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Monday
Dec022013

Don't let your brilliance bore them

"The Thinker" felled by the IgsOne of my post-Thanksgiving traditions involves listening to the annual broadcast of the Ig Nobel Prize Awards on NPR's Science Friday. These awards are given every year by the Annals of Improbable Research, a magazine whose stated goal is to publish "research that makes people LAUGH then THINK." I enjoy laughter-provoking thought, so I always tune in.

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[To read e-books on your Kindle device, or Kobo e-reader, or Nook, or other dedicated e-book-reading device— of course, just use that device!]

Annals of Improbable Research (also known as AIR) is the magazine about research that makes people LAUGH and then THINK.

- See more at: http://www.improbable.com/magazine/#sthash.KMqRJddw.dpuf

The Magazine: Annals of Improbable Research

DOWNLOAD this issue as an e-book
FREE!

To read e-books on your computer, mobile phone, iPad, or other device, you'll need an e-book reader app. There are many — all similar, but each with its own gleefully maddening quirks.
Here are some FREE apps: Calibre, Kobo, Adobe Digital Editions, Kindle App.
*
[To read e-books on your Kindle device, or Kobo e-reader, or Nook, or other dedicated e-book-reading device— of course, just use that device!]

Annals of Improbable Research (also known as AIR) is the magazine about research that makes people LAUGH and then THINK.

- See more at: http://www.improbable.com/magazine/#sthash.KMqRJddw.dpuf

The Friday broadcast is a compilation of highlights from the actual Awards ceremony that takes place each September at Harvard. Scientists come from all over the world to accept their prizes in categories as diverse as Safety Engineering, Medicine, and Probability. They are tasked with describing their research in creative and succinct speeches. And, judging from the number who accepted their speeches in song or verse this year, or in costume, there is an expectation they will entertain and enlighten. The room is full of scientists, but they may not all speak exactly the same language. So jargon is discouraged, as are complicated explanations.

Yet even with this model of humor and brevity, the Ig Nobel Awards organizers have felt the need to include a "referee" who is known as Miss Sweetie Poo. She is a wonderful addition to this awards ceremony, where erudite experts expound upon their research. A sweet-looking, party-dressed eight-year-old, Miss SP walks right up to speakers who have exceeded their time (or her attention) limits and cuts them off by intoning "Please stop. I'm bored" over and over again--until they stop. It is a maddeningly effective tactic. Watch a very funny collection of video clips with various Miss Sweetie Poos silencing distinguished scientists mid-explanation here.

I have been to several events that would have greatly benefitted from Miss Sweetie Poo's guidance.  Longtime readers of this blog will know I rarely make absolute pronouncements, but here is one: Every speaker, in every situation, needs to remember that audiences have finite attention spans. They may also have limited capacity for understanding the details and minutia of specialized hypotheses, research, or conclusions. So, do what an acquaintance of mine does; he is an expert in a somewhat arcane field, but also a consistently terrific speaker. When he is speaking to any but a group of his closest peers, he looks over his speech and asks himself if a smart fifth grader would understand. If not, he simplifies and shortens. He is always thinking of a possible Miss Sweetie Poo in his audience. We should all be so smart!

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