The 2019 Ig Nobel Prizes

Several readers informed me that the 2019 Ig Nobel Prizes, for research that is supposed to make you “LAUGH and then THINK”, were awarded yesterday at a ceremony at Harvard University. While yesterday’s ten awards aren’t yet summarized on the official website. Most of the publicity in the press was about the anatomy prize, which went to research that tried to determine, using sensors placed on French postmen, whether one testicle is consistently warmer than the other (answer: yes, but only with clothes on).

Here are the prizes with references (the research must be published). Some of the awardees attended the ceremony. There was even a two-time winner!

MEDICINE PRIZE [ITALY, THE NETHERLANDS]
Silvano Gallus, for collecting evidence that pizza might protect against illness and death, if the pizza is made and eaten in Italy.
REFERENCE: “Does Pizza Protect Against Cancer?“, Silvano Gallus, Cristina Bosetti, Eva Negri, Renato Talamini, Maurizio Montella, Ettore Conti, Silvia Franceschi, and Carlo La Vecchia, International Journal of Cancer, vol. 107, no. 2, November 1, 2003, pp. 283-284.

MEDICAL EDUCATION PRIZE [USA]
Karen Pryor and Theresa McKeon, for using a simple animal-training technique— called “clicker training” —to train surgeons to perform orthopedic surgery.
REFERENCE: “Is Teaching Simple Surgical Skills Using an Operant Learning Program More Effective Than Teaching by Demonstration,” I. Martin Levy, Karen W. Pryor, and Theresa R. McKeon, Clinical Orthopaedics and Related Research, vol. 474, no. 4, April 2016, pp. 945–955.

BIOLOGY PRIZE [SINGAPORE, CHINA, AUSTRALIA, POLAND, USA, BULGARIA]
Ling-Jun Kong, Herbert Crepaz, Agnieszka Górecka, Aleksandra Urbanek, Rainer Dumke, and Tomasz Paterek, for discovering that dead magnetized cockroaches behave differently than living magnetized cockroaches.
REFERENCE: “In-Vivo Biomagnetic Characterisation of the American Cockroach,” Ling-Jun Kong, Herbert Crepaz, Agnieszka Górecka, Aleksandra Urbanek, Rainer Dumke, Tomasz Paterek, Scientific Reports, vol. 8, no. 1, 2018: 5140.

ANATOMY PRIZE [FRANCE]
Roger Mieusset and Bourras Bengoudifa, for measuring scrotal temperature asymmetry in naked and clothed postmen in France.
REFERENCE: “Thermal Asymmetry of the Human Scrotum,” Bourras Bengoudifa and Roger Mieusset, Human Reproduction, vol. 22, no. 8, 2007, pp. 2178-2182.

CHEMISTRY PRIZE [JAPAN]
Shigeru Watanabe, Mineko Ohnishi, Kaori Imai, Eiji Kawano, and Seiji Igarashi, for estimating the total saliva volume produced per day by a typical five-year-old child
REFERENCE: “Estimation of the Total Saliva Volume Produced Per Day in Five-Year-Old Children,” Shigeru Watanabe, M. Ohnishi, K. Imai, E. Kawano, and S. Igarashi, Archives of Oral Biology, vol. 40, no. 8, August 1995, pp. 781-782.

ENGINEERING PRIZE [IRAN]
Iman Farahbakhsh, for inventing a diaper-changing machine for use on human infants.
REFERENCE: “Infant Washer and Diaper-Changer Apparatus and Method,” US patent 10034582, granted to Iman Farahbakhsh, July 31, 2018.

ECONOMICS PRIZE [TURKEY, THE NETHERLANDS, GERMANY]
Habip Gedik, Timothy A. Voss, and Andreas Voss, for testing which country’s paper money is best at transmitting dangerous bacteria.
REFERENCE: “Money and Transmission of Bacteria,” Habip Gedik, Timothy A. Voss, and Andreas Voss, Antimicrobial Resistance and Infection Control, vol. 2, no. 2, 2013.

PEACE PRIZE [UK, SAUDI ARABIA, SINGAPORE, USA]
Ghada A. bin Saif, Alexandru Papoiu, Liliana Banari, Francis McGlone, Shawn G. Kwatra, Yiong-Huak Chan, and Gil Yosipovitch, for trying to measure the pleasurability of scratching an itch.
REFERENCE: “The Pleasurability of Scratching an Itch: A Psychophysical and Topographical Assessment,” G.A. bin Saif, A.D.P. Papoiu, L. Banari, F. McGlone, S.G. Kwatra, Y.-H. Chan and G. Yosipovitch, British Journal of Dermatology, vol. 166, no. 5, 2012, pp. 981-985.

PSYCHOLOGY PRIZE [GERMANY]
Fritz Strack, for discovering that holding a pen in one’s mouth makes one smile, which makes one happier — and for then discovering that it does not.
REFERENCE: “Inhibiting and facilitating conditions of the human smile: a nonobtrusive test of the facial feedback hypothesis,” Fritz Strack, Leonard L. Martin, and Sabine Stepper, Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, vol. 54, no. 5, 1988, pp. 768-777.

PHYSICS PRIZE [USA, TAIWAN, AUSTRALIA, NEW ZEALAND, SWEDEN, UK]
Patricia Yang, Alexander Lee, Miles Chan, Alynn Martin, Ashley Edwards, Scott Carver, and David Hu, for studying how, and why, wombats make cube-shaped poo.
REFERENCE: “How Do Wombats Make Cubed Poo?” Patricia J. Yang, Miles Chan, Scott Carver, and David L. Hu, paper presented at the 71st Annual Meeting of the APS Division of Fluid Dynamics, Abstract: E19.0000, November 18–20, 2018.

Yang and Hu won for the second time. The Guardian reports:

Patricia Yang and David Hu, both engineers at Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta, celebrated their second Ig Nobel prize at the ceremony. The researchers bagged their first in 2015 for discovering the “law of urination”, which states that all mammals empty their bladders in about 21 seconds. This year, as part of a larger team, the two share the physics prize for working out how wombats make cube-shaped faeces. The feat, thought to be unique in the animal world, helps them construct stable piles of dung to mark their territory. Contacted about the prize, Yang said: “It solidifies my belief that curiosity brings joy and surprise in science.”

Here’s a video of the two-hour ceremony, which is always hilarious:

31 Comments

  1. JezGrove
    Posted September 13, 2019 at 10:45 am | Permalink

    I see the winners get a cash prize of $10 trillion. Not that they will be rich – it’s Zimbabwean dollars and they are presented with an obsolete banknote of that denomination.

    • gravelinspector-Aidan
      Posted September 13, 2019 at 11:16 am | Permalink

      I wonder what the going price for a million Weimar-Mark note is, in good condition, these days?

      • gravelinspector-Aidan
        Posted September 13, 2019 at 11:34 am | Permalink

        “German “Weimar hyperinflation” 1bln mark banknote, 1923year, (good condition)” is up for £99 just now, so I’d guess auction price would be around 75 quid.

  2. Mike Anderson
    Posted September 13, 2019 at 10:50 am | Permalink

    I’ll never forget my favorite piece of research published in the Journal of Irreproducible Results. It was a brilliant work of economics that determined money was the most effective way of reducing poverty.

    (late 80s or early 90s)

  3. ThyroidPlanet
    Posted September 13, 2019 at 10:55 am | Permalink

    “… >> solidifies << my belief … “ (my emphasis)

    Well played Dr. Yang, well played.

  4. ThyroidPlanet
    Posted September 13, 2019 at 10:57 am | Permalink

    Rand Paul’s eye’s must be lighting up at the work he can claim is wasted U.S. taxpayer money.

    • Ken Kukec
      Posted September 13, 2019 at 11:58 am | Permalink

      Yeah, well, ol’ Rand’s a waste of space in the senate himself. I had some hope for him being a renegade of sorts, but he’s turned into just another Trump lackey for the most part — though I understand he makes a pretty good tackling dummy for his neighbor.

  5. Blue
    Posted September 13, 2019 at 10:58 am | Permalink

    Silly brain … … I initially read thus of
    “using sensors placed on French postmen,” as
    “using seniors placed on French postmen … …

    Sadly for me as one of the latter excerpt,
    apparently … … .not. true.

    Blue

    • Posted September 13, 2019 at 12:34 pm | Permalink

      I do that too. Having a smidge of dyslexia is one of our simplest pleasures.

  6. W.T. Effingham
    Posted September 13, 2019 at 11:04 am | Permalink

    One possible deal-breaking, results nullifying variable in the French Postman study might be the asymmetrical application of sunscreen.

  7. Jon Gallant
    Posted September 13, 2019 at 11:09 am | Permalink

    Every year the Ig Nobels restore my faith in Science. Among my favorites: a 1995 Psychology Prize for a paper on training pigeons to discriminate between paintings by Picasso and Monet; a 2001 Technology Prize to an Australian who obtained an Australian patent on the wheel; and, best of all, the Mathematics Prize in 1994, to the Southern Baptist Church, for its careful estimation of the number of souls in every US County who are going to Hell.

    • Blue mAAs
      Posted September 13, 2019 at 11:13 am | Permalink

      O my: that y1994 Prize to daBaptis’s is ‘ust
      precious, Mr Gallant.
      As SNL’s Church Lady ‘ld state, “Idn’t that spayshall ? !”

      Blue

  8. Posted September 13, 2019 at 11:37 am | Permalink

    I wonder if there has ever been anyone who has won one of these *and* a serious prize like the Nobel, Fields medal, or heck, even an Oscar. 😉

    • RPGNo1
      Posted September 13, 2019 at 12:15 pm | Permalink

      Yep, there is at least one person.

      Andre Geim won the Ig Nobel Prize in 2000 and the Nobel Prize in Physics in 2010.

      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Andre_Geim

      • EdwardM
        Posted September 13, 2019 at 2:27 pm | Permalink

        He levitated a frog! That deserves a Nobel, Ig or not.

        • infiniteimprobabilit
          Posted September 13, 2019 at 11:08 pm | Permalink

          He is a Russian-born Dutch-British physicist of German ancestry.

          That almost deserves a prize in itself. 🙂

          cr

      • Posted September 16, 2019 at 11:50 am | Permalink

        That’s amazing! Even weirder than the small group of people who have a finite Bacon number and a finite Erdos number.

  9. Ken Kukec
    Posted September 13, 2019 at 11:51 am | Permalink

    You ask me, pizza’s the staff of life (though I’ve never considered whether it can protect against staph or strep or cancer even). It can be pretty healthy too, you put some fresh vegetables on top, and especially if it’s made with a whole-grain crust.

    Now, making a decent whole-grain pizza crust is no mean feat, but if it’s done right, it can be pretty tasty. Used to be a spot on South Beach could do it right, and make it tasty, too, though I have to admit, when it comes to pizza, I usually opted for an old-school, family run, authentic Italian joint on the mainland side of Biscayne Bay. Sometimes, ya just gotta say to hell with healthy.

    • John Conoboy
      Posted September 13, 2019 at 1:27 pm | Permalink

      My wife makes a good whole wheat pizza dough. We just had it on Tuesday and there are still a couple pieces left for noshing.

      I may be guilty of blasphemy, but I thought the pizza in Italy was terrible.

      • rickflick
        Posted September 13, 2019 at 5:57 pm | Permalink

        I think the origin or pizza (in Italy) was as a way to use left overs. Maybe the best pizza has to be had after the right kind of meal the day before.

      • Michael Fisher
        Posted September 13, 2019 at 8:39 pm | Permalink

        This is a subject close to your heart John as I recall you mentioned it before. Where in Italy & what was terrible? The best “pizza” [what the eating place called it on the board] I ever had was in Liguria on the Italian Riviera: Slightly leavened, salted square bread, like a focaccia flatbread & the one I enjoyed only had rosemary sprigs & garlic olive oil & black olives on it.

        Most people had it with an anchovy or tomato paste brushed all over & various very, very sparing amounts of veg, plus scrapings of cheese AFTER it came out of the oven. Then splashed with a choice of flavoured olive oils & black peppered. Very tasty & semi-crisp dough – not overpowered by everything else on top.

        I had my pizza & glass of wine & was fully able to carry on with my day – not loaded down with cheese & ‘bready’ thick dough.

        Most pizza anywhere else is [for me] extreme on the toppings & with thick bread base + cheese all over it gets ridiculous, it becomes fuel for 24 hrs & ruins further eating & drinking.

        As for deep dish? A stodgy abomination 🙂

  10. Charles Sawicki
    Posted September 13, 2019 at 12:39 pm | Permalink

    “The physics prize for working out how wombats make cube-shaped faeces. The feat, thought to be unique in the animal world, helps them construct stable piles of dung to mark their territory. Contacted about the prize, Yang said: “It solidifies my belief that curiosity brings joy and surprise in science.””
    Having seen the cubic poo, this is much needed contribution to my fecal knowledge base!

  11. Charles Sawicki
    Posted September 13, 2019 at 12:41 pm | Permalink

    “Does pizza protect against cancer?”
    I’m betting that it does!

  12. Charles Sawicki
    Posted September 13, 2019 at 12:41 pm | Permalink

    “Does pizza protect against cancer?”
    I’m betting that it does!

  13. freiner
    Posted September 13, 2019 at 2:57 pm | Permalink

    It’s good to see some ballsy research get recognized.

  14. Posted September 13, 2019 at 3:35 pm | Permalink

    Cube poo from a.round hole, i stand fasinated.

  15. Murali
    Posted September 13, 2019 at 5:17 pm | Permalink

    Jack and Rexella Van Impe won the prize for figuring out that a black hole could contain hell.

    https://www.improbable.com/2007/12/19/walter-lewin-the-physicist-who-now-knows-hell/

  16. infiniteimprobabilit
    Posted September 13, 2019 at 11:12 pm | Permalink

    “The researchers bagged their first in 2015 for discovering the “law of urination”, which states that all mammals empty their bladders in about 21 seconds.”

    I wish…

    That presumably applies to mature mammals of middle age. Things get a bit more… erratic when one starts to get geriatric.

    Damn! Now I’m going to have to start timing the proceedings when nature, umm, yells at me.

    cr

    • Posted September 14, 2019 at 10:57 am | Permalink

      Fermilab had a lecture on this, just this month. Very interesting. And yes, they did address your question.

    • Lurker111
      Posted September 15, 2019 at 12:03 pm | Permalink

      If you see a geezer with an intense look in his eyes headed for the men’s room, do NOT get in his way …

  17. infiniteimprobabilit
    Posted September 14, 2019 at 8:11 pm | Permalink

    Shock horror, there’s a guy with a sombrero in the audience. Has anyone checked his birth certificate to make sure he’s entitled to wear it?

    (Yeah, snark 😉

    cr


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