September 23, 2016: Not to be confused with the august Nobel Prize, Thursday night saw the awarding of this year’s Ig Nobel Awards, which are given to scientific studies that “make people laugh, and then think.”
While the studies are certainly offbeat, the science is real, but the awards are intended to “celebrate the unusual, honour the imaginative — and spur people’s interest in science, medicine, and technology.”
Here are the 2016 winners, awarded Thursday at Harvard University’s Sanders Theater:
The Reproduction Prize went to the late Ahmed Shafik of Egypt, 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.
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His 1993 paper documented that rats who wore polyester or polyester-cotton blend pants were less sexually active than those who wore cotton or wool pants or conformed to rat norms and wore no garments of any kind. The paper suggested that “electrostatic fields” created by polyester pants could play a role in impotence.
The Economics Prize went to the British and New Zealand team of Mark Avis, Sarah Forbes, and Shelagh Ferguson, for assessing the perceived personalities of rocks, from a sales and marketing perspective.
The Physics Prize went to an international team (Gábor Horváth, Miklós Blahó, György Kriska, Ramón Hegedüs, Balázs 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.
German company Volkswagen took the Chemistry Prize for solving the problem of excessive automobile pollution emissions by automatically, electromechanically producing fewer emissions… whenever the cars are being tested.
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The Medicine Prize went to Germany’s 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).
The international team of Evelyne Debey, Maarten De Schryver, Gordon Logan, Kristina Suchotzki, and Bruno Verschuere won the Psychology Prize for asking a thousand liars how often they lie, and for deciding whether to believe those answers.
The American-Canadian team of Gordon Pennycook, James Allan Cheyne, Nathaniel Barr, Derek Koehler, and Jonathan Fugelsang took the Peace Prize for their scholarly study called “On the Reception and Detection of Pseudo-Profound Bulls–t”.
Two Brits shared the Biology Prize. Charles Foster was honored for living in the wild as, at different times, a badger, an otter, a deer, a fox, and a bird; and Thomas Thwaites, for creating prosthetic extensions of his limbs that allowed him to move in the manner of goats, and spend three days roaming hills in the company of a herd.
Sweden’s Fredrik Sjöberg took the Literature Prize for his three-volume autobiographical work about the pleasures of collecting flies that are dead, and flies that are not yet dead.
Japan’s Atsuki Higashiyama and Kohei Adachi won the Perception Prize for investigating whether things look different when you bend over and view them between your legs.
The Ig Nobel prizes were first awarded in 1991 to highlight bad science, but evolved into their current form over time.
Winners reportedly win $10 trillion in cash, paid out in a Zimbabwean currency that was abandoned in 2009.