It’s the science that makes you laugh, and then makes you think. It’s a tradition not nearly as established as the Nobel awards, and not nearly as reputable – since 1991, some of the planet’s best and most creative researchers have gathered each year to celebrate and appreciate the most ridiculous scientific discoveries which could actually have practical implications. They are presented by actual Nobel Prize winners, and they’re really fun: the Ig Nobel awards.
This year, winners published research on how to unboil an egg, how intense kissing can be useful, and which male body parts hurt the most when stung by a bee (spoiler alert: male genitalia is among the most painful). A full list of the winners and their studies will be published below.
The ceremony itself is delightful, featuring so-called “24/7 Lectures,” in which “several of the world’s top thinkers each explains her or his subject twice” – once in 24 seconds, and then in seven words that anyone can understand. Notable examples include “Firefly sex” and “Internet cat videos.” It’s really a fun night, but it shows another part of science, one which we don’t really think about that often: the science that seems silly and funny, but is actually important.
The Winners are:
Who: Callum Ormonde and Colin Raston [Australia], and Tom Yuan, Stephan Kudlacek, Sameeran Kunche, Joshua N. Smith, William A. Brown, Kaitlin Pugliese, Tivoli Olsen, Mariam Iftikhar, Gregory Weiss [USA],
Why: Inventing a chemical recipe to partially unboil an egg.
Reference: “Shear-Stress-Mediated Refolding of Proteins from Aggregates and Inclusion Bodies,” Tom Z. Yuan, Callum F. G. Ormonde, Stephan T. Kudlacek, Sameeran Kunche, Joshua N. Smith, William A. Brown, Kaitlin M. Pugliese, Tivoli J. Olsen, Mariam Iftikhar, Colin L. Raston, Gregory A. Weiss, ChemBioChem, epub January 2015.
Who: Patricia Yang [USA/Taiwan], David Hu [USA/Taiwan], and Jonathan Pham, Jerome Choo [USA]
Why: Figuring out that nearly all mammals empty their bladders in about 21 seconds (plus or minus 13 seconds).
Reference: “Duration of Urination Does Not Change With Body Size,” Patricia J. Yang, Jonathan Pham, Jerome Choo, and David L. Hu, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 2014: 201402289.
Who: Mark Dingemanse [The Netherlands/USA], Francisco Torreira [The Netherlands/Belgium/USA], and Nick J. Enfield [Australia/The Netherlands]
Why: Discovering that the word “huh?” (or its equivalent) seems to exist in every human language — and for not being quite sure why.
Reference: “Is ‘Huh?’ a universal word? Conversational infrastructure and the convergent evolution of linguistic items,” Mark Dingemanse, Francisco Torreira, and Nick J. Enfield, PLOS ONE, 2013.
Who: Gennaro Bernile [Italy/Singapore/USA], Vineet Bhagwat [USA], and P. Raghavendra Rau [UK/India/France/Luxembourg/Germany/Japan]
Why: Showing that many business leaders developed in childhood a fondness for risk-taking, when they experienced natural disasters (such as earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, tsunamis, and wildfires) that — for them — had no dire personal consequences.
Reference: “What Doesn’t Kill You Will Only Make You More Risk-Loving: Early-Life Disasters and CEO Behavior,” Gennaro Bernile, Vineet Bhagwat, and P. Raghavendra Rau, Asian Finance Association (AsianFA) 2015 Conference Paper. Accepted for publication in the Journal of Finance. Available at SSRN 2423044.
Who: The Bangkok Metropolitan Police [Thailand].
Why: Offering to pay policemen extra cash if the policemen refuse to take bribes.
Reference: Numerous news reports
Who: Jointly, two groups – Hajime Kimata [Japan/China]; and to Jaroslava Durdiaková [Slovakia/US/UK], Peter Celec [Slovakia/Germany], Natália Kamodyová, Tatiana Sedláčková, Gabriela Repiská, Barbara Sviežená, and Gabriel Minárik [Slovakia]
Why: Experimenting with the benefits or biomedical consequences of intense kissing (and other intimate, interpersonal activities).
Reference: “Kissing Reduces Allergic Skin Wheal Responses and Plasma Neurotrophin Levels,” Hajime Kimata, Physiology and Behavior, vol. 80, nos. 2-3, November 2003, pp. 395-8.
“Reduction of Allergic Skin Weal Responses by Sexual Intercourse in Allergic Patients,” Hajime Kimata, Sexual and Relationship Therapy, vol 19, no. 2, May 2004, pp. 151-4.
“Kissing Selectively Decreases Allergen-Specific IgE Production in Atopic Patients,” Hajime Kimata, Journal of Psychosomatic Research, vol. 60, 2006, pp. 545– 547.
“Prevalence and Persistence of Male DNA Identified in Mixed Saliva Samples After Intense Kissing,” Natália Kamodyová, Jaroslava Durdiaková, Peter Celec, Tatiana Sedláčková, Gabriela Repiská, Barbara Sviežená, and Gabriel Minárik, Forensic Science International Genetics, vol. 7, no. 1, January 2013, pp. 124–8.
Who: Elisabeth Oberzaucher [Austria/Germany/UK] and Karl Grammer [Austria/Germany]
Why: Using mathematical techniques to determine whether and how Moulay Ismael the Bloodthirsty, the Sharifian Emperor of Morocco, managed, during the years from 1697 through 1727, to father 888 children.
Reference: “The Case of Moulay Ismael-Fact or Fancy?” Elisabeth Oberzaucher and Karl Grammer, PLOS ONE, vol. 9, no. 2, 2014, e85292.
Who: Bruno Grossi, Omar Larach, Mauricio Canals, Rodrigo A. Vásquez [Chile], José Iriarte-Díaz [Chile, USA]
Why: Observing that when you attach a weighted stick to the rear end of a chicken, the chicken then walks in a manner similar to that in which dinosaurs are thought to have walked.
Reference: “Walking Like Dinosaurs: Chickens with Artificial Tails Provide Clues about Non-Avian Theropod Locomotion,” Bruno Grossi, José Iriarte-Díaz, Omar Larach, Mauricio Canals, Rodrigo A. Vásquez, PLoS ONE, vol. 9, no. 2, 2014, e88458. [NOTE: The paper is accompanied by a video].
Who: Diallah Karim [Canada, UK], Anthony Harnden [New Zealand/UK/USA], Nigel D’Souza [Bahrain/Belgium/USA/UK], Andrew Huang [China, UK], Abdel Kader Allouni [SYRIA, UK], Helen Ashdown [UK], Richard J. Stevens [UK], and Simon Kreckler [UK],
Why: Determining that acute appendicitis can be accurately diagnosed by the amount of pain evident when the patient is driven over speed bumps.
Reference: “Pain Over Speed Bumps in Diagnosis of Acute Appendicitis: Diagnostic Accuracy Study,” Helen F. Ashdown, Nigel D’Souza, Diallah Karim, Richard J. Stevens, Andrew Huang, and Anthony Harnden, BMJ, vol. 345, 2012, e8012.
Physiology and entomology
Who: The most laudable researcher on the list, Justin Schmidt [USA/Canada, who painstakingly creating the Schmidt Sting Pain Index, which rates the relative pain people feel when stung by various insects, and Michael L. Smith [USA/UK/The Netherlands] for arranging the bees to sting him.
Why: Figuring out, through direct practice, what parts of the human body hurt most when stung by a bee (nostril, upper lip, penis), and which hurt the least (skull, upper arm, middle toe tip).
“Hemolytic Activities of Stinging Insect Venoms,” Justin O. Schmidt, Murray S. Blum, and William L. Overal, Archives of Insect Biochemistry and Physiology, vol. 1, no. 2, 1983, pp. 155-160.
REFERENCE: “Honey Bee Sting Pain Index by Body Location,” Michael L. Smith, PeerJ, 2014, 2:e338.