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Cannibalism, Roller Coasters and Self-Colonoscopies in the News? It’s Ig Nobel Season

The satirical awards celebrate some of the strangest scientific research

Venting frustrations (Wikimedia Commons)
smithsonian.com

What do voodoo dolls, cannibal diets, roller coasters, and spit all have in common (well, possibly quite a lot if you think about it, but please don’t)? They are all research subjects of Ig Nobel-prize winning studies announced last night at the 28th-annual ceremony at Harvard University.

The prizes are given out for seemingly ridiculous points of study, the type of research that the Annals of Improbable Research, which sponsors the Ig Nobels, claims “first makes people laugh, and then makes them think.”

There are quite a few thinkers on this year’s list. One highlight is a study that showed riding the rattling Big Thunder Mountain Railroad roller coaster at Disneyland could help dislodge kidney stones. Another shows that cannibalism just isn’t very nutritious since humans have such low muscle mass in comparison to other animals (sorry, Hannibal). Then there’s Japanese gastroenterologist Akira Horiuchi, who received the Medical Education prize for giving himself a colonoscopy while in the sitting position.

The literature prize went to a study called “Life Is Too Short to RTFM: How Users Relate to Documentation and Excess Features in Consumer Products.” Aditya Nair at the Australian Broadcasting Network reports the study found, unsurprisingly, that most people never read the manual for complex products and thus never use the advanced features on gadgets. “Personally, once we had the results I abandoned that lingering sense of guilt about not using all the features on most of my products,” co-author Thea Blackler of the Queensland University of Technology tells Nair.

In a series of experiments that might not be adopted by HR anytime soon, research that found employees felt a greater sense of fairness and justice after stabbing a voodoo doll representing their boss than those who did not nabbed the economics prize. “I personally don’t see any harm in torturing a voodoo doll, if it makes you feel better,” Co-author Douglas Brown tells Ian Sample at The Guardian.

The Peace Prize went to a team that studied why people shout and curse inside their own cars. Meanwhile, the Reproductive Medicine award went to an international team that studied impotence by using a ring of stamps to determine if men get erections at night. The chemistry nod went to a paper discussing how well human saliva cleans dirty surfaces, a.k.a. the “spit shine,” and the biology award went to a study showing wine experts could reliably tell whether there was a fly in their wine. In anthropology, a paper showing chimpanzees in zoos imitate human visitors as much as the visitors imitate the apes took home the award.

Frankie Schembri at Science reports each award was accompanied by a 10 trillion bank note from Zimbabwe, worth a few U.S. cents. Acceptance speeches were limited to a minute, and if recipients went over that limit, they were chastised by 8-year-old “Miss Sweetie-Poo” repeating the phrase “Please stop. I’m bored.” At the end of the ceremony the audience folded their programs into paper airplanes and respectfully chucked them at the winners, a hallowed tradition at the Ig Nobels.

About Jason Daley

Jason Daley is a Madison, Wisconsin-based writer specializing in natural history, science, travel, and the environment. His work has appeared in Discover, Popular Science, Outside, Men’s Journal, and other magazines.

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