It’s that time of year again, and what a marvellous crop of erudition is laid out before us.
The 2016 Ig Nobel Prizes were awarded on Thursday night, September 22, 2016 at the 26th First Annual Ig Nobel Prize Ceremony, at Harvard’s Sanders Theatre. The ceremony was webcast live.
REPRODUCTION PRIZE [EGYPT] — 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.
REFERENCE: “Effect of Different Types of Textiles on Sexual Activity. Experimental study,” Ahmed Shafik, European Urology, vol. 24, no. 3, 1993, pp. 375-80.
REFERENCE: “Contraceptive Efficacy of Polyester-Induced Azoospermia in Normal Men,” Ahmed Shafik, Contraception, vol. 45, 1992, pp. 439-451.
ECONOMICS PRIZE [NEW ZEALAND, UK] — Mark Avis, Sarah Forbes, and Shelagh Ferguson, for assessing the perceived personalities of rocks, from a sales and marketing perspective.
REFERENCE: “The Brand Personality of Rocks: A Critical Evaluation of a Brand Personality Scale,” Mark Avis, Sarah Forbes, Shelagh Ferguson, Marketing Theory, vol. 14, no. 4, 2014, pp. 451-475.
WHO ATTENDED THE CEREMONY: Mark Avis and Sarah Forbes
PHYSICS PRIZE [HUNGARY, SPAIN, SWEDEN, SWITZERLAND] — 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.
REFERENCE: “An Unexpected Advantage of Whiteness in Horses: The Most Horsefly-Proof Horse Has a Depolarizing White Coat,” Gábor Horváth, Miklós Blahó, György Kriska, Ramón Hegedüs, Balázs Gerics, Róbert Farkas and Susanne Åkesson, Proceedings of the Royal Society B, vol. 277 no. 1688, pp. June 2010, pp. 1643-1650.
REFERENCE: “Ecological Traps for Dragonflies in a Cemetery: The Attraction of Sympetrum species (Odonata: Libellulidae) by Horizontally Polarizing Black Grave-Stones,” Gábor Horváth, Péter Malik, György Kriska, Hansruedi Wildermuth, Freshwater Biology, vol. 52, vol. 9, September 2007, pp. 1700–9.
WHO ATTENDED THE CEREMONY: Susanne Åkesson
CHEMISTRY PRIZE [GERMANY] — Volkswagen, for solving the problem of excessive automobile pollution emissions by automatically, electromechanically producing fewer emissions whenever the cars are being tested.
REFERENCE: “EPA, California Notify Volkswagen of Clean Air Act Violations”, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency news release, September 18, 2015.
MEDICINE PRIZE [GERMANY] — 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).
REFERENCE: “Itch Relief by Mirror Scratching. A Psychophysical Study,” Christoph Helmchen, Carina Palzer, Thomas F. Münte, Silke Anders, Andreas Sprenger, PLoS ONE, vol. 8, no 12, December 26, 2013, e82756.
WHO ATTENDED THE CEREMONY: Andreas Sprenger
PSYCHOLOGY PRIZE [BELGIUM, THE NETHERLANDS, GERMANY, CANADA, USA] — Evelyne Debey, Maarten De Schryver, Gordon Logan, Kristina Suchotzki, and Bruno Verschuere, for asking a thousand liars how often they lie, and for deciding whether to believe those answers.
REFERENCE: “From Junior to Senior Pinocchio: A Cross-Sectional Lifespan Investigation of Deception,” Evelyne Debey, Maarten De Schryver, Gordon D. Logan, Kristina Suchotzki, and Bruno Verschuere, Acta Psychologica, vol. 160, 2015, pp. 58-68.
WHO ATTENDED THE CEREMONY: Bruno Verschuere
PEACE PRIZE [CANADA, USA] — 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”.
REFERENCE: “On the Reception and Detection of Pseudo-Profound Bullshit,” Gordon Pennycook, James Allan Cheyne, Nathaniel Barr, Derek J. Koehler, and Jonathan A. Fugelsang, Judgment and Decision Making, Vol. 10, No. 6, November 2015, pp. 549–563.
WHO ATTENDED THE CEREMONY: Gordon Pennycook, Nathaniel Barr, Derek Koehler, and Jonathan Fugelsang
BIOLOGY PRIZE [UK] — 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.
REFERENCE: GoatMan; How I Took a Holiday from Being Human, Thomas Thwaites, Princeton Architectural Press, 2016, ISBN 978-1616894054.
REFERENCE: Being a Beast, by Charles Foster, Profile Books, 2016, ISBN 978-1781255346.
WHO ATTENDED THE CEREMONY: Charles Foster, Thomas Thwaites. [NOTE: Thomas Thwaites’s goat suit was kindly released for Ig Nobel purposes from the exhibition ‘Platform – Body/Space’ at Het Nieuwe Instituut in Rotterdam, and will be back on display at the museum from 4 October 2016 till 8 January 2017.]
LITERATURE PRIZE [SWEDEN] — Fredrik Sjöberg, for his three-volume autobiographical work about the pleasures of collecting flies that are dead, and flies that are not yet dead.
REFERENCE: “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. Pantheon Books, 2015, ISBN 978-1101870150.
WHO ATTENDED THE CEREMONY: Fredrik Sjöberg
PERCEPTION PRIZE [JAPAN] — Atsuki Higashiyama and Kohei Adachi, for investigating whether things look different when you bend over and view them between your legs.
REFERENCE: “Perceived size and Perceived Distance of Targets Viewed From Between the Legs: Evidence for Proprioceptive Theory,” Atsuki Higashiyama and Kohei Adachi, Vision Research, vol. 46, no. 23, November 2006, pp. 3961–76.
WHO ATTENDED THE CEREMONY: Atsuki Higashiyama
Last night saw the science community again honouring those whose efforts to usher-in a better world shine the brighter for their sheer persistence & dedication. Courtesy of Improbable Research here are some of the key winners from last night’s bun-fest.
PHYSICS PRIZE [JAPAN]: Kiyoshi Mabuchi, Kensei Tanaka, Daichi Uchijima and Rina Sakai, for measuring the amount of friction between a shoe and a banana skin, and between a banana skin and the floor, when a person steps on a banana skin that’s on the floor.
NEUROSCIENCE PRIZE [CHINA, CANADA]: Jiangang Liu, Jun Li, Lu Feng, Ling Li, Jie Tian, and Kang Lee, for trying to understand what happens in the brains of people who see the face of Jesus in a piece of toast.
PSYCHOLOGY PRIZE [AUSTRALIA, UK, USA]: Peter K. Jonason, Amy Jones, and Minna Lyons, for amassing evidence that people who habitually stay up late are, on average, more self-admiring, more manipulative, and more psychopathic than people who habitually arise early in the morning.
PUBLIC HEALTH PRIZE [CZECH REPUBLIC, JAPAN, USA, INDIA]: Jaroslav Flegr, Jan Havlíček and Jitka Hanušova-Lindova, and to David Hanauer, Naren Ramakrishnan, Lisa Seyfried, for investigating whether it is mentally hazardous for a human being to own a cat.
BIOLOGY PRIZE [CZECH REPUBLIC, GERMANY, ZAMBIA]: Vlastimil Hart, Petra Nováková, Erich Pascal Malkemper, Sabine Begall, Vladimír Hanzal, Miloš Ježek, Tomáš Kušta, Veronika Němcová, Jana Adámková, Kateřina Benediktová, Jaroslav Červený and Hynek Burda, for carefully documenting that when dogs defecate and urinate, they prefer to align their body axis with Earth’s north-south geomagnetic field lines.
ART PRIZE [ITALY]: Marina de Tommaso, Michele Sardaro, and Paolo Livrea, for measuring the 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.
ECONOMICS PRIZE [ITALY]: ISTAT — the Italian government’s National Institute of Statistics, for proudly taking the lead in fulfilling the European Union mandate for each country to increase the official size of its national economy by including revenues from prostitution, illegal drug sales, smuggling, and all other unlawful financial transactions between willing participants.
MEDICINE PRIZE [USA, INDIA]: Ian Humphreys, Sonal Saraiya, Walter Belenky and James Dworkin, for treating “uncontrollable” nosebleeds, using the method of nasal-packing-with-strips-of-cured-pork.
ARCTIC SCIENCE PRIZE [NORWAY, GERMANY]: Eigil Reimers and Sindre Eftestøl, for testing how reindeer react to seeing humans who are disguised as polar bears.
NUTRITION PRIZE [SPAIN]: Raquel Rubio, Anna Jofré, Belén Martín, Teresa Aymerich, and Margarita Garriga, for their study titled “Characterization of Lactic Acid Bacteria Isolated from Infant Faeces as Potential Probiotic Starter Cultures for Fermented Sausages.”
Let’s be honest, when you think about crocodiles & alligators (if you think about them at al), you think of them lumbering around on the ground or lying in wait in the water – not climbing trees. However a University of Tennessee study has found that the beasties can climb trees
The team observed checked on species on 3 continents, Africa, Australia, & North America, & examined earlier studies & anecdotal evidence. They found that there are four species that regularly climb trees, & how close they got to heaven depended on their size. The smaller animals were able to climb higher than the larger ones & some species were observed climbing as far as four metres high in a tree & five metres along a branch.
“Climbing a steep hill or steep branch is mechanically similar, assuming the branch is wide enough to walk on,” the study reported. “Still, the ability to climb vertically is a measure of crocodiles’ spectacular agility on land.”
The beasties seen climbing trees, both at night & during the day, were nervous at being approached, jumping into the water when an approaching observer was no more than10 metres away. (They can jump?)
“The most frequent observations of tree-basking were in areas where there were few places to bask on the ground, implying that the individuals needed alternatives for regulating their body temperature,” the authors wrote. “Likewise, their wary nature suggests that climbing leads to improved site surveillance of potential threats & prey.”
So I guess it’s back to hiding under the bed with a broom handle for protection (they can’t jump on you under the bed, & there’s no point in trying to climb a tree to get away).
From those clever people at XKCD
It’s that time of year again, & once more the Ig Nobel prizes have been dolled out to the great, the good & the slightly unhinged in the scientific community. I’ve set-out some of the highlights for any of you who missed this glittering event.
Covered by ThursdayAgain some months ago a joint Ig Nobel prize (in biology & astronomy) went to South Africans Marcus Byrne & Clarke Scholtz & Marie Dacke, Emily Baird & Eric Warrant of Sweden, for their discovery that dung beetles use the Milky Way to orient themselves at night.
The Ig Nobel for physics went to Alberto Minetti & his colleagues Yuri Ivanenko, Germana Cappellini, Nadia Dominici & Francesco Lacquaniti for demonstrating that people could run on water in lunar gravity. His group scaled up a mathematical model of a lizard running on water to human dimensions & the model showed that a person running on water on Earth would need superhuman strength (& feet a square metre each in size). In lunar gravity, however a person wearing diving fins on their feet might manage it. To test this, the group set up a hoist over a pool that bore most of the weight of a fin-equipped runner. Four of the six volunteers were able to run for 10 seconds at simulated lunar gravity (presumably the others drowned).
The Ig Nobel prize in medicine went to Tokyo medical researchers Masateru Uchiyama, Xiangyuan Jin, Qi Zhang, Toshihito Hirai, Atsushi Amano, Hisashi Bashuda & Masanori Niimi. Curious to see if music could reduce the immune response that leads to transplant rejection, they transplanted hearts from one strain of mice to another, which normally causes lethal rejection. They report that mice with mismatched hearts who listened to the Orchestra & Chorus of the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden (playing Verdi’s La Traviata) for 7 days lived two to three times longer than those that listened to pure tones or “new age” music. The effects of heavy metal, techno & hip hop have yet to be determined. With tickets to the ROH running at about €200 for the good seats, this is only likely to be available as a treatment for Russian billionaire rats or those with very good medical insurance.
The “beer goggles” effect is well known for making drinkers think that other people are more attractive than they might otherwise appear. The Ig Nobel prize in psychology was handed to researchers who showed the effect extends to making people who are drunk (or think they are drunk) consider themselves more attractive. American Brad Bushman & colleagues Laurent Bègue, Oulmann Zerhouni, Baptiste Subra & Medhi Ourabah, all in France, gave half of a group of French students drinks containing enough alcohol to make them slightly inebriated, & gave the rest non-alcoholic drinks. They told half of each group the truth about what they had consumed & lied to the sober half. Then they filmed each participant delivering a speech & asked them to rate how attractive they looked in the footage. The students who had drunk alcohol, or who had been told they had drunk alcohol but actually had not, both rated themselves as more attractive than did the group of people who were sober & knew it. The researchers reported their findings in a paper titled “ ’Beauty is in the eye of the beer holder’. Of course French students all believe they are beautiful anyway, it comes from years of being lied to by their grandmothers.
Finally & most spectacularly, the Ig Nobel peace prize went to Alexander Lukashenko, the well known game fisherman & president of Belarus, for making it illegal to applaud in public, & to the Belarus state police, who arrested a one-armed man for applauding. The 2011 law was aimed not at those clapping the president’s opponents, but to protesters who clapped ironically during his own speeches. When hundreds of these were rounded up by police &appeared in court, they included an innocent bystander, Konstantin Kaplin, who was convicted of “applauding in public” despite the fact that he has only one arm.
You have to admit, it makes the Oscars look pretty tame by comparison.