Mad scientists honoured for 'weird' studies

Mad scientists honoured for 'weird' studies

Spoof Nobel

Nobel Laureates, from left, Rich Roberts (Medicine, 2005), Roy Glauber (Physics, 2005), Dudley Herschbach (Chemistry, 1986), Lou Ignaro (Medicine, 1998), Peter Diamond (Economics, 2010) and Eric Maskin (Economics, 2007) perform at the 21st annual Ig Nobel Awards ceremony at Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachusetts, on Thursday. AP

The annual Ig Nobel prizes, now in their 21st year, were given at Harvard University in front of 1,200 spectators, with real Nobel Prize winners handing out the honours. To win, scientists must “first make people laugh, and then make them think,” according to the Ig Nobel ethos.

The biology prize—often a good source of humour at the Igs—went to Darryl Gwynne of Canada, Australia and the US, and David Rentz of Australia, for their groundbreaking paper titled: “Beetles on the Bottle: Male Buprestids Mistake Stubbis For Females.” Which to the layman translates as: beetles tragically attempting to mate with an Australian beer bottle. Several prizes delved into the extremes of human behaviour under stress.

Take, for example, the medicine prize, won by a Dutch-Belgian-Australian team with “Inhibitory Spillover,” a probe into the age-old challenge of needing to pee at a busy moment.

Research into the psychology and physiology prizes must have been a great deal less stressful.

The psychology prize went to a University of Oslo professor who looked at “why, in everyday life, people sigh?”

The physiology research  concerned yawning in red-footed tortoises. For those who’ve been wondering, the British-Dutch-Hungarian-Austrian team has finally established that there is “no evidence of contagious yawning” in the creatures.

More physically demanding subjects bagged the physics and public safety prizes. A French-Dutch group won the physics prize “for determining why discus throwers become dizzy and why hammer throwers don’t.”

The mathematics prize was awarded jointly to six academics who over the years have emphatically predicted the end of the world, and are still around to hear of their mock-honour. The citation thanked them “for teaching the world to be careful when making mathematical assumptions.” Of course, the last laugh might be on Ig Nobels, because one of those mathematics laureates still believes life will end on October 21 this year. The peace prize was awarded to the mayor of Vilnius in Lithuania, who became so fed up with a parking violator that he took an armoured personnel carrier and simply ran over the offending luxury car. The prizes are tongue-in-cheek and the presentations likewise.

Asked by the master of ceremonies what the laureates receive, an assistant announced: “an Ig Nobel prize.” Asked if there was anything more, she added: “a piece of paper saying they’ve won an Ig Nobel prize.” The prize itself is a board with tiny legs and a depiction of chemistry’s periodic table. “A periodic table,” as the master of ceremonies deadpanned.