Run by the science humor magazine Annals of Improbable Research, Ig Nobel is a jubilantly irreverent affair. It has become world famous for recognizing scientific achievements that “make people laugh, and then think”.
This year Ig turns 25. Since 1991, scientists have won for such various feats as levitating a live frog with magnets, teaching pigeons to discern between Monet and Picasso, studying the effect of country music on suicides and experimenting with Coca Cola as a spermicide.
This year’s Ig winners traveled from six continents to accept their trophies.
DIAGNOSTIC MEDICINE: Discovering that acute appendicitis can be identified by driving a patient over speed bumps.
The idea started as a running joke among surgeons, but Helen Ashdown decided to test it out while working as a junior doctor at Stoke Mandeville Hospital in Aylesbury. In a formal study of 101 patients, 33 of 34 people who were diagnosed with appendicitis reported pain travelling over speed bumps.
The copulative prowess of a 17th-century Moroccan emperor was the subject of a study by German and Austrian mathematicians who won a prize.
Intrigued by the story of Moulay Ismail, born in 1672 and dead at the age of 55, Elisabeth Oberzaucher and Karl Grammer sought to learn whether it would be physically possible for a man to sire between 600 and 888 sons as the fable alleges.
“It’s a lot of work it turns out,” Oberzucher said. “Moulay had to have had sex once or twice a day, which you might actually regard as a low number, but if you think this is every day, every single day for an entire life, this is quite a lot.”
Moulay Ismael, who was also apparently known as Moulay Ismael the Bloodthirsty, was Emperor of Morocco from 1672 to 1727, and is reputed to have fathered almost 900 children during his reign.
BIOLOGY: Noting that chickens walk like dinosaurs probably did, when you attach weighted sticks to their tails.
“We cannot test it in a real T. rex or any theropod dinosaurs – but we can in a chicken,” Dr Vasquez told the BBC. “[The gait] is a little bit crouching and the steps are a bit longer, because the centre of gravity of the animal is changed… and they have to counterbalance the weight of the tail by stretching their neck a little bit.”
MEDICINE: Hajime Kimata (Kimata Hajime Clinic, Japan) and Jaroslava Durdiaková (Comenius University, Slovakia) and her collagues awarded the prize for experiments to study the biomedical benefits or biomedical consequences of intense kissing (and other intimate, interpersonal activities).
Gennaro Bernile (Singapore Management University) and colleagues, discovered that many business leaders developed a fondness for risk-taking because they experienced natural disasters (such as earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, tsunamis, and wildfires) in their childhood, disasters that had no dire consequences for them.
ECONOMICS: Paying Bangkok Metropolitan Police officers bonuses if they refuse to take bribes.
PHYSIOLOGY AND ENTOMOLOGY: Awarded jointly to two individuals: Justin Schmidt (Southwest Biological Institute, US) for painstakingly creating the Schmidt Sting Pain Index, which rates the relative pain people feel when stung by various insects; and to Michael L. Smith (Cornell University, US), for carefully arranging for honey bees to sting him repeatedly on 25 different locations on his body, to learn which locations are the least painful (the skull, middle toe tip, and upper arm). and which are the most painful (the nostril, upper lip, and penis shaft).
Well, that’s a commendable dedication to science that should undoubtedly put Michael L. Smith into the ranks of scientists who risked their health and life in the name of science. An obscure Australian physician named Barry Marshall, for instance, drank bacteria-laden broth to discover the true cause of peptic (stomach) ulcers — a corkscrew-shaped bacterium known as Helicobacter pylori and point out the cure was a course of antibiotics. For his daring experiment he won a Nobel Prize in 2005.
LITERATURE: Mark Dingemanse of Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics, The Netherlands and colleagues, for discovering that the word “huh?” (or its equivalent) seems to exist in every human language and for not being quite sure why.
Well, some years are better than others where wackiness and fun of Ig Nobel prize-winning submissions goes. I remember laughing much harder in prior years. Which makes me think… Ah, never mind. Might as well be that with the passage of years I’ve become a grumpier person. But then again, see for yourself and recall your favorite Ig Nobel winners: Celebrating 25 years of wacky Ig Nobel Prize brilliance.