2013 Ig Nobel Prizes awarded for absurd achievements

File photo.
File photo.

The 2013 Ig Nobel prize winners were announced Thursday, Sept. 12 at Harvard University. Each year the magazine “The Annals of Improbable Research” awards researchers who make the strangest contributions to science; “achievements,” according to the Ig Nobel prize website, “that first make people laugh, and then make them think.”

The categories this year include medicine, psychology, biology, astronomy, engineering, physics, probability and public health. The prizes, handed out by actual Nobel laureates, have been awarded each year since 1991, and this year’s winners are no less absurd.

The 2013 medicine winning paper, “Auditory stimulation of opera music induced prolongation of murine cardiac allograft survival and maintained generation of regulatory CD4+CD25+ cells” studied the effects of music listening on mice with heart transplants.

The study found that the heart transplants survived longer in mice exposed to opera and Mozart than those exposed to New Age music, like Enya.

The psychology prize winner, “‘Beauty Is in the Eye of the Beer Holder’: People Who Think They Are Drunk Also Think They Are Attractive,” examined the effects of alcohol on self-perception. The study found that participants (who, the abstract points out, were non-students) who thought they had consumed alcohol and later delivered a speech rated their performance better.

“However,” the authors write wryly, “ratings from independent judges showed that this boost in self-evaluation was unrelated to actual performance.”

This research complements an early study documenting the “beer goggles” effect where intoxicated individuals perceive increased attractiveness in members of the opposite sex.

Ig Nobel winners are often far more imaginative than they are practical. The physics winners studied the possibility of humans running on the surface of water as the basilisk lizard and water strider insects do. They concluded that under the moon’s gravity, some human runners would be able to avoid sinking.

An anti-hijacking system for airplanes won the engineering prize. Detailed in US Patent 3,811,643, the system involves dropping the would-be hijacker through a trap door, imprisoning the hijacker in a capsule, dropping the capsule through bomb bay doors and parachuting the capsule safely into the arms of waiting police officers, summoned via radio.

The Ig Nobel subjects range from the extraordinary to in-depth discussions of the extraordinarily mundane. On the extraordinary side, the winners of a joint prize in biology and astronomy discovered that dung beetles navigate by the Milky Way, making them a part of the small club of known celestial navigators (birds, seals and humans).

On the everyday side, a group from Japan won the chemistry prize for its investigation of the enzyme that makes people cry while cutting onions. The winners of the probability prize found that the longer a cow sits, the more likely it is to stand up, while the length of time a cow has been standing has no bearing on its likelihood of sitting down.

The peace prize went to both Alexander Lukashenko, the president of Belarus, and the Belarus State Police. Belarus outlawed applause in public directed towards anyone but war veterans. The police later arrested Konstantin Kaplin, a disabled man with only one arm, for clapping as part of a protest.

The winners with the most absurd experimental procedure were Brian Crandall and Peter Stahl who swallowed a shrew without chewing and “carefully examining everything excreted during subsequent days.” They reportedly did this to observe the effects of the human digestive system on various bones.

Last, but not least, the public health prize went to “Surgical Management of an Epidemic of Penile Amputations in Siam,” which documents a surgical procedure for reimplantation which, according to the authors, “should be successful regardless of the method of anastomosis, provided that the amputated part is not mutilated, decomposed or partially eaten by a duck.”

A few choice winners from previous years include “Leaning to the Left Makes the Eiffel Tower Seem Smaller,” “How to Procrastinate and Still Get Things Done,” “Dizziness in Discus Throwers is Related to Motion Sickness Generated While Spinning,” “Swearing as a Response to Pain,” “Microbiological Laboratory Hazard of Bearded Men,” “Are Full or Empty Beer Bottles Sturdier and Does Their Fracture-Threshold Suffice to Break the Human Skull?”, “Does Knuckle Cracking Lead to Arthritis of the Fingers?”, “The Role of Auditory Cues in Modulating the Perceived Crispness and Staleness of Potato Chips,” “The Role of Armadillos in the Movement of Archaeological Materials: An Experimental Approach,” “The Definite Article: Acknowledging ‘The’ in Index Entries,” “Ultrasonic Velocity in Cheddar Cheese as Affected by Temperature,” “The Significance of Mr. Richard Buckley’s Exploding Trousers: Reflections on an Aspect of Technological Change in New Zealand Dairy-Farming between the World Wars,” “The Effect of Country Music on Suicide,” “An Analysis of the Forces Required to Drag Sheep over Various Surfaces,” “Chickens Prefer Beautiful Humans,” “An Ecological Study of Glee in Small Groups of Preschool Children” and “Farting as a Defence Against Unspeakable Dread.”

About the Author

John Muyskens

John Muyskens is the Print editor for the 2014-15 school year. Computers have fascinated him since he was able to work a mouse (rest in peace, Doug Engelbart). When he is not fiddling with his page in the Chimes or designing posters for the SAO, you may find him studying that most poorly-named academic field: computer science.

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