You may not have heard of the Ig Nobel Prizes, but they’re basically the best thing about science.
They’re a parody of the Nobel Prizes and are given out once a year. But these awards don’t go to the kinds of studies that’ll get anyone a meeting with the president or cure space fever. Instead, the prizes are given out to some of the weirdest, strangest, and just plain funniest academic achievements of the past year.
There are prizes in 10 different categories. Here are this year’s winners:
1. The effect of polyester pants on rats’ sex lives.
The reproduction category was won by the late Ahmed Shafik, of Egypt, for two studies looking at whether polyester, cotton, and wool trousers affected the sex lives of rats and humans.
2. Assessing the perceived personalities of rocks.
Are your rocks rugged? Sincere? Excited? These winners of the economics prize can tell you!
3. Why dragonflies love tombstones.
Nine scientists won the physics prize together for figuring out why certain dragonflies kept wigging out around polished black tombstones. Turns out the polished grave markers look just like water to the bugs!
The scientists also looked at why white-haired horses were so dang good at shooing away flies.
4. The chemistry prize was given to Volkswagen, for making emissions “disappear.”
The chemistry prize this year was a little dig at Volkswagen, who cheated automobile emissions testing.
5. What happens if you scratch an itch while looking in a mirror?
Five scientists in Germany revealed that if you have an itch on the left side of your body, you can fix it by looking into a mirror and scratching the right side instead! For that they won the medicine prize.
6. Scientists ask lying liars about lying.
Scientists asked 1,000 liars about how often and how good they were at lying. Turns out, kids are masters of deception. This won them the psychology prize.
7. “On the Reception of Detection of Pseudo-Profound Bullshit.”
Turns out some people are just bad at detecting what is and what isn’t proactive paradigm-shifting phenomena that’ll revolutionize your energy flow. Who knew? This was the winner of the peace category.
8. For two researchers who learned what it means – what it really means – to be a badger and a goat.
The biology category was jointly awarded to two men: Charles Foster, who lived as a badger, otter, deer, fox, and a bird; and Thomas Thwaites, who created an entire prosthetic goat-suit … to live among the goats.
9. For a three-volume autobiographical work about the pleasure of collecting flies.
Specifically both dead flies and “flies that are not yet dead.” This was the literature prize.
10. “For investigating whether things look different when you bend over and view them between your legs.”
The perception prize was given for finding out that doing this might make images appear brighter and more distinct. Wow.
These are hilarious, but it’s all in good fun.
The winners all have a chance to bow out if they don’t want to take part. And if they do want to accept their awards, they’re invited to Harvard, where they’re greeted with an adoring audience, (real) Nobel laureate emcees, prizes, and even an opera.
Marc Abrahams, who started the prizes, said the prizes are unique because it’s not about who’s the best or the worst or the most important.
“The only thing that matters is that it makes people laugh and then think,” Abrahams said.
And there are a couple things we can take away.
Such as just because something is funny doesn’t mean it can’t still be helpful (imagine using the itchy mirror trick for a kid with chicken pox or in a burn ward). Or maybe these prizes show that science is still a human endeavor, and humans are, in the end, pretty weird, funny little animals ourselves.
But most of all, Abrahams hopes these can be a kind of inkblot test. People so often get told what’s good and bad, but these prizes are so off-the-wall, they kind of defy any pat analysis. Abrahams hopes that each person will end up thinking and deciding for themselves which of these are good, silly, stupid, hilarious, or secretly brilliant.
As for me, I think I’m going to change up my wardrobe and then see what this whole badger thing is about.