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Potty mouth aids pain, Ig Nobel winner finds

BOSTON — Next time you crush your thumb with a hammer and you're in pain, go ahead, let fly with every obscenity you know.

It really does help.

At least according to Richard Stephens and his students, who earned a 2010 Ig Nobel prize, the award handed out by the Annals of Improbable Research magazine for silly sounding scientific discoveries that often have surprisingly practical applications.

This year's winners include scientists who developed a way to collect whale snot using a remote-control helicopter and doctors from New Zealand who found that wearing socks on the outside of your shoes reduces the chances of slipping on ice.

The 20th anniversary edition of the Ig Nobel awards ceremony was held Thursday night at Harvard University.

The theme this year was bacteria. There was the world premiere of "The Bacterial Opera," about bacteria that live on a woman's front tooth, and door prizes for all 1,200 attendees: bacteria (it was on the tickets).

Stephens, a lecturer in psychology at Keele University in the U.K., didn't whack his subjects with a hammer.

The test subjects dunked their hands in a bucket of ice water to see how long they could hold them there. People with potty mouth were able to remain in the water longer.

As usual, most winners of the dubious award were more than happy to be the butt of a little fun at the expense of their serious scientific work. And as usual, there were some holdouts.

This year's economics Ig Nobel went to executives and directors at Goldman Sachs, AIG, Lehman Bros., Bear Stearns, et al for their creative investment techniques that brought the global economy to its knees.

Annals of Improbable Research editor Marc Abrahams said, "We made a few attempts but soon realized it probably would not be possible," he said. "They never responded, not even with a 'No thank you.' "

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