Science & Technology

These Are the 10 Hilarious Winners of the 2018 Ig Nobel Prizes

Science, for the most part, is serious. It makes serious predictions and serious discoveries that have a serious impact on the world. But that doesn't mean that scientists themselves are always serious. They've been known to do things like crack their knuckles for 50 years just to prove a point to their mothers and publish papers about curing hiccups with your butt. Serious science has the Nobel Prizes. But silly science? That's got the Ig Nobel Prizes.

Silly Smart

The Ig Nobel Prizes were established in 1991 with the goal of honoring achievements that make people laugh, then think. For 28 years running, 10 Ig Nobels have been awarded annually to real research published in real scientific journals — it's just that the research has to be unusual, improbable, bizarre, or just plain hilarious. "Good achievements can also be odd, funny, and even absurd; So can bad achievements," Improbable Research, the organization that runs the awards, says on its website. "A lot of good science gets attacked because of its absurdity. A lot of bad science gets revered despite its absurdity."

The awards gala takes place each fall at Harvard University, and it's just as absurd as its awardees: there's a Paper Airplane Deluge, a "Welcome, Welcome" speech (consisting of just those two words), half-naked people painted silver to resemble the award, and science opera. Even better, the event recruits real Nobel Laureates to hand out the prizes.

So who won this year? Without further ado, here are the 10 winners of the 2018 Ig Nobel Prizes.

Medicine Prize

The winners: Marc Mitchell and David Wartinger

The paper: "Validation of a Functional Pyelocalyceal Renal Model for the Evaluation of Renal Calculi Passage While Riding a Roller Coaster"

The research: Wartinger and Mitchell proved that roller coasters are a fun and harmless way to pass kidney stones. They filled a silicone model of a kidney with real kidney stones and real urine and took it with them on Big Thunder Mountain Railroad at Disney World, which they rode 60 times. The things people do for science.

Anthropology Prize

The winners: Tomas Persson, Gabriela-Alina Sauciuc, and Elainie Madsen

The paper: "Spontaneous cross-species imitation in interactions between chimpanzees and zoo visitors"

The research: The team showed that chimpanzees at the zoo imitate humans about as often as humans imitate chimpanzees. Scientists spent a month watching the chimpanzees at Furuvik Zoo in Sweden and found that each species imitates the other about 10 percent of the time — and each does it about as accurately as the other, too. This has implications for our understanding of primate communication.

Biology Prize

The winners: Paul Becher, Sebastien Lebreton, Erika Wallin, Erik Hedenstrom, Felipe Borrero-Echeverry, Marie Bengtsson, Volker Jorger, and Peter Witzgall

The paper: "The Scent of the Fly"

The research: They demonstrated that wine experts can identify the smell of a single fly in a glass of wine. The researchers recruited eight of the official quality assessors for the Baden wine region in Germany to smell and taste wine in several glasses, some of which had once contained a female vinegar fly. The fact that the experts could sniff out the fly means that, oddly, humans have a receptor for the pheromone produced by the female vinegar fly. They don't know why.

Chemistry Prize

The winners: Paula Romão, Adília Alarcão, and the late César Viana

The paper: "Human saliva as a cleaning agent for dirty surfaces"

The research: What it says on the tin. These researchers set out to test whether the time-honored practice of polishing stuff with spit was actually a worthwhile cleaning method. After analyzing human saliva with chromatography and testing its power to remove various paints, the team found that, yeah, spit's a pretty good cleaning product. They concluded that it gets its power from beta-amylase — and they used the stuff to create fake saliva, just to prove it.

Medical Education Prize

The winner: Akira Horiuchi

The paper: "Colonoscopy in the Sitting Position: Lessons Learned From Self-Colonoscopy."

The research: It's not entirely clear why Horiuchi performed this experiment on himself. There's something about doing a colonoscopy in the sitting position might be better for people who find it difficult lying down, but there's also something about how endoscopists might be able to do self-colonoscopies as a research tool. Either way, the self-colonoscopy was "simple and efficient" — even though, as Horiuchi admits, that might have just been the result of "the skill of the endoscopist."

Literature Prize

The winners: Thea Blackler, Rafael Gomez, Vesna Popovic, and M. Helen Thompson

The paper: "Life Is Too Short to RTFM: How Users Relate to Documentation and Excess Features in Consumer Products"

The research: This seven-year study found that when people buy a fancy gadget, the majority don't read the manual or use all of the available features. The team found that women are slightly less likely to read the manual than men, younger people are less likely than older people, and more educated people are less likely than less educated people.

Nutrition Prize

The winner: James Cole

The paper: "Assessing the calorific significance of episodes of human cannibalism in the Palaeolithic"

The research: Cannibalism has made an appearance (albeit rare) in human diets going all the way back to the stone age, and previous research has suggested that early humans resorted to cannibalism for its nutritional value. Cole determined that wasn't possible: a human-cannibalism diet is a lot lower in calories than diets made up of other meat.

Peace Prize

The winners: Francisco Alonso, Cristina Esteban, Andrea Serge, Maria-Luisa Ballestar, Jaime Sanmartín, Constanza Calatayud, and Beatriz Alamar

The paper: "Shouting and Cursing while Driving: Frequency, Reasons, Perceived Risk and Punishment"

The research: The team surveyed more than 1,000 drivers in Spain to determine how often and for what reason they hurled insults and expletives at fellow motorists. They found that Spanish drivers shouted and cursed frequently, and that caused a safety hazard on the road.

Reproductive Medicine Prize

The winners: John Barry, Bruce Blank, and Michel Boileau

The paper: "Nocturnal Penile Tumescence Monitoring With Stamps"

The research: There was a good reason for this, we swear. The researchers wanted a better way of figuring out whether an impotent man was still capable of involuntarily rising to the occasion as he slept since this would help doctors know which treatment protocol to use on him. In the past, they either made the men wear a device or rely on a sleeping partner to keep an eye on things, but this study showed that all a man needed was to wear a ring of postage-like stamps around the organ in question. If the stamps had perforated by morning, then they knew.

Economics Prize

The winners: Lindie Hanyu Liang, Douglas Brown, Huiwen Lian, Samuel Hanig, D. Lance Ferris, and Lisa Keeping

The paper: "Righting a wrong: Retaliation on a voodoo doll symbolizing an abusive supervisor restores justice"

The research: This study started from the premise that when an employee feels mistreated, it's only natural for them to want to retaliate against their boss. That's obviously counterproductive, so the researchers wondered if retaliating against a voodoo doll of their boss would work instead. It sure did: Those who got to vent their anger on a voodoo doll reported a lower level of frustration afterward.

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Can't get enough improbable research? Pick up "Ig Nobel Prizes: The Annals of Improbable Research" by Marc Abrahams for even more. We handpick reading recommendations we think you may like. If you choose to make a purchase, Curiosity will get a share of the sale.

Written by Ashley Hamer October 10, 2018

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