The 24/7 Lectures

The following is an article from The Annals of Improbable Research, now in all-pdf form. Get a subscription now for only $25 a year!

transcribed by David Kessler, Improbable Research staff

As part of the Ig Nobel Prize Ceremony, four of the world’s great thinkers were invited to give 24/7 Lectures. Each 24/7 Lecture was on an assigned topic. The lecturer was asked to explain that topic twice:

FIRST, a complete technical description in TWENTY-FOUR (24) SECONDS; and THEN a clear summary that anyone could understand in SEVEN (7) WORDS.

The time and word limits were enforced by the Ig Nobel referee, Mr. John Barrett, and by the Ig Nobel V-Chip Monitor, noted New York Attorney William J. Maloney. Here are the complete transcripts of this year’s 24/7 Lectures.

Topic: Firefly Sex
Lecturer: Sara Lewis (Tufts Professor of Evolutionary Behavioral Ecology, author of “Silent Sparks”)

Complete technical description in TWENTY-FOUR (24) SECONDS:

“Fireflies are beetles in the family Lampyridae that use bioluminescent signals to find mates. Flying males broadcast signals as they search for females, who respond to intraspecific variation in male flash timing: Females prefer longer flashes and faster flash rates. Firefly females mate with multiple males, so postcopulatory sexual selection has driven males to invest heavily in nuptial gifts. These are nutritious sperm-containing spermatophores that females use to provision their eggs. Males with larger gifts benefit because they sire more offspring.” [Time called by the Referee]

Clear summary that anyone can understand, in SEVEN(7) WORDS:

“Female fireflies favor fancy food-filled flashers.”

Lecture Notes: The lecturer brought a firefly finger-puppet to
use as a visual aid.

Topic: Beauty
Lecturer: Frank Wilczek (Nobel Laureate and Professor of Physics at MIT)

Complete technical description in TWENTY-FOUR (24)SECONDS:

“Beauty is what we experience when the external world stimulates our reward system, causing a release of dopamine we feel as pleasure. Natural selection uses this device to encourage behavior that increases fitness. Sexual partners are beautiful; so are things that makes sense.” [Within the time limit]

Clear summary that anyone can understand, in SEVEN(7) WORDS:

“We like it when we see it.”

Topic: Reproduction
Lecturer: Deborah Anderson (Boston University Medical School Professor of Obstetrics, Gynecology, & Microbiology, and 2008 Ig Nobel Prize Winner)

Complete technical description in TWENTY-FOUR (24) SECONDS:

“Life depends on reproduction; All living organisms do it. Unicellular organisms do it by asexual, binary fission. Multicellular organisms produce gametes which fuse. Human reproduction involves internal fertilization by sexual intercourse. During this process, the male inserts his erect penis into the female’s moist vagina and ejaculates semen which contains sperm.” [Within the time limit]

Clear summary that anyone can understand, in SEVEN(7) WORDS:

“Protists multiply by dividing, humans prefer sex.”

Lecture Notes: The V-Chip Monitor appeared to be concerned, but did not halt this lecture.

Topic: Life
Lecturer: Jack Szostak (Nobel Laureate, Professor of Genetics at Harvard Medical School, Alexander Rich Distinguished Investigator at Massachusetts General Hospital)

Complete technical description in TWENTY-FOUR (24) SECONDS:

“The first protocells used nonenzymatic chemical processes to replicate ribonucleic acid templates by primer extension with 2-methyl-5’-phosphorimidazole-activated nucleotide monomers. To understand and improve this process, we look at monomer binding by nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopy, X-ray crystallography, and study reaction kinetics using synthetic substrate analogues, kinetic isotope effects, quantum mechanical modeling, and molecular dynamics. [Time called by the Referee]

Clear summary that anyone can understand, in SEVEN (7) WORDS:

“Life from chemistry: how did it happen?”

Topic: Internet Cat Videos
Lecturer: Jessica Gall Myrick (Assistant Professor at Indiana University Media School)

Complete technical description in TWENTY-FOUR (24) SECONDS:

“My study, called ‘Emotion regulation, procrastination, and watching cat videos online: Who watches Internet cats, why, and to what effect?’, published in the journal Computers in Human Behavior, provided empirical data on predictors and subsequent effects of consuming audiovisual feline-focused media. Mood management theory successfully predicted respondents’ reports that post-consumption emotions were more positive than pre-consumption, and the experience also left viewers feeling energized. A moderation-mediation model demonstrated that guilt from using online felines to procrastinate could be overcome by the positive emotional payoff of viewing this genre.” [Time called by the Referee]

Clear summary that anyone can understand, in SEVEN (7) WORDS:

“Grumpy Cat can actually make us happy.”


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Retired entomology technician here: what's cool is that there is a firefly Genus that preys on other male fireflies (we called them lightning bugs when we were kids)by blinking a different Genus's signals to attract unsuspecting males. Nature is full of "tricksters" like that.
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