Tea and Cookies 101

News from academe.

Iggy’s Stooges The Ig Nobel Prizes, spoofs on the Nobel Prizes that honor both genuine and phony research, were handed out this month. Len Fisher of the University of Bristol won the physics prize for researching the best way to dunk a cookie. A South African team won the peace prize for a car alarm that stops thieves with a flamethrower. The British Standards Institution received the literature prize for its six-page exposition on the proper way to make a cup of tea, while the Kansas Board of Education and Colorado State Board of Education shared the science-education prize for “mandating that children should not believe in Darwin’s theory of evolution any more than they should believe in Newton’s theory of gravitation … or Pasteur’s theory that germs cause disease,” according to the Chronicle of Higher Education. Neither board sent a representative to the Cambridge, Mass., award ceremony.

The Allah Who Failed

University of Kuwait professor Ahmad al-Baghdadi was jailed for blasphemy after writing that Mohammed failed in his mission to convert Mecca’s nonbelievers to Islam. The professor, chair of the political science department, was sentenced to one month behind bars for offending Islam and immediately went on a hunger strike that sent him to the hospital. Upon his release, the professor apologized for any offense he caused, reports Agence France Presse.

A 4.3 Grade Point Average

Princeton University wants to ditch the A-plus. There are “too many of them to suggest that the students getting them are really doing exceptional work,” a university spokesman told the New York Times. A faculty committee wants to replace the A-plus with an “A with distinction.” Teachers would still be able to personally annotate the A, but it would still only be worth 4.0 grade points (compared to the A-plus’$2 4.3). Students oppose the proposed change. The university says the new grade will allow outstanding work to be honored while “not disadvantaging students in the contest for academic honors, awards, and prizes which depend significantly on grade point averages.” (See Slate’s “News Quiz” for an irreverent take on the grade deflation.)

Gettin’ Buggy Wit It

How do locusts swarm? BBC News reports that Oxford University scientists have determined that locusts attract other locusts with chemical signals to amass swarms that can strip a field bare within hours. Swarming female locusts can also manipulate the genes in their eggs to ensure that their young will want to join the swarm immediately. (Locusts reared in seclusion are reluctant to gather.) Researchers hope to isolate the chemical and use it to design synthetic compounds that will block swarming.

Punt, Pass, and Cheat

Tutors may have done schoolwork for at least five members of last year’s national championship college football team, according to an ESPN report. University of Tennessee Coach Phillip Fulmer declined to discuss the allegations, but school president J. Wade Gilley told the Associated Press that the school’s general counsel is reviewing the matter. If the ESPN report is true, players, tutors, and administrators will be subject to punishment under the school’s honor code and NCAA guidelines.

Visions of Dylan

Britain’s Poet Laureate Andrew Motion has dubbed Bob Dylan’s “Visions of Johanna” the best song lyrics ever written. Citing “the concentration and surprise” of Dylan’s lyrics, as well as the “rasp of his anger,” Motion rhapsodized over the songwriter’s use of language. Not all British poets share Motion’s taste. Dannie Abse told the London Observer, “[Dylan’s] writing is inferior poetry, and inferior poetry is not really poetry at all.” Poet Craig Raine argued that Lorenz Hart was a better lyricist than Dylan.

In Loco Parentis Returnus

Recently amended federal confidentiality laws have prompted such schools as the University of Delaware, Indiana University, and Penn State to notify parents when students under 21 violate campus rules concerning drugs or alcohol. A student referendum on notification at the University of Illinois produced the highest turnout for a student election in 10 years: More than 80 percent of students voted against it.

All Hail Marx and Einstein

Karl Marx is the greatest thinker of the millennium, according to a BBC News Online poll. Albert Einstein placed second. Rounding out the top 10: Isaac Newton, Charles Darwin, St. Thomas Aquinas, Stephen Hawking, Immanuel Kant, René Descartes, James Clerk Maxwell, and Friedrich Nietzsche.

Indian Giving

The Lilly Endowment Inc.’s recent donation of $30 million to the American Indian College Fund is the largest private donation ever made to a Native American organization. The money will be spent on improved classrooms, labs, and libraries at tribal colleges on reservations. In July, Lilly gave $50 million to the Hispanic Scholarship Fund, and last year it donated $42 million to the United Negro College Fund, making it one of the largest supporters of minority education.

Journalists, Heal Thyselves

The Journal of the American Medical Association has appointed its first female editor: Dr. Catherine D. DeAngelis, a former nurse, the vice dean of Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, and a member of JAMA’s editorial board. The Journal dismissed George Lundberg as editor in January after he published a survey of college students’ sexual attitudes (sample question: Is oral sex the same as sex?) that too conveniently coincided with President Clinton’s impeachment trial. Asked if she was offered guidelines about editing the journal after Lundberg’s dismissal, DeAngelis told the Washington Post, “Editorial freedom is essential. I have no doubt that editorial freedom will be the byword.”