From sword-swallowing to a 'gay' bomb.
It was a case of 'make love not war' winning out over 'don't ask, don't tell'. Borrowing a bad story line from a B movie, researchers at the US Air Force Research Laboratory at the Wright-Patterson Air Force base in Ohio proposed to develop chemical aphrodisiacs that would make enemy soldiers sexually irresistible to each other. The idea ? dubbed the 'gay bomb' ? earned the unnamed Ohio scientists the 2007 Ig Nobel Peace Prize, which was awarded at Harvard University on 4 October along with nine other prizes.
The competition for the Peace Prize was intense even within Wright-Patterson laboratory itself. Researchers there also proposed chemicals designed to attract stinging and biting creatures, as well as low-toxicity compounds that would ?create severe and lasting halitosis? for those exposed to tiny concentrations. Despite the merits of the competing concepts, none had quite the 'legs', so to speak, of the gay bomb.
The Ig Nobels ? a spoof of the real Nobel prizes (see page 642) ? have been awarded annually since 1991. But the gay bomb would never have basked in their glow had it not been for the Sunshine Project in Austin, Texas. The group's director Edward Hammond caught wind of the report when he saw a promotional CD-ROM of 'non-lethal weapons', prompting him to seek all supporting documents under the Freedom of Information Act.
The fate of the gay bomb project is unclear, says Ig Nobel impresario Marc Abrahams, who was told by former lab staff that ?if research on the gay bomb had proceeded further, it would have immediately been stamped secret, and neither you nor I would have any way of knowing about it.? Fortunately, however, the Ig Nobel selection committee was lucky enough to hear about the idea, as well as others that warranted similar distinction.
The Linguistics Prize, for example, went to researchers from the University of Barcelona in Spain for showing that rats cannot always distinguish between a person speaking Japanese backwards and a person speaking Dutch backwards.
Brian Witcombe of Gloucestershire Royal NHS Foundation Trust, UK, shared the Medicine Prize with Dan Meyer of Sword Swallowers' Association International in Antioch, Tennessee, for their report, ?Sword Swallowing and Its Side Effects?. In recommending the paper for the British Medical Journal, one reviewer called it ?a cut above the others?, according to Witcombe.
Investigators at the National University of Quilmes in Argentina won the Aviation Prize for determining that Viagra aids hamsters' recovery from jet lag. A member of that team, Diego Golombek, praised his graduate students for top-flight research and ?for going to the drugstore to get the Viagra?.
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Nadis, S. Weapons of war scoop spoof Nobels. Nature 449, 648 (2007). https://doi.org/10.1038/449648a