

The biology prize goes to a French team that found dog fleas can jump higher than cat fleas, while the medicine prize was awarded to a team at Duke University in North Carolina who showed that high-priced placebos work better than cheap fake medicine.

Dorian Raymer of the Scripps Institution in San Diego and a colleague won the physics prize for demonstrating mathematically why hair or a ball of string will inevitably tangle itself in knots.

The peace prize was given to the Swiss Federal Ethics Committee on Non-Human Biotechnology for adopting the legal principle that plants have moral standing and dignity. There is a website explaining this: here

A team at The University of Sao Paulo in Brazil won a special archaeology prize for showing how an armadillo can mess up an archaeological dig.

The economics prize went to researchers at the University of New Mexico who learned that a professional lap dancer earns bigger tips when she is most fertile, while David Sims of Cass Business School in London won the literature prize "for his lovingly written study 'You Bastard: A Narrative Exploration of the Experience of Indignation within Organizations'," the committee said.

Past winners include the creator of the plastic pink flamingo, a researcher who recorded a mallard duck sodomizing a dead drake and a doctor who cured hiccups by applying digital rectal massage.

(Reporting by Maggie Fox, editing by Anthony Boadle)

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