I'm pleased to note that the 2012 Ig Nobel Prize for Literature went to the U.S. Government General Accountability Office for the report it published in May entitled, "Actions Needed to Evaluate the Impact of Efforts to Estimate Costs of Reports and Studies" (PDF). While I encourage you to read the report for yourself, or at least the summary, so you can confirm it's a real thing, let me try to explain what the report was about.
The Department of Defense is legally required to create a very large number of reports, and doing so is expensive. DOD has apparently been trying to estimate just how much it has been spending on this, which is itself a big task, and GAO (which is sort of the government's accounting firm) conducted a review of that effort. As it reported in May, GAO concluded that DOD's approach to the estimation project has not been fully consistent with relevant accounting standards, but the report ultimately recommended not that particular changes be made but rather that the Secretary of Defense himself "take steps to evaluate [and report on] DOD's effort to estimate [the] costs" of the required reporting.
In other words, as the Ig Nobel judges recognized, GAO had thereby issued "a report about reports about reports" that recommended the preparation of another report.
I guess I should point out that in saying this, I'm actually just reporting this report of the Ig Nobel Committee's report on GAO's report recommending a report on DOD's report reports. I'm also going to ask you to report my report to all your Twitter and Facebook followers, despite the significant risk that this may cause the universe to explode. A universe in which the above exists may not be worth saving anyway.
A few of the other Ig Nobel Prizes awarded this year:
- Psychology: Anita Eerland, Rolf Zwaan, Tulio Guadalupe, "Leaning to the Left Makes the Eiffel Tower Seem Smaller: Posture-Modulated Estimation," Psychological Science, vol. 22 no.12 at 1511-14 (Dec. 2011).
- Fluid Dynamics: Hans C. Mayer and Rouslan Krechetnikov, "Walking With Coffee: Why Does It Spill?" Physical Review, vol. 85 (2012).
- Anatomy: Frans de Waal and Jennifer Pokorny, "Faces and Behinds: Chimpanzee Sex Perception," Advanced Science Letters, vol. 1 at 99-103 (2008).
- Medicine: Emmanuel Ben-Soussan, et al., "Colonic Gas Explosion During Therapeutic Colonoscopy with Electrocautery," World Journal of Gastroenterology, vol. 13, no. 40 at 5295-98 (Oct. 2007).
Because that last one includes advice on how to prevent patients from exploding during a colonoscopy, it seems potentially relevant to those of you who do malpractice defense. The others are more distantly related to the law, although to be honest I'm still working on a theory of relevance for the chimp study.