Tea and Cookies 101

Philosophical ruminations.
Oct. 22 1999 3:30 AM

Tea and Cookies 101

News from academe.

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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.

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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.

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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' 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.

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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.

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