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Modes of Cat-Human Communication: 2021 Ig Informal Lecture

September 23rd, 2021

The Ig Nobel Prizes honor achievements that make people LAUGH, then THINK.

In the Ig Informal Lectures, some days after the ceremony, the new Ig Nobel Prize winners attempt to explain what they did, and why they did it. We are releasing these lectures one at a time.

The 2021 Ig Nobel for Biology was awarded to Susanne Schötz, Robert Eklund, and Joost van de Weijer, for analyzing variations in purring, chirping, chattering, trilling, tweedling, murmuring, meowing, moaning, squeaking, hissing, yowling, howling, growling, and other modes of cat–human communication.

REFERENCE: “A Comparative Acoustic Analysis of Purring in Four Cats,” Susanne Schötz and Robert Eklund, Proceedings of Fonetik 2011, Speech, Music and Hearing, KTH, Stockholm, TMH-QPSR, 51.

REFERENCE: “A Phonetic Pilot Study of Vocalisations in Three Cats,” Susanne Schötz, Proceedings of Fonetik 2012, Department of Philosophy, Linguistics and Theory of Science, University of Gothenburg, Sweden.

REFERENCE: “A Phonetic Pilot Study of Chirp, Chatter, Tweet and Tweedle in Three Domestic Cats,” Susanne Schötz, Proceedings of Fonetik 2013, Linköping University, Sweden, 2013, pp. 65-68.

REFERENCE: “A Study of Human Perception of Intonation in Domestic Cat Meows,” Susanne Schötz and Joost van de Weijer, Proceedings of the 7th International Conference on Speech Prosody, Dubin, Ireland, May 20-23, 2014.

REFERENCE: “Melody in Human–Cat Communication (Meowsic): Origins, Past, Present and Future,” Susanne Schötz, Robert Eklund, and Joost van de Weijer, 2016.

YouTube, the Ig Nobel Prizes, and the Year 1914

September 22nd, 2021

[NOTE: On September 22, 2021 we more or less solved the problem. See the end of this blog post for the happy news about that. The original blog post was written on September 13, while we were intensely wrestling with the problem.]

YouTube’s notorious takedown algorithms are blocking the video of the 2021 Ig Nobel Prize ceremony.

We have so far been unable to find a human at YouTube who can fix that. We recommend that you watch the identical recording on Vimeo.

The Fatal Song

This is a photo of John McCormack, who sang the song “Funiculi, Funicula” in the year 1914, inducing YouTube to block the 2021 Ig Nobel Prize ceremony.

Here’s what triggered this: The ceremony includes bits of a recording (of tenor John McCormack singing “Funiculi, Funicula”) made in the year 1914.

The Corporate Takedown

YouTube’s takedown algorithm claims that the following corporations all own the copyright to that audio recording that was MADE IN THE YEAR 1914: “SME, INgrooves (on behalf of Emerald); Wise Music Group, BMG Rights Management (US), LLC, UMPG Publishing, PEDL, Kobalt Music Publishing, Warner Chappell, Sony ATV Publishing, and 1 Music Rights Societies”

UPDATES: (Sept 21, 2021) A clear writeup on Reclaim the Net. (Sept 19, 2021) There’s an ongoing discussion on Slashdot.(Sept 13, 2021) There’s an ongoing discussion on Hacker News, about this problem.

PROBLEM SOLVED (probably): (September 22, 2021) Still unsuccessful at making any contact with any human being at YouTube, we (think we) solved the problem by recording our own performance of the old song “Funiculi Funicula”, and then editing that into the video recording of the Ig Nobel Prize ceremony. The new musical performance is by soprano Maria Ferrante and accordionist Thomas Michel (both of whom also starred in the opera that was part of the ceremony).

Special thanks to Bruce Petschek, Richard Baguley, Julia Lunetta, Maria Ferrante, Thomas Michel, David Kessler, and Jeff Hermes for their time, effort, and wisdom at working around and thus (probably) overcoming the problem.

Here is the new version of the ceremony video:

And here is the original version (but living on Vimeo, rather than YouTube), that has the John McCormack 1914 recording of “Funiculi Funicula”:



Why-Exactly-Is-a-Bicycle-Stable Experiments

September 21st, 2021

David Jones some years ago assaulted humanity’s embarrassing lack of understanding of why moving bicycles are so stable. Jones performed a series of experiments, from which he learned some surprising things. He revealed them in this article:

The Stability of the Bicycle,” David E.H. Jones, Physics Today, April 1970, pp. 34-40.

(Thanks to Catherine Klauss and Davide Castelvecci for bringing this to our attention.)

BONUS: David Jones delivered a 24/7 Lecture on the giant topic “Science”, in the 2001 Ig Nobel Prize ceremony.

BONUS: Here’s a video made much later by Andy Ruina, addressing advances on the bicycle question forty years after David Jones had brought the physics world up to cruising speed:

Podcast Episode #1081: “Ear Bigness Through the Years”

September 20th, 2021

In Podcast Episode #1081, Marc Abrahams shows an unfamiliar research study to biologist Dany Adams. Dramatic readings and reactions ensue.

Remember, our Patreon donors, on most levels, get access to each podcast episode before it is made public.

Dany Adams encounters:

Ear size as a predictor of chronological age,” R. Tan , V. Osman, and G. Tan, Archives of Gerontology and Geriatrics, vol. 25, 1997, pp. 187–191.

Seth Gliksman, Production Assistant

Available on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, Overcast, Google Podcasts, AntennaPod, BeyondPod and elsewhere!

Ig Nobel Prize winner Bolsonaro Brings a Certain Something to the UN

September 20th, 2021

Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, who in 2020 won an Ig Nobel Prize for his teachings about the Covid-19 pandemic, will share his experience with other world leaders tomorrow at a meeting of the United Nations.


The Washington Post reports:

The United Nations is demanding world leaders arriving in New York for its General Assembly adhere to an “honor system” to attest they are fully vaccinated against the coronavirus. But that mandate will be tested in the general debate’s very first moments.

Jair Bolsonaro, who contracted the virus last year and as recently as last week said publicly that he does not need to be vaccinated because he has naturally acquired antibodies, is scheduled to kick off the 76th U.N. General Assembly’s general debate on Tuesday…..

Bolsonaro’s 2020 Prize-winning Achievement

The 2020 Ig Nobel Prize for medical education was awarded to Jair Bolsonaro of Brazil, Boris Johnson of the United Kingdom, Narendra Modi of India, Andrés Manuel López Obrador of Mexico, Alexander Lukashenko of Belarus, Donald Trump of the USA, Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey, Vladimir Putin of Russia, and Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedow of Turkmenistan, for using the Covid-19 viral pandemic to teach the world that politicians can have a more immediate effect on life and death than scientists and doctors can.

Improbable Research