Monday, September 26, 2016

The awards you've been waiting for

The Nobel prizes will be announced in early October, but stealing a march on their "competition," last week at a ceremony in Boston the Ig Nobel prizes were announced to general hilarity and profound amazement at the lengths that some scientists will go to in their quest for knowledge.

The Ig Nobels are in their 26th year and every year at this time they honor some of the strangest research in all of science. The prize this year was Zimbabwean currency worth about forty cents in U.S. money and the prizes were given to the winners by some actual Nobel prize winning scientists.

Proving that there are no bounds on the curiosity of scientists, these were some of the winners this year:


  • Egyptian urologist Ahmed Shafik investigated the effect that wearing trousers would have on male rats. He made trousers for his subjects in different kinds of materials including 100% polyester, 50/50% polyester/cotton, all cotton and all wool. He found that rats wearing polyester had significantly lower rates of sexual activity but that those wearing cotton or wool were relatively normal.
  • A team from New Zealand and the UK studied the personalities of rocks. Yes, that's right - rocks. They determined this by asking 225 New Zealand students to describe what they perceived as the personality of various rocks.
  • The biology award went to two Britons, one of whom created prosthetic limbs that allowed him to move like a goat and to live among goats and the second one who tried to live as a badger, an otter, a fox, and a stag. While living as a badger, the researcher ate worms, dug a hillside den, and tried to sniff out voles. The goat researcher infiltrated a herd in the Swiss Alps and spent three days eating grass, bleating, and stumbling over rocks.
  • The psychology award was given to a team that studied liars. They asked 1,000 liars how often they had lied over the course of their life and rated how well they lied. They found that lying decreased with age, although they had to admit their their respondents might have been...uh...lying.   
  • The peace prize was awarded to a team of philosophers who published a paper titled "On the Reception and Detection of Pseudo-Profound Bullshit." The group studied how people understand gibberish that has been presented as if it means something, and they came to the conclusion that "bullshit may be more pervasive than ever before."
  • A group of German scientists earned the medicine prize by determining that if you have an itch on your left side, you can look into a mirror and scratch your right side to relieve it.
  • A perception prize was awarded to Japanese researchers who tried to learn whether bending over and looking at things between your legs changes how they appear.
  • Physics awards were given to researchers who found that white horses attract fewer horseflies and that dragonflies are fatally attracted to black tombstones.
  • The award for literature went to a Swedish author, Fredrik Sjoberg, who wrote a trilogy about collecting flies.  
Finally, the most surprising award was that for chemistry which was given to the automaker Volkswagen. The tongue-in-cheek citation for the award stated that it was given "for solving the problem of excessive automobile pollution emissions by automatically, electro-mechanically producing fewer emissions whenever the cars are being tested." They were given the nearly worthless Zimbabwean currency prize to help pay for their massive legal costs for cheating on emissions tests.

Gleeful absurdism and high satire were the mood of the night. Never let it be said that scientists don't have a sense of humor. 

10 comments:

  1. I laughed out loud just now reading about these research topics. I especially liked the research on liars, and how convincing BS can be, which I knew without participating in the experiments. ;-) Who knew science could be so wacky?!

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    1. Those scientists are a barrel of laughs!

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    2. I wonder who funds those researchers.

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    3. For the most part, it is actually serious research that has a purpose. It only sounds ridiculous when considered out of context. I suspect that most of the research is funded through universities, corporations, or foundations as is the majority of research. One could probably discover the sources online, but I haven't really investigated it that deeply.

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  2. I'm still trying to erase the image in my mind of dozens of little rats in polyester pants:)

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    1. It is a rather persistent image, isn't it?

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  3. The psychology award puts me in mind of a certain political candidate I had the agony of watching last night.

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    1. I didn't watch. I can't tolerate his voice or his persona. I followed the debate online and it seemed pretty obvious that she was wiping the floor with him. Good for her!

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    2. I think she let him wipe the floor with his own bad self.

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    3. I do not feel the need to watch any more debate though.

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