10 Ig Nobel Prizes to ‘Make You Laugh then Think’
“It’s like the weirdest thing that you’ll ever go to” — Amanda Palmer
Every scientist, researcher, activist, and literary genius dreams of one day winning the Nobel Prize. It’s not a secret.
It’s not a secret either that for the rest of the world — even for research in slightly different fields — Nobel Prize research can be complicated, boring, and unappealing. Yes, they spark our admiration, yes it’s very prestigious and internationally recognized, yes they might change the course of humanity, but what’s in it for the public?
We take life way too seriously. It’s a constant competition, a need to be the absolute best, and to prove the world we deserve a notable mention.
This is especially true for serious professionals. We run for money; we run for fame; we run for power and for political gains instead of enjoying this ephemeral life.
I found some people who have decided otherwise. They’re educated, smart, successful, and they contribute to the advancement of humanity (in their own way)… and they put a twist on research as we know it.
The Ig Nobel Prize acclaims and recognizes “improbable research.”
“Achievements that make people LAUGH, then THINK”
“They celebrate the unusual, honor the imaginative — and spur people’s interest in science, medicine, and technology.”
I’ve attended a ceremony in person. Actual Nobel laureates present them, and they’re hilarious and parodic, but somehow serious. They appeal to the public with weird and twisted questions that might hold essential truths.
“It’s like the weirdest f-ing thing that you’ll ever go to… it’s a collection of, like, actual Nobel Prize winners giving away prizes to real scientists for doing f’d-up things… it’s awesome.” — Amanda Palmer
Ig Nobel Prize started in 1991. The name is a satire, and IG stands for IGnoble. There is a winner for every field: Chemistry, Medicine, Physics, Economics, Literature, Peace, Psychology, Technology, and the list goes on.
Here are 10 of my favorite.
1. Evidence that pizza might protect against illness and death if the pizza is made and eaten in Italy.
MEDICINE-2019 ¹ ² ³
If the answer is yes, excellent news because Italy is my favorite place, and their pizzas are a piece of heaven.
On a more serious note; The published research showed that pizza consumers are at a lower risk of developing digestive tract cancer, and some ingredients positively influence the risks of cardiovascular diseases. Pizza, however, doesn’t seem to have an essential role in sex hormone-related cancers.
2. Scrotal temperature asymmetry in naked and clothed postmen in France
ANATOMY- 2019 ⁴
Did you ever wonder if your testicles (or your partner’s) are the same? If one is bigger than the other, one is weirder, or one is ‘hotter’?
Well, some French researchers not only wondered but even tested the hypothesis — and in postal employees nonetheless.
They measured the scrotal temperature of men between the ages of 20 and 52 every 2 min in different body positions and both naked and clothed.
Are you holding your breath for the results?
Temperature is very different if the man is dressed or naked, but also, the left scrotum seems to have a consistently higher temperature than the right one regardless of position and activity. This might explain why testicles are often asymmetrical.
3. The degree to which human saliva is a good cleaning agent for dirty surfaces
CHEMISTRY- 2018 ⁵
We do it instinctively: lick our thumb and clean a stain off a surface, often successfully.
These Portuguese researchers wondered why this might be. With elaborate tests and procedures, they determined that α-amylase, present in the human saliva, is the primary molecule responsible for the cleaning properties. They replaced it with amylasic solutions obtained from bread and microorganisms and got the same results.
4. Effectiveness of using Voodoo dolls to retaliate against abusive bosses
ECONOMICS -2018 ⁶
We all have bosses and coworkers who piss us off. And we curse them in our heads or maybe even when we’re in a safe place. But it looks like some employees take the word curse literally.
In 2 experimental studies, Canadian and American economists and psychologists tested the retaliation of subordinates on voodoo dolls and the effect this has on subsequent relationships (i.e., harming a voodoo doll that represents an abusive superior).
It looks like retaliation on voodoo dolls restores the perception of justice and helps the equilibrium of the relationship.
5. Can a cat be both liquid and solid?
PHYSICS- 2017 ⁷
I’m sure we all wondered, let’s not kid ourselves. I tested the hypothesis with my cat so many times, never reaching a conclusion.
Fortunately for us, this guy put together a very complicated protocol to try answering the question. Dr Fardin studied the rheology of cats.
According to his research, more work is needed before reaching a decent and definitive conclusion on whether cats are “isolated fluid systems” or “able to absorb stress from their environment.” He was, however, able to determine that a standard flow time for a cat is between one second to one minute (depending on age and other factors), after which the cat regains its solid form.
6. Effect of live contact with crocodiles on willingness to gamble
ECONOMICS- 2017 ⁸
I don’t gamble, and I don’t have frequent contact with crocodiles, so I can’t tell how this applies to anyone.
The title of this study is:
‘Never Smile at a Crocodile: Betting on Electronic Gaming Machines is Intensified by Reptile-Induced Arousal’
Reptile-induced arousal; I didn’t know this was a thing, but the conclusion is rather interesting (and weird).
They used crocodiles to simulate a feeling of arousal and found that at-risk players were more likely to gamble in these situations. The weird twist is: this finding is only valid for non-negative feelings.
7. Effects of wearing polyester, cotton, or wool trousers on the sex life of rats, and then human males
REPRODUCTION- 2016 ⁹ ¹⁰
In this study, they assessed the contraceptive effects of polyester. To be honest, I, too, find cheap polyester very unappealing, but this is not what they were trying to figure out.
In the rat study, they observed a decrease in sexual activity, which might be a consequence of ‘electrostatic fields’ created by the polyester in the intrapenile structures.
In men, wearing a ‘polyester sling’ renders them azoospermic (semen with no sperm), but (thankfully!) the sperm count returned to normal after experimentation.
8. Appendicitis can be diagnosed by the amount of pain evident when the patient is driven over speed bumps
DIAGNOSTIC- 2015 ¹¹
Try driving over speed-bumps with a migraine or a full bladder. I promise the pain will be intense.
Regardless, this international study focused on acute pancreatitis and examined 101 patients on their way to the hospital to be diagnosed with pancreatitis. 64 out of the 101 patients drove over speed bumps. 34 of them had pancreatitis, and 33/34 reported increased pain going passed a speed bump.
The authors’ conclusion: ‘Asking about speed bumps may contribute to clinical assessment and could be useful in telephone assessment of patients.’
9. Relative pain people suffer while looking at an ugly painting, rather than a pretty painting while being shot [in the hand] by a powerful laser beam
ART- 2014 ¹²
My pediatrician had an aquarium full of fish. He’d ask us to look at it and count the fish every time he was about to give us an injection.
From a cognitive point of view, this research is exciting and reveals evidence that aesthetic content and distractive stimuli modulate pain at the cortical level.
10. People who think they are drunk also think they are attractive
PSYCHOLOGY- 2013 ¹³
The title of this one wins in terms of creativity: ‘Beauty is in the eye of the beer holder.’
First, they observed that the more someone drank alcohol, the more beautiful they believed they were. It’s not groundbreaking; we can intuitively get to the same conclusion in a bar.
They then did a controlled study in which they tested the placebo effect of drunkenness. After consuming alcoholic or non-alcoholic beverages (blindly), the participants delivered a speech and rated how attractive, bright, original, and funny they thought they were.
Participants who thought they were drunk thought higher of themselves.
“From there to here, and here to there, funny things are everywhere.”–Dr. Seuss.
So who reaches the best conclusions? Those who take things too thoughtfully? Or those who take them cheerfully?
Or perhaps the ones who know how to pick up the irony in a pressing and demanding life?