Rats in tiny trousers, pseudoscientific waffle, the personalities of rocks and Volkswagen’s, shall we say, “creative” approach to emissions testing were among the research topics honoured by the 2016 Ig Nobel Prizes. The winners were announced last night at a live webcast ceremony held at Harvard University.
A scene from the 2015 Ig Nobel prize ceremony. (Image: AP Photo/Charles Krupa)
For those unfamiliar with the Ig Nobel Prizes, it’s an annual celebration of silly science. Or a silly celebration of seemingly dubious science, courtesy of the satirical journal Annals of Improbable Research. The main objective is to honour research that first makes you laugh, and then makes you think. It’s all in good fun, and the honourees frequently travel to the ceremony on their own dime to accept their awards.
This year’s crop of Ig Nobel Laureates is listed below. Those who attended the ceremony were given just 60 seconds for their acceptance speeches, a longstanding rule that was, as always, vigorously enforced (the Oscars could learn a thing or two from the Ig Nobels).
If you happen to be in the vicinity of MIT this Saturday afternoon, many of the winners will be giving free public mini-lectures — five minutes each, plus time to answer questions.
Reproduction Prize: The late Ahmed Shafik, for studying the effects of wearing polyester, cotton or wool trousers on the sex life of rats, and for conducting similar tests with human males.
Economics Prize: Mark Avis, Sarah Forbes and Shelagh Ferguson, for assessing the perceived personalities of rocks, from a sales and marketing perspective.
Physics Prize: Gábor Horváth, Miklós Blahó, György Kriska, Ramón Hegedüs, Balázs Gerics, Róbert Farkas, Susanne Åkesson, Péter Malik and Hansruedi Wildermuth, for discovering why white-haired horses are the most horsefly-proof horses, and for discovering why dragonflies are fatally attracted to black tombstones.
Chemistry Prize: Volkswagen, for solving the problem of excessive automobile pollution emissions by automatically, electromechanically producing fewer emissions whenever the cars are being tested.
Medicine Prize: Christoph Helmchen, Carina Palzer, Thomas Münte, Silke Anders and Andreas Sprenger, for discovering that if you have an itch on the left side of your body, you can relieve it by looking into a mirror and scratching the right side of your body (and vice versa).
Biology Prize: Awarded jointly to Charles Foster, for living in the wild as, at different times, a badger, an otter, a deer, a fox and a bird; and to Thomas Thwaites, for creating prosthetic extensions of his limbs that allowed him to move in the manner of, and spend time roaming hills in the company of, goats.
Psychology Prize: Verschuere, for asking a thousand liars how often they lie, and for deciding whether to believe those answers.
Peace Prize: Gordon Pennycook, James Allan Cheyne, Nathaniel Barr, Derek Koehler and Jonathan Fugelsang for their scholarly study called “On the Reception and Detection of Pseudo-Profound Bullshit”.
Literature Prize: Fredrik Sjöberg, for his three-volume autobiographical work about the pleasures of collecting flies that are dead, and flies that are not yet dead.
Perception Prize: Atsuki Higashiyama and Kohei Adachi, for investigating whether things look different when you bend over and view them between your legs.