Not only for fun

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.

Too much thinking?

Thinking too much?

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:


11 comments on “Not only for fun

  1. Kohei I loved this post! I think humour is a great way to engage and communicate with an audience and it is one way to make sure your message is interesting to a wide variety of people. After all, we all laugh in the same language.
    My brother doesn’t care too much for acedemics but he does love humour. As a result, the teachers he learns and remembers the most from are the ones who can have a laugh with him.
    I think that people tend to be more interested in humour than science. Thus by combining the two I believe you create an opportunity to gather an audience that normally wouldn’t have paid any attention.

    • Hi Madeline, thank you for comment,
      my next question is how to make the humour directly linked to the contents.
      Even if we sucseed to engage their emotion, just fun is not enough,
      that’s the critical point. I think.

  2. Hi Kohei, great topic. Humour is an excellent way to make science fun. I really enjoyed those article topics you posted! I think people will respond well to something funny, and relax and enjoy themselves more – rather than falling asleep as can often be witnessed in lectures!
    As they say, laughter is the best medicine, I know I always feel better after a giggle.

    • Hi polc01, I’ve once seen the movie, ‘Patch Adams” and found laughter is great relief.
      If their smile was caused by something scientific topic, that’s also great.

  3. Well done Kohei! You did succeed in putting a smile on my face this morning. I hope this allows me to do the usually unacceptable practice of using a smiley in this comment 🙂

    I do believe humour can and should play a role in science education, in raising interest and awareness in science, and also for entertaining fellow scientists. However, I would caution against certain uses of humour in research. Sometimes, using too much humour, or using it in an inappropriate place/manner, may reduce the credibility of a researcher or study. Humour may give the impression that the person is not being serious or did not think through their study carefully, or that their study was a waste of funding because it appeared to be done for fun (or the researchers have nothing better to do). Humour is great, but needs to be used in moderation and when appropriate.

    • Hi Yveee,
      Yes, that’s the critical point. credibility and accountability is core issue in use of humour.
      I totally agree that It’s not acceptable to use an academic resource for totally useless research or nonsense. Use of humour should be appropriate level.

      However, the another aim of this prize is also for criticising those trivial (or useless) research, without direct attack. that’s what I love this prize. the are not encouraging those useless research, but casting the question.
      Additionally, I personally love doing something fun at quite serious way!

  4. Hahaha, I love this post Kohei!! I didn’t know there is such a prise in the world!
    Wasabi alarm sounds awful to me as well…I remember that I used to put some wasabi under the nose of someone who got drunk and start sleeping in a pub.
    Humor is really important in our life. However, at the same time, I think humor is really difficult to create because humors always change quickly and it is different between the culture.
    For example Kohei, you can understand what I meant “Put Wasabi on the face in a Pub”. It is kind of joke people tend to do when they are young in Japan but may be people from over sea think it is ridicurous.
    On the other day, I was watching the comedy movie with Jean and I found it really interesting because I sometimes couldn’t understand why she was laughing out loudly. This could be because of my poor English, but more of the culture difference. Since it was American movie, if you don’t know about the American history, culture, and people, it was pretty hard to understand that it was funny.
    Humor changes between the country but still, it is essential to get the attention of audience.
    Good job Kohei.

  5. I love that scientists can still have a sense of humour! I think these awards need to be advertised a bit better because it really challenges that idea of scientists in a white coat always in the lab.

    Great post!!

  6. Hi Keiko,
    I can’t help blame ourself, Japanese researchers are consistently receiving this prize almost every year. Is that a great honour? or big shame? I personally think its great honour.
    A sense of humour is bit difficult to cross the culture, but I still believe it can lubricate the communication.

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