New Scientist reports on the “Best of Ig Nobel Prizes 2009”. We discover that Harvard anthropologist Dan Lieberman and his colleagues have made a splash:
The physics prize recognises a delicate gravitational study to answer a question that only small children usually dare ask: why don't pregnant women tip over? For four-legged mammals and our knuckle-walking cousins, the maternal load is balanced between front and hind limbs, but for bipedal humans baby and belly protrude perilously.
How could primitive humans have survived when they spent most of their adult lives pregnant or nursing infants, wondered anthropologists Katherine Whitcome of the University of Cincinnati, Ohio, Daniel E. Lieberman of Harvard University and Liza J. Shapiro of the University of Texas, Austin. The answer, they discovered, was that women have a more pronounced curvature in their lower backs than men, shifting the upper part of the trunk backwards so their bodies balance better during pregnancy.
You know, I wouldn’t have picked that particular study for this prize, but…well, if I ever am in this position, I’ll remember those who blazed the trail before me.