Laugh first, think later. That’s the theory behind the annual Ig Nobel Awards, which celebrate academia’s most bizarre, irrelevant studies. Past winners have included Dan Quayle, doctors who found that Viagra helps jet-lagged hamsters, and two researchers who proved that sword-swallowing is dangerous. This year’s feature ovulating strippers, intelligent slime and soft drinks that double as spermicide.
Do people actually want to receive these awards? According to
Nature magazine, “The Ig Nobel Awards are arguably the highlight of the scientific calendar.” Launch the gallery to see why scientists are so crazy about Ig.
Chemistry: Coke Kills Sperm
not take heed: Coca-Cola is an effective spermicide. Sharee A. Umpierre, Deborah Anderson and Joseph Hill mixed four different types of Coke with sperm (in test tubes, mind you), and found that Diet Coke is the most lethal sperm killer. No sperm was left standing after its wrath. New Coke wasn’t so deadly: it destroyed only 59 percent of sperm. Again, we can’ emphasize this enough: teenagers, don’t not try this in real life. William Lipscomb and Benoit Mandelbrot raise a toast to the winners of the Ig Nobel chemistry prize.
Nutrition: This is the Sound of Flavor
It’s common knowledge that the smell of food can affect how it tastes, but Massimiliano Zampini and Charles Spence scooped an Ig for showing that sound of food can also alter its flavor. The two researchers modified the sound of a potato chip so it tasted fresher and crisper than it actually was. Something tells me these guys have a future in Frito-Lay’s research department.
Archeology: Those Sneaky Armadillos
Armadillos can change history—or at least the way humans perceive it. Astolfo G. Mello Araujo and José Carlos Marcelino found that rapscallion armadillos, which dig deep into the ground for shelter and protection, can move artifacts several meters away from their original homes, thereby throwing off archeologists.
Medicine: Pricey Placebos
If you’re buying a placebo, make sure it’s an expensive one. Dan Ariely scored an Ig for his work on self-fulfilling medicines: he found that generic, cheap medicines don’t work as well as expensive, dressed-up ones. “When you expect something to happen, your brain makes it happen,” he said. Tell that to_ The Secret_ people.
Biology: The Fleas Knees
Need another reason that cats are better than dogs? Their fleas are weaker. Marie-Christine Cadiergues earned an award for showing that fleas on dogs jump higher than fleas on cats. Cadiergues didn’t think it deserved an Ig, though. “”Despite appearing funny and maybe crazy and useless to some people, this was part of a larger work on the biology of fleas,” she said. What a sore winner.
Cognitive Science: Smarter Slime
Japanese and Hungarian scientists were awarded an Ig for proving that slime can be smart, too. After placing slime in a maze for 10 hours, the gooey mold stopped reaching dead ends and starting sliding through the most direct routes. Now that we know slime is intelligent, do you think Switzerland will enact a Slime Bill of Rights?
Economics: Golden Eggs
Ovulation equals big bucks, according to a study by Geoffrey Miller, Joshua Tybur and Brent Jordan. The University of Mexico researchers won an Ig for finding that exotic dancers who are ovulating earn more money than their less fertile counterparts. They
brought in about $70 an hour during ovulation, and only $35 an hour while menstruating.
Physics: Tie it Up
If you leave wires, string or hair in a pile for too long, they will inevitably tie themselves up in knots. This finding, which is known as the “spontaneous knotting of an agitated string,” won Dorian Raymer and Douglas Smith an Ig in physics. Gamers everywhere can now rest assured that it’s not their fault when the wires of their PS3 and Xbox 360 get tangled up.
Literature: Bastardly Demon
Predictable bastards are awful, but people who seem OK and then act bastardly? They’re even worse. David Sims landed an Ig for studying jerks in his paper “You Bastard: A Narrative Exploration of the Experience of Indignation within Organizations.” Apparently, many people can relate. “When I was taking this around as a seminar paper, everyone was convinced that I had gathered my data in their institution,” he said.