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2016 Ig Nobel Prizes Honor Studies on Rats Wearing Pants

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Wearing tiny polyester pants affects the sex life of rats. Rocks have distinct brand personalities. Dragonflies have a fatal attraction to black tombstones. Things may look different when you bend over and view them between your legs.

These are just some of the scientific revelations that were celebrated, tongue firmly in check, at the 26th First Annual Ig Nobel Prize ceremony on September 22. The awards are organized by the magazine Annals of Improbable Research, which combs through thousands of scientific journals for amusing (but not necessarily trivial) research news. Recent articles have covered the kissing games of adolescents in Ohio, the health benefits of dirty water and smoking, and feminist glaciers.

This year’s awards—given in honor of “achievements that first make people laugh then make them think”—went to a man who lived as a goat, a man who wrote a multi-volume autobiography on the pleasures of collecting flies, and a team that studied the reception of pseudo-profound bullshit. The awards were held at Harvard University’s Sanders Theatre during a hijinx-filled live webcast that featured genuine Nobel laureates giving out the awards (live tweets gave a taste of the proceedings). The full list is on the Ig Nobel website, but here are a few highlights—and if you happen to be near MIT on September 24, there will be a "half-afternoon" of informal public lectures by the winners.

REPRODUCTION

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.

Winners: Ahmed Shafik

Study: "Effect of Different Types of Textiles on Sexual Activity. Experimental study," published in European Urology and "Contraceptive Efficacy of Polyester-Induced Azoospermia in Normal Men," published in Contraception

ECONOMICS

For assessing the perceived personalities of rocks, from a sales and marketing perspective.

Winners: Mark Avis, Sarah Forbes, and Shelagh Ferguson

Study: "The Brand Personality of Rocks: A Critical Evaluation of a Brand Personality Scale," published in Marketing Theory

PHYSICS

For discovering why white-haired horses are the most horsefly-proof horses, and for discovering why dragonflies are fatally attracted to black tombstones.

Winners: Gábor Horváth, Miklós Blahó, György Kriska, Ramón Hegedüs, Balázs Gerics, Róbert Farkas, Susanne Åkesson, Péter Malik, and Hansruedi Wildermuth

Study: "An Unexpected Advantage of Whiteness in Horses: The Most Horsefly-Proof Horse Has a Depolarizing White Coat," published in Proceedings of the Royal Society B and "Ecological Traps for Dragonflies in a Cemetery: The Attraction of Sympetrum species (Odonata: Libellulidae) by Horizontally Polarizing Black Grave-Stones," published in Freshwater Biology

BIOLOGY

For two projects: 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.

Winners: Charles Foster and Thomas Thwaites

Books: GoatMan: How I Took a Holiday from Being Human, Thomas Thwaites, published by Princeton Architectural Press and Being a Beast, Charles Foster, published by Profile Books.

LITERATURE

For a three-volume autobiographical work about the pleasures of collecting flies that are dead, and flies that are not yet dead.

Winner: Fredrik Sjöberg

Book: The Fly Trap is the first volume of Fredrik Sjöberg's autobiographical trilogy, En Flugsamlares Vag ("The Path of a Fly Collector"), and the first to be published in English, by Pantheon Books.

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Google Translate Error Accidentally Insults Flat-Earthers
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Google seems to be holding nothing back in its treatment of science deniers. As spotted by Mashable, Google Translate accidentally labels flat-Earthers “crazy” when one particular phrase is translated into French.

You can try this trick for yourself—at least until Google fixes the error. On translate.google.com, select English as the original language, type “I am a flat earther” into the blank field, and choose French as the second language. The phrase translates to “Je suis un fou,” which reads as “I’m a crazy person" when it's translated back into English by clicking the icon with the two arrows on it. (Note: This doesn’t work if "Earther" is capitalized, and it seems to only work for French.)

Google representatives say this wasn't an intentional dig, though. A Google spokesman told CNET, "Translate works by learning patterns from many millions of examples of translations seen out on the web. Unfortunately, some of those patterns can lead to incorrect translations. The error has been reported and we are working on a fix."

Flat-Earthers are those who reject that the Earth is round, instead believing this to be an elaborate conspiracy orchestrated by various governments and space agencies. Members frequently use YouTube as a platform to spread their message, and the UK just held its first Flat Earth convention in April. About 200 people attended.

Intentional or not, this wouldn't be the first time Google snuck an Easter egg into its translation service. One Reddit user discovered that the “world's funniest joke” from Monty Python's Flying Circus translates to “[FATAL ERROR]” when plugged into the translator app. The joke sounds like it’s in German, but the words are actually gibberish and don't translate to anything in particular. In the skit, anyone who hears the joke dies from laughter.

Update: As of May 29, the translation error has been resolved. It now translates to "Je suis un flat earther." 

[h/t Mashable]

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How to Craft the Perfect Gag, According to Buster Keaton
Buster Keaton seen with Donald O'Connor on the set of a film in 1957
Buster Keaton seen with Donald O'Connor on the set of a film in 1957
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Dubbed “The Great Stone Face” for his ability to hold a deadpan expression even as the world (quite literally) crashed down around him, Buster Keaton was “one of the three great silent comedians” in film history, according to filmmaker Tony Zhou.

A video by Zhou, spotted by The Kid Should See This, explains just how Keaton managed to pull off such memorable stunts, and why his scenes continue to influence modern actors and filmmakers. First, Keaton shunned title cards and subtitles, instead opting to advance the story through action. He disliked repetition and thought each movement should be unique, while also insisting on authenticity and proclaiming that a filmmaker should “never fake a gag.” If a gag couldn’t be captured all in one shot, he wouldn’t do it.

The angle and positioning of the camera was also paramount. Many of Keaton’s vaudeville-esque gags were visual in nature, toying with the viewer’s perspective to create illusions that led to hilarious reveals. But for that to be successful, the camera had to remain stationary, and the joke had to play out entirely onscreen.

A low-speed chase scene in Wes Anderson's The Grand Budapest Hotel, where Ralph Fiennes's Gustave H. runs up a long staircase in the background to escape cops, is a modern example of this. “Like Wes Anderson, Buster Keaton found humor in geometry,” Zhou says.

Check out Zhou’s video below.

[h/t The Kid Should See This]

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