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The ‘Ig-Nobel’ Omicron

Manasi Phadke | Updated on: Dec 06, 2021
indian female doctor holding piggy bank or money box made up of clay and indian currency falling from sky, indian currency raining, isolated on gray, indian doctor and money or rupees

indian female doctor holding piggy bank or money box made up of clay and indian currency falling from sky, indian currency raining, isolated on gray, indian doctor and money or rupees

Indian Currency, Paper Currency, Currency, Number 2000, India

Indian Currency, Paper Currency, Currency, Number 2000, India

The Omicron reminds one rather sharply of the Ig given in 2019. This one went out to Gedik, Voss and Voss for testing which country’s paper money is best at transmitting dangerous bacteria

You might be thinking my spelling is messed up. Surely this new virus on the block named Omicron is ‘ignoble’? Ah, now while it steadily is earning its reputation for being ‘ignoble’, it reminds me of the ‘Ig Nobel’ — a very interesting spoof on the Nobel prizes.

The Ig Nobel prizes are given out to “honour achievements that first make people laugh, and then make them think.” Don’t be mistaken — this is a serious affair! The Ig Nobels are given out by no less than the Nobel Laureates themselves, in a grand ceremony at Harvard. Suitably, the entire do is organised by the science humour magazine Annals of Improbable Research . The scene then moves on to Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), where the Ig Nobels speak out their thoughts in carrying out research on such impossibly crazy topics While the topics are indeed crazy, this is serious research that has an unexpected comic twist to it. For example, an Ig Nobel in Physics was handed out for the statement and subsequent research on whether black holes satisfy all conditions for being positioned as the exact location of Hell. Ig Nobels are handed out in 10 different categories, and you can imagine how economics fits the thingy rather perfectly.

A look into the research work of the Ignitaries in Economics is rather errr, enlightening, apart from being distinctly funny. The 1993 Ig Nobel in Economics went to Ravi Batra, the author of best seller The Great Depression of 1990 and Surviving the Great Depression of 1990 ‘for selling enough copies of his books to single-handedly prevent world-wide economic collapse’.

Some remind you distinctively of English humour, stiff upper lip included. The 1995 Ig Nobel in Economics was given to Nick Leeson and his superiors at Barings Bank for using the calculus of derivatives to ‘demonstrate that every financial institution has its limits’. Another favourite is the 2015 Ig Nobel given out to the Bangkok Metropolitan Police for ‘offering to pay policemen extra cash if the policemen refuse to take bribes.’ The 2021 Ig is particularly interesting. The research claims that countries with fat politicians tend to rank high on corruption index.

Now, all this is very nice, you might say, but what does the Omicron have to do with this? Well, the Omicron reminds one rather sharply of the Ig given in 2019. This one went out to Gedik, Voss and Voss for testing which country’s paper money is best at transmitting dangerous bacteria! In India, successive RBI Governors have gone blue in the face worrying why the transmission mechanism does not work within Indian banking. Time and again, the RBI has hiked the repo, and the banks hike the lending rates. Time and again, the RBI slashes the repo, and Indian banks don’t budge. The failure of this transmission mechanism has single-handedly revived the entire Indian PhD industry in monetary economics. But while RBI Governors may be hairan-pareshan about the stubborn monetary transmission mechanism, they will be delighted to know about the other transmission mechanism that has failed in the country.

Ideal carrier

Gedik, Voss and Voss say that money is the thing that is most passed from one person to another. Money, while is a basis for survival amongst humans, is not really that admired as essential for survival in the world of microbes. And yet, it carries immense potential for being the ideal carrier of respiratory and gastrointestinal infections. Now, Gedik and company actually smeared live bacteria (methicillin-resistant S.aureus ( MRSA), Vancomycin-resistant Enterococcus feaecium ( VRE) and E. Coli) on bank notes in a lab environment.

The number of bacteria in the colonies were counted and notes were dried. Then, three people, whose hands were cleansed with alcohol-based solutions, were asked to handle the notes for 30 seconds. Transmission from notes to human hands was calculated. All the banknotes were sterilised using UV radiation after the experiment. In case you are wondering what happened to the banknotes, none of them were damaged, and all were brought back into re-circulation.

Results? The Canadian and US dollars were hosts for MRSA and the Euro played host to E. Coli. Hurrah, the Indian rupee was host only to the VRE and lived true to its reputation of pooh-poohing any which transmission! The worst performer amongst the selected currencies was the Romanian Leu, and was seen playing host to all pathogens.

Gedik, Voss and Voss are urgently needed to re-do the analysis on the Leu, using Omicron in lieu of the other pathogens. The dollar might say ‘Omi’god, we trust. All is well with the INR since the bearer only gets a promise of a sum of hundred rupees. Nothing else.

The writer is a brave economist trying to laugh against the odds

Published on December 06, 2021

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