It’s once again the time of year for rewarding some of the most truly remarkable efforts in various fields of science and other research. And no, I don’t mean the Nobel Prizes. I mean the Ig Nobel Prizes.
Now in their 20th year, the prizes are awarded by the magazine Annals of Improbable Research. Unlike the Nobel prizes, the Ig Nobels can and often do reward efforts from previous years that have only just come to the judges’ attention. And rather than marking advancements in human achievement, they recognize projects that “cannot and should not be repeated.” In most, if not all cases, the apparent wackiness of the study does not detract from some genuinely useful findings.
This year’s winners in full:
Biology: A study documenting the sexual behavior of fruit bats, showing that they engage in fellatio to extend the period of intercourse. (Winners: Libiao Zhang, Min Tan, Guangjian Zhu, Jianping Ye, Tiyu Hong, Shanyi Zhou, Shuyi Zhang and Gareth Jones)
Chemistry: A 2000 experiment involving deliberately releasing oil and gas off the coast of Norway to simulate an accidental underwater rupture, research that has become particularly relevant this year. (Winners: Eric Adams of MIT, Scott Socolofsky of Texas A&M University, Stephen Masutani of the University of Hawaii, and BP)
Economics: “The executives and directors of Goldman Sachs, AIG, Lehman Brothers, Bear Stearns, Merrill Lynch, and Magnetar for creating and promoting new ways to invest money — ways that maximize financial gain and minimize financial risk for the world economy, or for a portion thereof.”
Engineering: A technique using a remote control helicopter to collect whale mucus. (Winners: Karina Acevedo-Whitehouse, Agnes Rocha-Gosselin and Diane Gendron.)
Management: A mathematical study showing that organizations could improve efficiency by promoting staff at random. (Winners: Alessandro Pluchino, Andrea Rapisarda, and Cesare Garofalo.)
Medicine: A study showing that the thrills of a rollercoaster could ease asthma. (Winners: Simon Rietveld and Ilja van Beest.
Peace: A study showing that swearing out loud helps people decrease their perceived pain. (Winners: Richard Stephens, John Atkins, and Andrew Kingston)
Physics: A study showing that wearing socks on the outside of shoes makes you less likely to fall over on icy days. (Winners: Lianne Parkin, Sheila Williams, and Patricia Priest)
Public Health: A 1967 study showing that beards are bad news in labs because they attract microbes. (Winners: Manuel S. Barbeito, Charles T. Mathews, and Larry A. Taylor)
Transportation: A study of the expansion of slime mold to find the most efficient way of expanding a railroad network. (Winners: Atsushi Tero, Seiji Takagi, Tetsu Saigusa, Kentaro Ito, Dan P. Bebber, Mark D. Fricker, Kenji Yumiki, Ryo Kobayashi, Toshiyuki Nakagaki)