Nearly all mammals urinate for the same amount of time, regardless of size. If you attach a stick to the rear end of a chicken, it will walk like a dinosaur (at least, we think). You can accurately diagnose acute appendicitis in a patient if they felt a lot of pain when their vehicle drove over speed bumps. A bee sting hurts when it’s delivered to the upper arm, but it hurts much, much more on the shaft of the penis, as one committed scientist can tell you from the painful experiment he conducted on himself.
These are a few of the admittedly odd research findings recognized last night in Boston by the Ig Nobel Prizes, perhaps science’s strangest—and funniest—award ceremony. Now in its 25th year, the Ig Nobels recognize “research that makes people laugh and then think,” as its tagline goes.
The Ig Nobels are the brainchild of Improbable Research, a multimedia publisher that covers “research that's maybe good or bad, important or trivial, valuable or worthless,” as the site relates, most notably through the magazine Annals of Improbable Research. Their finds are culled from some 2000 science journals.
Getting a laugh isn’t the only goal: “We also hope to spur people's curiosity, and to raise the question: How do you decide what's important and what's not, and what's real and what's not—in science and everywhere else?”
About 1100 people attended the sold-out, often goofy awards ceremony, held at Harvard’s Sanders Theater. The 10 winners, chosen from a pool of about 9000 nominees, received their prizes from actual Nobel laureates. They also routinely hammed it up on stage. Check out the scientists behind the appendicitis-speed bump study giving what is clearly an accurate depiction of a real-life scenario:
The full list of winning research is below. If you’re in the Boston area tomorrow, September 19, some winners will be discussing their research in a free public event at MIT. The Ig Informal Lectures will be held in MIT’s building 10, room 250, at 1 p.m.
For inventing a chemical recipe to partially un-boil an egg.
Winners: Callum Ormonde, Colin Raston, Tom Yuan, Stephan Kudlacek, Sameeran Kunche, Joshua N. Smith, William A. Brown, Kaitlin Pugliese, Tivoli Olsen, Mariam Iftikhar, and Gregory Weiss
Study: "Shear-Stress-Mediated Refolding of Proteins from Aggregates and Inclusion Bodies," published in ChemBioChem
For testing the biological principle that nearly all mammals empty their bladders in about 21 seconds (plus or minus 13 seconds).
Winners: Patricia Yang, David Hu, Jonathan Pham, and Jerome Choo
Study: "Duration of Urination Does Not Change With Body Size," published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences
For discovering that the word "huh?" (or its equivalent) seems to exist in every human language—and for not being quite sure why.
Winners: Mark Dingemanse, Francisco Torreira, and Nick J. Enfield
Study: "Is 'Huh?' a universal word? Conversational infrastructure and the convergent evolution of linguistic items," published in PLOS ONE
For discovering that many business leaders developed in childhood a fondness for risk-taking, when they experienced natural disasters that—for them—had no dire personal consequences.
Winners: Gennaro Bernile, Vineet Bhagwat, and P. Raghavendra Rau
Study: "What Doesn't Kill You Will Only Make You More Risk-Loving: Early-Life Disasters and CEO Behavior," published in the Journal of Finance
To the Bangkok Metropolitan Police, for offering to pay policemen extra cash if the policemen refuse to take bribes. (Many have criticized this tactic, by the way.)
Awarded jointly to two groups for experiments to study the biomedical benefits or biomedical consequences of intense kissing (and other intimate, interpersonal activities).
Winners: Hajime Kimata; Jaroslava Durdiaková, Peter Celec, Natália Kamodyová, Tatiana Sedláčková, Gabriela Repiská, Barbara Sviežená, and Gabriel Minárik
Studies: "Kissing Reduces Allergic Skin Wheal Responses and Plasma Neurotrophin Levels," published in Physiology & Behavior; "Reduction of Allergic Skin Weal Responses by Sexual Intercourse in Allergic Patients," published in Sexual and Relationship Therapy; "Kissing Selectively Decreases Allergen-Specific IgE Production in Atopic Patients," published in Journal of Psychosomatic Research; and "Prevalence and Persistence of Male DNA Identified in Mixed Saliva Samples After Intense Kissing," published in Forensic Science International Genetics
For trying to use mathematical techniques to determine whether and how Moulay Ismael the Bloodthirsty, the Sharifian Emperor of Morocco, managed, during the years from 1697 through 1727, to father 888 children.
Winners: Elisabeth Oberzaucher and Karl Grammer
Study: "The Case of Moulay Ismael—Fact or Fancy?" published in PLOS ONE
For observing that when you attach a weighted stick to the rear end of a chicken, the chicken then walks in a manner similar to that in which dinosaurs are thought to have walked.
Winners: Bruno Grossi, Omar Larach, Mauricio Canals, Rodrigo A. Vásquez, José Iriarte-Díaz
Study: "Walking Like Dinosaurs: Chickens with Artificial Tails Provide Clues about Non-Avian Theropod Locomotion," published in PLOS ONE
For determining that acute appendicitis can be accurately diagnosed by the amount of pain evident when the patient is driven over speed bumps.
Winners: Diallah Karim, Anthony Harnden, Nigel D'Souza, Andrew Huang, Abdel Kader Allouni, Helen Ashdown, Richard J. Stevens, and Simon Kreckler
Study: "Pain Over Speed Bumps in Diagnosis of Acute Appendicitis: Diagnostic Accuracy Study," published in BMJ
PHYSIOLOGY and ENTOMOLOGY PRIZE
Awarded jointly, for painstakingly creating the Schmidt Sting Pain Index, which rates the relative pain people feel when stung by various insects; and for carefully arranging for honey bees to sting repeatedly on 25 different locations on the body, to learn which locations are the least painful (skull, middle toe tip, and upper arm) and most painful (the nostril, upper lip, and penis shaft).
Winners: Justin Schmidt and Michael L. Smith