I love the Ig Nobel Prize. How could you not love an event whose website is sub-titled “Research that makes people LAUGH and then THINK”? Like the Darwin Awards (“We salute the improvement of the human genome by honoring those who remove themselves from it. Of necessity, this honor is generally bestowed posthumously.”), the Ig Nobels draw people into science in a fun and engaging way. The Darwin Awards provide the best lesson on evolution for the lay person — that I know of, anyway.
The Ig Nobels, by nature, are much broader. They give great insight into how wacky one’s brain needs to be in order to be a research scientist. You really need to think outside the square. The stereotype of a scientist is a stuffy, boring, middle-aged or elderly man (of course it’s a man) with nothing interesting to offer. The Ig Nobel scientist is a much closer representation of the scientists I know. For an idea, look at the picture on the link above. And add a few more women, dressed in punk band T-shirts or other funky clothes. (This is not to say that I think the Ig Nobels under-represent women, just that that photo does.)
Interestingly, the Ig Nobels (more than cancer research) illustrates to regular people how much science is a part of their lives, whether they’re aware of it or not. Winners included research on why fingernails scratching a blackboard irritate people; why woodpeckers don’t get headaches; the invention of the now-infamous “Mosquito” ringtone; and an Aussie team who calculated how many photos you need to take of a group before getting one where no one is blinking.
It’s fun science at its best. When I was involved with OnSET, a student online science journal, we often struggled with how to present ourselves in an engaging way. I think that ventures like the Ig Nobels, the Darwin Awards, and even Dr Karl, have the answer. They’re all firmly grounded in reality but slightly oddball and lots of fun.