Ig Nobel Peace Prize

Sheridan Professor Wins 2016 Ig Nobel Peace Prize

Sep 23, 2016

Nathaniel Barr, a professor of Creativity and Creative Thinking in Sheridan’s Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences, has won the 2016 Ig Nobel Peace Prize along with a team of scholars for their research study “On the Reception and Detection of Pseudo-Profound Bullshit.” The award was presented last night at the 26th annual Ig Nobel Prize ceremony held at Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

The Ig Nobel Prizes were established to honour achievements that make people laugh, and then think. The prizes, which are presented by former Nobel Prize winners, are intended to celebrate the unusual, honour the imaginative, and spur people’s interest in science, medicine and technology.

Although the title of the study may seem frivolous, the intent of the research was to explore why and how some people are prone to be impressed by pseudo-profound language.  Barr collaborated on the paper with colleagues from the Department of Psychology, University of Waterloo.  Funding for the study was provided by the National Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC).

According to the study’s abstract, the authors focused their investigation on “pseudo-profound bullshit, which consists of seemingly impressive assertions that are presented as true and meaningful but are actually vacuous.” As an example, they cite tweets by Deepak Chopra, such as “nature is a self-regulating ecosystem of awareness.” The study concludes that ‘bullshit is a consequential aspect of the human condition”, and that the expansion of communication technology has enhanced our everyday exposure to it.  The authors call for further work to develop interventions and strategies to help individuals “guard against bullshit."

"Although publishing a paper that says bullshit around 200 times is certainly amusing at some level, bullshit is not a laughing matter,” says Barr. “Bullshit permeates consequential aspects of life like healthcare and politics and this paper is a first step toward studying this important aspect of human existence from a psychological perspective.”

Nathaniel Barr joined Sheridan’s Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences in September, 2015. Trained as a cognitive psychologist, his interests include perception, attention, memory, motivation, belief, reasoning, creativity, and the way that thinking interacts with creativity. He was in attendance at the awards ceremony to pick up his prize, and will deliver a lecture on the study at MIT on September 24.

The Ig Nobel Prizes are organized by the magazine Annals of Improbable Research. The ceremony is co-sponsored by the Harvard-Radcliffe Society of Physics Students and the Harvard-Radcliffe Science Fiction Association.

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