With the 2016 Nobel Prize in Medicine and in Physics having already been announced this week, the world is coming together to celebrate the brilliance in research across science, literature, economics, and humanity. But in a historic award steeped in more than a century of worthiness, it can all become a little joyless. Which is why it’s always worthwhile, amid all the pomp and ceremony going on in Sweden and Norway, to pause and reflect the other side of the coin – the Ig Nobel Prizes.
The ceremony is a parody of the Nobel Prize, and now in its 26th year, the annual awards gala continues to hand out accolades for barmy and bemusing pieces of published scientific research. It is worth remembering that while the Ig Nobel can often be likened to the Razzies, the anti-Academy Awards presented to the worst of the worst of the movie business every year, the Ig Nobel honours scientists for thinking outside the box and presenting meticulous research that makes the public “laugh... then think.”
Organised by the Annals of Improbable Research (AIR), a scientific humour magazine, the annual awards ceremony, more often than not attended by the winners who revel in accepting their prizes, takes place at Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
Among the 2016 winners was Thomas Thwaites, who claimed the ‘Biology Prize’ for the week he spent galloping through the Swiss Alps in a tailor-made goat suit. Thwaites spoke to Newstalk in March, telling Sean Moncrieff how he communed with nature and became part of a herd.
“There was this particular goat that was one of the first to come up and smell my beard when I was first introduced to the herd,” Thwaites said. “We just kind of tended to walk around together. I’d be eating on a patch of grass and walk off, and I’d look around and there would be this specific goat. And I could follow her. We just kind of hung out.”
Perhaps the most timely award handed out was offered to the winners of the ‘Peace Prize’, whose paper “On the Reception and Deception of Pseudo-Profound Bullshit” seems very apt for 2016. The research examined the phenomenon of “pseudo-profound bullshit,” which the authors describe as consisting of “seemingly impressive assertions that are presented as true and meaningful, but are actually vacuous,” describing how some people are more receptive to “this type of bullshit.”
The full list of winners of the 2016 Ig Nobel Prizes reads as follows:
- Reproduction Prize
Awarded posthumously to 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.
- Economics Prize
Awarded to Mark Avis, Sarah Forbes and Shelagh Ferguson for assessing the perceived personalities of rocks, from a sales and marketing perspective.
- Physics Prize
Awarded to Gábor Horváth, Miklós Blahó, György Kriska, Ramón Hegedüs, Balász 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.
- Chemistry Prize
Awarded to Volkswagen, for solving the problem of excessive automobile pollution emissions by automatically, electromechanically producing fewer emissions whenever the cars are being tested.
- Medicine Prize
Awarded to 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).
- Psychology Prize
Evelyne Debey, Maarten De Schryver, Gordon Logan, Kristina Suchotzki and Bruno Verschuere for asking one thousand liars how often they lie and for deciding whether to believe those answers.
- Peace Prize
Awarded to 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.
- Biology Prize
Jointly awarded 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 the hills in the company of, goats.
- Literature Prize
Awarded to Frederik Sjöberg for his three-volume autobiographical work about the pleasures of collecting flies that are dea, and flies that are not yet dead.
- Perception Prize
Awarded to Atsuki Higashiyama and Kohei Adachi for investigating whether things look different when you bend over and view them between your legs.