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Last Updated: Friday, 3 October, 2003, 12:42 GMT 13:42 UK
I'm sorry he can't be with us....
Taxi, BBC
London's black cab drivers are famed for their "knowledge" of the city
A "dead man" and the scientific team which discovered London taxi drivers possess bigger-than-average brains have been honoured at the annual IgNobels.

A spoof on the real Nobel Prizes, the Igs aim to recognise achievements which "cannot, or should not, be reproduced".

Lal Bihari of Uttar Pradesh won the "peace prize" for his 18-year effort to try to prove he is alive and kicking.

Some corrupt officials had been bribed to declare him dead so his property could be "inherited" by others.

Visa problem

Bihari, who lives in Azamgarh, 220 kilometres (130 miles) southeast of Lucknow, was listed as deceased in 1976.

He found thousands of other Indians in the same plight and led a "posthumous" campaign to tackle the issue, even creating the Association of Dead People to press the authorities into action.

He was invited to pick up his Ig at the awards ceremony at the Sanders Theatre at Harvard University, US - but it seems his "uncertain" status prevented him from doing so.

"The Indian Government, which didn't recognize his life, gave him a passport," Marc Abrahams, the organiser of the IgNobels, said. "But the American government, the paragon of efficiency and helpfulness, won't give him a visa.

"You would expect a man who comes back from the dead would get a little extra help."

Back to front

This year's medicine prize went to a team from University College London, UK, who wrote a report in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences showing that taxi drivers have a larger hippocampus compared with other people.

This is a part of the brain associated with navigation in birds and animals.

The scientists also found part of the hippocampus grew larger as the taxi drivers spent more time in the job.

John Trinkaus of the Zicklin School of Business in New York City won the literature prize for his more than 80 detailed reports on the "specific annoyances and anomalies of daily life".

These included data on the percentage of pedestrians who wear coloured as opposed to white sport shoes; the percentage of commuters who carry attache cases; the percentage of shoppers who exceed the number of items permitted in a supermarket's express checkout lane; and the percentage of students who dislike the taste of Brussels sprouts.

The complete list of winners:

  • Engineering: To John Paul Stapp, Edward A. Murphy, Jr (both posthumous) and George Nichols giving birth in 1949 to Murphy's Law, the basic engineering principle that "If anything can go wrong, it will".
  • Physics: The Australian team that produced a report on An Analysis Of The Forces Required To Drag Sheep Over Various Surfaces.
  • Psychology: The Italian and US researchers for their report: Politicians' Uniquely Simple Personalities.
  • Chemistry: A Japanese researcher who investigated why a bronze statue in the city of Kanazawa did not attract pigeons.
  • Literature: John Trinkaus for a collection of studies including one that contained data on the percentage of young people who wore baseball caps with the peak facing to the rear rather than to the front.
  • Economics: Karl Schwarzler and the nation of Liechtenstein for making it possible to rent the entire country for corporate conventions, weddings, bar mitzvahs, and other gatherings.
  • Interdisciplinary research: A Stockholm University team for its report: Chickens Prefer Beautiful Humans.
  • Biology: CW Moeliker from the Netherlands for documenting the first scientifically recorded case of homosexual necrophilia in the mallard duck.
  • Peace: Lal Bihari, of Uttar Pradesh, India, for his campaign to prove he is alive.
  • Medicine: The University College London team for showing the hippocampus of taxi drivers is bigger than in the general population.


  • SEE ALSO:
    Birds, barking, beer and bellies
    04 Oct 02  |  Science/Nature
    In praise of apostrophes
    05 Oct 01  |  Science/Nature
    In praise of floating frogs
    06 Oct 00  |  Science/Nature
    Brits take the biscuit
    04 Oct 99  |  Science/Nature


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