From left: Seoul Nat'l Univ. / Museo Ideale Leonardo da Vinci / AP
Glow-in-the-dark puppies, a naked "Mona Lisa" and gay-penguin parenting were
among the weirder science stories of 2009. But wait ... there's much, much more.
So much weird science ... so little time. It's time to look back on the past year's research and pick the winners of the 2010 Weird Science Awards.
In previous years, the top Weirdies have included glow-in-the-dark cloned cats and the rediscovery of an ancient marijuana stash. But if you think those stories are weird, this year's candidates kick it up a notch. Heck, we've got glow-in-the-dark puppies and mushrooms as well as poop armor and gay penguin parents. (The last subject turns out to be surprisingly controversial.)
The problem is, there are so many deserving candidates that it's hard to narrow them down to a manageable list of finalists. We've put 30 on the ballot, plus a few extra honorable mentions, and it's up to you to decide which 10 topics win 2010's Weirdies.
If you think any of the also-rans deserve to go into the winner's circle, feel free to cast a write-in ballot. If a particular topic gets 10 write-ins, it'll be elevated to the official ballot. The deadline for voting is Jan. 1, so don't dawdle over your choice. The top 10 will be highlighted in an online gallery to be published after the first of the year.
One of the selections on the menu is a combination plate that serves up the winners of this year's Ig Nobel prizes for silly science - including the researchers who found that cows seem to give more milk if you name them, and the woman who invented the bra that converts into a pair of gas masks.
The criterion for the Ig Nobels - "science that makes you laugh, and then makes you think" - is a pretty good rule of thumb for the Weirdies as well. But you could go with other criteria, such as "Why on earth did they spend research money on that?" ... or "Wow, that's weird!" ... or "Ewwwww!"
I asked Marc Abrahams, the creator of the Ig Nobels and editor of the Annals of Improbable Research, whether the universe of weird science stories was truly expanding. Here's his e-mailed response:
"Seems to me that two things are causing this:
"1) Yes, there are more weird things happening than ever before, because the world has more people than ever before.
"2) The largest news media organizations are becoming more consolidated yet reducing their corps of reporters and editors - and somehow this results in them reporting an ever-higher percentage of weird and trivial news, in all categories."
Well-said, Marc. I'm proud to make my small contribution to the great task of trivializing the news. For Marc's latest observations on scientific weirdness, including a timely recap of research into white noise vs. "White Christmas," check out the Improbable Research blog.
Here are the nominees for the 2010 Weird Science Awards in chronological order, from January to December:
- Newly discovered catfish species climbs rocks
- Female 'vampire' unearthed in Venice
- Scientists claim to have cloned glowing dogs
- Brainwave Twitter translator invented
- Giant blob lies deep beneath Nevada
- Urine-filled 'witch bottle' from 17th century found
- Animals tickled to study how laughter evolved
- Gay penguin pair raises chick
- Nude, Mona Lisa-like painting surfaces
- Lady mummy was actually a daddy
- Frog dozes in mud for years without food or water
- Women are handier than men with a hammer
- Zookeeper wears abandoned baby kangaroo
- Music made specifically for monkeys
- Naughty Neanderthals nixed monogamy
- Awards honor milkologists and bra-mask inventor
- Glow-in-the-dark mushrooms discovered
- Leg mummified with ancient Egyptian recipe
- Is the future trying to save us from collider doom?
- Tiny ears found on butterfly's wings
- Fruit bats use oral sex to prolong the deed
- Fiddler crabs trade sex for survival
- Lab-grown penis helps rabbits mate ... like rabbits
- Bug wears armor made of poo
- Bird brings down big bang machine
- Fragrances pay tribute to dead celebrities' DNA
- Galileo's missing fingers and tooth found
- Chair floats to final frontier
- Light show sparks UFO buzz
- Clever octopus builds a mobile home
Some of the honorable mentions include stir-crazy bacteria, the she-turtle that was actually a he-turtle, ancient Egyptians with bad teeth, the case of the stolen cadaver lung, the research into a duck's screwy mating habits, and the study that found out why Americans were more likely than Britons to survive the Titanic's sinking.
If you like any of those stories better than the 30 on the ballot, cast a write-in vote and persuade nine of your friends to do the same. Then check back after New Year's Day to find out if your favorites made the top 10.
For still more weirdness, check out msnbc.com's Weird News Roundup and Newsweek's oddest headlines of 2009. Don't miss last week's "Year in Science" and "Decade in Science" reviews from last week, and cast your vote for top stories and trends in "The Year in Space." This year we even have a forecast for the "Decades of Future Science."
Join the Cosmic Log team by signing up as my Facebook friend or following b0yle on Twitter. And pick up a copy of my new book, "The Case for Pluto." If you're partial to the planetary underdogs, you'll be pleased to know that I've set up a Facebook fan page for "The Case for Pluto."