Can science and humour work together in a popular media?
Definitely yes. You may be able to point out several TV programs, like The Big Bang Theory or Mythbusters.
How about science education and humour?
Again yes. Several researchers have shown that implementation of humour works well. “[These] benefits include creating a more supportive learning environment, retaining knowledge, creating a sense of community, and reducing stress.” (Hellman, S,V. 2006. P 1)
Well, then, how about scientific (academic) research and humor?
The answer is… Yes.
What do you think about these research titles?
- “An analysis of the forces required to drag sheep over various surfaces” 2004, Physics award
- “Pressures Produced When Penguins Poo—Calculations on Avian Defecation” 2005, Fluid dynamics award
- “Discovering that symptoms of asthma can be treated with a roller coaster ride” 2010, Medicine award.
These are research titles that were published in scholarly journals, and received the Ig Nobel prize award.
The Ig Noble prize is the award for researchers and inventors, who did remarkable and humorous research (whether they intended to be humorous or not).
Sounds like a bad joke? Well, maybe yes, but the organizers of this prize are quite serious. Quite a few acknowledged scholars support the organization. The ceremony is held in an auditorium at Harvard University and the prize is presented by a number of people including a few Nobel Prize winners.
The criteria for nomination is, “First make people laugh, and then make them think.” (Improbable Research,2011)
So, what does this motto mean?
Let me explain.
In 2011, the annual theme of the Ig Nobel prize was chemistry, and the winners were Japanese researchers, who “[Determined] the ideal density of airborne wasabi (pungent horseradish) to awaken sleeping people in case of a fire or other emergency, and for applying this knowledge to invent the wasabi alarm.”
Even though I am Japanese, and even though I love wasabi, I gratefully refuse to wake up to that intense smell.
But if I was visually and hearing impaired? How could I know I’m in danger?
Some of the awards are chosen to raise awareness about something crucial but easily missed.
When we are communicating with someone, humour is quite helpful for delivering messages. “Funny” means something extraordinary. A healthy sense of humor makes a topic stands out, and helps to develop a critical mind. When considering framing theories, humour works quite well as a positive frame because it is comfortable to watch or listen too.
Also, humour is one alternative method that can be used to challenge authority. Some research topics seem extraordinary, but we must remember that radicalists made a lot of scientific breakthroughs.
Now, after you reading this blog post, I hope you had a nice smile, and also you get convinced for the power of humour in science communication. If not, I’m always happy to tell you more and more and more.
Hellman, Stuart V. (2006) Online Humor: Oxymoron or Strategic Teaching Tool.
Presented at the Midwest Research-to-Practice Conference in Adult, Continuing, and
Community Education, University of Missouri-St. Louis, available at:
The improbable research: