Using one’s brain is artful

THE brainy people of this world are a breed apart from us mere mortals, it seems to me.

These are the Marie Curie and Albert Einstein types who can amaze and perplex us with just a mere electrical flash of their old grey matter.

The DNA double helix is no great puzzle to them.

They are the ones who carry off the Nobel prizes. But the one common factor among all of them, to my mind, is that they are always so serious, which is a real pity, especially for them. Let’s have some humour in life, is what I say.

So it is pleasing to know that the ultra sober Nobel ceremony – which is staged in Sweden this week – is preceded by the alternative ig Nobels, run by the science humour magazine Annals of Improbable Research.

There were some fascinating winners.

The physiology prize went to a group from the University of Lincoln for their study entitled No Evidence of Contagious Yawning in the Red-Footed Tortoise.

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The psychology prize was awarded to a chap from the University of Oslo who is trying to understand why, in everyday life, people sigh.

Making it the third p in a row, the physics prize was justifiably given to a group who determined why discus throwers become dizzy doing their sport while hammer throwers do not.

The biology prize went to a pair in Australia who observed that a certain type of beetle had an insatiable lust to mate with beer bottles – but only receptacles which were green and looked like giant females, and had stipples on the glass that resembled marks on the females’ wing covers. What goes on in the insect world, eh?

The public safety prize went to a man from the University of Toronto who conducted a series of experiments in which a person drove a vehicle on a major highway while a visor repeatedly flapped down over his face, blinding him. This is must-have research.

I could not make up my mind about which was my favourite prize category.

There was the medicine prize which was shared by two teams who jointly established that people make better decisions about some kinds of things, but worse decisions about other kinds of things, when they have a strong urge to urinate.

Then again, there was the peace prize which went to the mayor of a town in Lithuania who showed that the problem of illegally parked luxury cars can be solved by running them over with an armoured tank. Maybe that one gets my vote for its directness of purpose.

I was also mightily impressed this week by researchers who found that prehistoric paintings discovered in a cave in France are the work of children as young as three.

These clever folk from Cambridge University have developed a method of identifying the gender and age of the young artists.

They concluded that the most prolific of them was a girl aged around five. Amazing! I popped over to have a look and was surprised to see a faint inscription alongside the art saying, “by Hannah, aged 5 �”.