Researchers who found a link between country music and suicide, and a man who patented his combover hairstyle won Ig Nobel Awards for true but funny experiments on Thursday.
Other prizes went to a soft drink maker that bottled Thames River water in London and sold it as a designer drink, and to a woman who investigated the "5-second rule," according to which if food falls to the floor for fewer than 5 seconds, it is safe to eat.
The annual awards, presented at Harvard University in Massachusetts by the publishers of the Annals of Improbable Research, are a spoof of the Nobel prizes and represent years of scouring scholarly journals and newspapers for scientific efforts worth poking fun at.
Jim Gundlach of the University of Alabama said he got hate mail when he first published his study showing that people who listen to country music have higher rates of suicide.
He said it does not hold true any more.
"The country music that we have today is not the same kind of country music that was related to suicide back when we did this," he said in a telephone interview.
"When we did that, there were songs like D-I-V-O-R-C-E," he added. "It was predominantly tears in the beer types of music."
Country music today is peppier, Gundlach said.
He said the findings, published in 1992, surprised him too.
"It was really kind of an accidental research project," Gundlach, a sociologist, said. "We used all the standard predictors of suicide like marriage and I sorted the data so that cities with higher-than-expected rates would be at the top. There at the top was Nashville, Tennessee."
His graduate statistics class said the common factor must be country music. One student who knew how to track down radio station play lists helped Gundlach and colleague Steven Stack discover that people who listened to more country music were indeed more likely to commit suicide.
'5-second rule' upheld
Jillian Clarke was a Chicago high school student when she investigated the "5-second rule" that states if food falls to the floor for fewer than 5 seconds, it is safe to pick it up and eat it.
She found, in a survey, that 76 percent of U.S. women and 56 percent of men were familiar with the 5-second rule, and used it to justify picking up and eating dropped treats, or letting their children do so.
Clarke swabbed floors at the University of Illinois and found them surprisingly clean of microbes, thus justifying the rule.
Frank Smith of Orlando, Florida, won his engineering IgNobel posthumously for patenting his peculiar comb-over -- a way of covering up a bald spot with hair.
"He actually had a diagram and a science to the method that he used," Smith's granddaughter, Heather Smith Adams, said in a telephone interview.
"There was a specific pattern -- you had to grow out your hair to a particular length and there was an actual pattern for how you laid the hair over one side and then combed it over to the other side," added Smith.
"You know how combovers have that stringy look? This is to avoid that stringy look. I didn't know for a long time that he even had a comb-over."
A chemistry IgNobel went to Coca-Cola Company of Britain "for using advanced technology to convert liquid from the River Thames into Dasani, a transparent form of water, which for precautionary reasons has been made unavailable to consumers."
Five hundred thousand bottles of the product were pulled from the market last March after unacceptable levels of bromate, a potential cancer-causing chemical, were found. Coke is seeking a new British bottling location.