It’s hard to imagine a reasonable reason why someone would fashion a knife out of their own excrement, but Metin Eren found one. Since childhood, Eren has been fascinated by an urban legend claiming that an Inuit man in Canada made a knife out of his own excrement. Eren put the urban legend to the test and disproved it. Now, his achievement — and several others — have been celebrated in the Ig Nobel awards
The Ig Nobel awards are more than just satire — they’re a way to look at the lighter side of science and celebrate the more unusual of studies and events.
“We collect improbable research,” writes the Improbable Research magazine, the primary sponsor of the Ig Nobel Awards, a spoof of the Nobel Awards. “Real research, about anything and everything, from everywhere. Research that’s maybe good or bad, important or trivial, valuable or worthless.”
“Our goal is to make people LAUGH, then THINK. We also hope to spur people’s curiosity, and to raise the question: How do you decide what’s important and what’s not, and what’s real and what’s not — in science and everywhere else?”
This year’s honored improbable research featured a team that induced a female Chinese alligator to bellow in an airtight chamber filled with helium-enriched air to see if the alligator bellows change.
Another eerie study found that many entomologists (researchers who study insects) are terrified of spiders (which are not insects), noting that the two extra legs make a big difference. Psychologists Miranda Giacomin and Nicholas Rule were also honored for devising a method to identify narcissists by examining their eyebrows, while Nienke Vulink, Damiaan Denys, and Arnoud van Loon diagnosed a long-unrecognized medical condition (misophonia, the distress at hearing other people make chewing sounds) by chewing gun.
But perhaps the most interesting and ‘out there’ study is still Eren’s. After fashioning a dagger from his own frozen poop, he put it to the test; it didn’t go too well.
“The poop knives failed miserably,” he said in a telephone interview with PBS. “There’s not a lot of basis empirically for this fantastic story.”
But wait, it gets better
If you thought the science Ig Nobel prizes are good, wait ’til you see the other ones. Among the ones ‘celebrated’ for their achievements on medical education are the heads of state of Brazil, the UK, Mexico, Belarus, the US, Turkey, Russia and Turkmenistan — “for using the Covid-19 viral pandemic to teach the world that politicians can have a more immediate effect on life and death than scientists and doctors can.” This was the second Ig Nobel award received by the Belarus head of state Alexander Lukashenko. In 2013, he received the award for making it illegal to applaud in public (he shared that year’s prize with the Belarus police, which arrested a one-armed man for clapping).
Another Ig Nobel award was given to the diplomats of India and Pakistan for “surreptitiously ringing each other’s doorbells in the middle of the night, and then running away before anyone had a chance to answer the door.” Surprisingly, not even one diplomat accepted the prize.
Lastly, the ‘Management Prize’ was offered to five professional hitmen from Guangxi, China. The five managed a contract for a murder by subcontracting each other. The first hitman got the contract and subcontracted another hitman, who subcontracted another hitman, and so on. All the subsequent hitmen received a smaller percentage of the fee and ultimately, no one performed the murder. They were all charged and sentenced, however, which is probably why they weren’t present for the online ceremony.
You can read all about this year’s winners and the organizers here.