From: John Young <jya@xxxxxxxxxxxx>
Date: Mon, 11 Nov 1996 20:39:58 -0500
Wall Street Journal, November 11, 1996, p. B1.
Sorting Out This Case Could Take The Wisdom of a Learned
By Ross Kerber
The value of a Nobel Prize-worthy feat is clearly
established: The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences pays
$1.1 million to winners of the coveted awards.
The value of Nobel Prize-worthy feet is harder to fix, but
two of them have evidently fallen into the wrong hands.
At an auction in Cambridge, Mass., last month, software
engineer Nigel J. Foster says he paid $15 for a plaster
sculpture of the left foot of Richard Roberts, a biologist
who won the Nobel Prize in 1993. The Roberts foot now sits
on Mr. Foster's mantel in nearby Newton.
But another bidder, Jylene Livengood, says she paid $30 for
the Roberts replica and is its rightful owner.
The event was sponsored by the Annals of Improbable
Research, which each year spoofs the Nobels with its own Ig
Nobel awards for scientific work that "cannot or should not
be reproduced." This year's winners include a Purdue
University professor who invented a way to fire up a
barbecue grill using liquid oxygen, and a University of
Buffalo professor for proving that "financial strain is a
risk indicator for destructive periodontal disease."
For this year's ceremony, Annals editors convinced four
real Nobel laureates -- Dr. Roberts, Sheldon Glashow
(physics, 1979), Dudley Herschbach (chemistry 1986) and
William Lipscomb (chemistry 1976) to sit for castings of
their feet, to be auctioned to raise money for science
Mr. Foster concedes he may have bid on another foot. But he
says he noticed the sculptures being carried off by parties
unknown, and grabbed the last one -- the Roberts foot --
before it got away.
When Ms. Livengood went to claim her prize, all the feet
were gone. Her appeals to Mr. Foster have been in vain.
"Let's face it, there aren't too many people on the planet
with one of these," he says.
The Annals has been unable to sort out the mess. It didn't
take winning bidders' names, and doesn't know what became
of the Glashow or the Lipscomb feet. (The Herschbach foot
has been accounted for.)
The group has posted this notice on its Web site: "If you
purchased one of the feet, please get in touch with us, so
that we may rectify this embarrassing misstep."
For his part, Dr. Roberts says he's not worried about the
foot's ownership. He's surprised it fetched any price at
all. Of Mr. Foster, Dr. Roberts says, "I think he