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Not-So-Noble Nobel Prizes

Margot Button, left, looks through a microscope at her beloved oxygen atom played by Jason McStoots, right, in a short opera called "Atom and Eve" during the 2003 Ig Nobel Prize ceremony at Harvard University in Cambridge, Mass., Thursday, Oct. 2, 2003. The opera follows the romance between a scientist, Eve, and an atom
AP
Karl Schwaerzler wants you to take over Liechtenstein - for your next convention, wedding or bar mitzvah.

His big plans for renting out the tiny country earned him an Ig Nobel Prize on Thursday in an irreverent ceremony at Harvard University.

The annual awards, handed out by the Annals of Improbable Research, a science and humor magazine, are given to real academics and others whose work might tickle people's funny bones.

This year's winners included a Japanese researcher who studied a bronze statue that failed to attract pigeons and a team of Australians who conducted "An Analysis of the Forces Required to Drag Sheep over Various Surfaces."

The winners' achievements "have that stunning quality that it makes you laugh and it makes you think - and it makes you wonder if this could possibly be," said Marc Abrahams, editor of the magazine.

Schwaerzler and Liechtenstein, whose tourist office is helping set up the program, won the prize for economics for making it possible to rent all 450 hotel and guest house rooms in the European nation of 33,000 people.

"We hand over an entire village to your company. Or even a state!" proclaims the Web site of Xnet Rent a Village, the company Schwaerzler heads. Attractions include wine tasting in the prince's own winery.

"It's a little crazy, but we like crazy things," Schwaerzler said of the prize. He said he's rented out six villages in Austria and Germany about 30 times since 1996 but has yet to book Liechtenstein - a deal that could cost up to $160,000 a day.

The Ig Nobel Prize in engineering went to the late Edward A. Murphy Jr. and two colleagues for jointly coining "Murphy's Law," which is commonly known as "If anything can go wrong, it will."

The three were experimenting with the effects of deceleration on humans using a rocket sled at Edwards Air Force Base in California in the late 1940s when Murphy first uttered something - accounts vary as to exactly what it was - that was dubbed "Murphy's Law."

The medicine prize went to University of London researchers who found that the brains of London taxi drivers are different from those of average people - enlarged in the zone associated with navigation, shrunken in another area.

Researchers from Stockholm University won the interdisciplinary research prize for a report titled, "Chickens Prefer Beautiful Humans."

The psychology award went to Stanford University professor Philip Zimbardo for a study entitled "Politicians' Uniquely Simple Personalities." The study found that people develop a simplified view of politicians' personalities. Zimbardo said the research could be useful to campaign strategists.

"This is a very strange thing, this Ig Nobel. I had heard vaguely about it. At first, I thought it was an insult," Zimbardo said. Now he's honored, he said, and hopes the publicity will build interest in his research.

Announcement of winners of this year's actual Nobel Prizes, incidentally, also began Thursday.

By Martin Finucane