Finally, the scientific evidence is in – sword swallowing can be harmful to your health.
The scientific evidence is real – but the Ig-Nobel spoof awards for the strangest research are, well, real too. Here is an article in the Guardian:

“For the world’s sword swallowers, it must have been an important study: a medical analysis of the dangers and side-effects of their profession. Fortunately, doctors concluded that the most likely injury from inserting a long piece of sharp steel down your food pipe was just a humble sore throat.

As well as adding to crucial knowledge about work-related injuries, the unique study last night earned its author, radiologist Brian Witcombe at Gloucestershire Royal NHS foundation trust, this year’s Ig Nobel prize for medicine. A spoof of the Nobel prizes, which will be announced next week, the Ig Nobels celebrate the quirkier side of science. In previous years the prizes have honoured a centrifugal-force birthing machine that spins pregnant women at high speed and Britain’s official six-page specification for how to make a cup of tea…

…Ten winners received awards at last night’s ceremony at Harvard University. The 2007 Ig Nobel for peace went to the Air Force Wright Laboratory in Dayton, Ohio. In 1994, researchers there submitted a three-page proposal to develop a chemical weapon that could make enemy soldiers sexually irresistible to each other. (I love this one!!)

Documents detailing the idea were unearthed through a freedom of information request by the Sunshine Project, a lobby group that opposes biological weapons.

“We don’t know if this document was the start and end of it or whether, in fact, this project continued and perhaps continues to this day,” said Marc Abrahams, editor of the Annals of Improbable Research and the man behind the Ig Nobel awards…

…Genuine Nobel laureates presented the prizes to winners. Rich Roberts (medicine 1993), William Lipscomb (chemistry 1976), Craig Mello (medicine 2005), Robert Laughlin (physics 1998), Roy Glauber (physics 2005), Dudley Herschbach (chemistry 1986) and Sheldon Glashow (physics 1979) handed over the gongs…

…Dr Abrahams said of this year’s winners: “They make you laugh when you first hear about them. You almost have no choice, then you can’t quite get them out of your head afterwards. It’s slightly difficult to accept that these things are real – but they are.”

The winners:

Medicine Brian Witcombe of Gloucester and Dan Meyer of Antioch, Tennessee, for their report in the British Medical Journal, Sword Swallowing and its Side-Effects

Physics L Mahadevan of Harvard and Enrique Cerda Villablanca of Santiago University, Chile, for studying how sheets become wrinkled

Biology Johanna van Bronswijk of Eindhoven University of Technology, Netherlands, for a census of the mites, insects, spiders, pseudoscorpions, crustaceans, bacteria, algae, ferns and fungi with whom we share our beds

Chemistry Mayu Yamamoto of the International Medical Centre of Japan, for developing a way to extract vanilla essence from cow dung

Linguistics Juant Manuel Toro, Josep Trobalon and Núria Sebastián-Gallés, of Barcelona University, for showing that rats cannot tell the difference between a person speaking Japanese backwards and a person speaking Dutch backwards

Literature Glenda Browne of Australia, for her study of the word “the” and the problems it causes when indexing

Peace The Air Force Wright Laboratory, Dayton, Ohio, for instigating research on a chemical weapon to make enemy soldiers sexually irresistible to each other

Nutrition Brian Wansink of Cornell University, for exploring the seemingly boundless appetites of human beings by feeding them with a self-refilling, bottomless bowl of soup

Economics Kuo Cheng Hsieh, of Taiwan, for patenting a device that catches bank robbers by dropping a net over them

Aviation Patricia V Agostino, Santiago A Plano and Diego A Golombek of Argentina, for the discovery that Viagra aids jetlag recovery in hamsters

(sound of applause!)

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