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Oddball science honors awarded

Ig Nobel Prizes go to researchers who showed, for example, that Coca-Cola really is a spermicide.

October 04, 2008|Mark Pratt | Associated Press

BOSTON — Deborah Anderson had heard the urban legends about the contraceptive effectiveness of Coca-Cola products for years.

So she and her colleagues decided to put the soft drink to the test. In the lab, that is.

For discovering that, yes indeed, Coke is a spermicide, Anderson and her team are among this year's winners of the Ig Nobel Prize, the annual award given by the Annals of Improbable Research magazine to oddball but often surprisingly practical scientific achievements.

Actual Nobel laureates presented the awards Thursday at Harvard University.

Anderson, a professor of obstetrics and gynecology at Boston University's School of Medicine, and her colleagues found that not only is Coca-Cola a spermicide, but that Diet Coke works best.

Their study appeared in the New England Journal of Medicine in 1985.

"We're thrilled to win an Ig Nobel, because the study was somewhat of a parody in the first place," Anderson said, adding she does not recommend using Coke for birth control.

A group of Taiwanese doctors was honored for a similar study that found Coca-Cola and other soft drinks were not effective contraceptives. Anderson said the studies used different methodology.

A Coca-Cola spokeswoman refused to comment on the Ig Nobel awards.

Meanwhile, Geoffrey Miller's award-winning work could affect the earning potential of exotic dancers everywhere.

Miller, an associate professor of psychology at the University of New Mexico, and his colleagues knew of previous studies that found women are more attractive to men when at peak fertility.

So they took the work one step further -- by studying the earnings of exotic dancers.

For the 18 subjects Miller studied, average earnings were $250 for a five-hour shift. That jumped to $350 to $400 when the women were at their most fertile, he said.

"I have heard, anecdotally, that some lap dancers have scheduled shifts based on this research," he said.

Among the other winners:

* Archaeology: Astolfo Gomes de Mello Araujo and Jose Carlos Marcelino of the University of Sao Paulo in Brazil for showing that armadillos can scramble the contents of an archaeological dig.

* Biology: Marie-Christine Cadiergues, Christel Joubert and Michel Franc of the National Veterinary College of Toulouse in France for discovering that fleas that live on a dog can jump higher than fleas that live on a cat.

* Cognitive science: Toshiyuki Nakagaki of Hokkaido University in Japan and colleagues for discovering that slime molds can solve puzzles.

* Medicine: Dan Ariely of Duke University for demonstrating that expensive fake medicine is more effective than cheap fake medicine.

* Peace: The Swiss Federal Ethics Committee on Non-Human Biotechnology and the citizens of Switzerland for adopting the legal principle that plants have dignity.

* Physics: Dorian Raymer of the Scripps Institution of Oceanography in San Diego and Douglas Smith of UC San Diego for proving that heaps of string or hair inevitably tangle.

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