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What is the Ig Nobel Prize and who won it this year?


The prize honours achievements that ‘make people laugh, and then think’. (Picture: Getty Images/Westend61)

Last night, ten more scientific studies received an Ig Nobel Prize, in categories such as Psychology and Acoustics.

The winning studies included a knife made from human faeces and a theory about narcissist’s eyebrows.

The Ig prize, also known as the Improbable Research prize, honours achievements that ‘make people laugh, and then think’.

The lucky winners, including Vladimir Putin and Donald Trump, received a paper cube and a £10 trillion dollar bill from Zimbabwe.

What is the Ig Nobel Prize?

The Ig Nobel Prize is a satiric prize awarded annually since 1991.

The Prize celebrates 10 weird achievements in scientific research.

The winning criteria is: ‘achievements that cannot or should not be reproduced’.

Boris Johnson was amongst last night’s winners (Picture: Jack Hill – WPA Pool / Getty Images)

The prize was created to spark people’s interest in science, medicine, and technology.

Usually, the ceremony is held in Harvard University’s Sanders Theatre. However, due to the Covid-19 outbreak, the event was held online this year.

The Ig Nobel Prizes are organized by the magazine Annals of Improbable Research. The ceremony is co-sponsored by the Harvard-Radcliffe Society of Physics Students and the Harvard-Radcliffe Science Fiction Association.

Who won the Ig Nobel Prize this year?

There are ten different categories of Ig Nobel Prize, each weirder than the last.

Prepare to laugh, then think:

Acoustics

Winners: Stephan Reber, Takeshi Nishimura, Judith Janisch, Mark Robertson, and Tecumseh Fitch

Why: For inducing a female Chinese alligator to bellow in an airtight chamber filled with helium-enriched air.

Crocodiles produce loud noises during mating season and the team wanted to learn more about their vocal production systems.

Medical Education

Winners: Jair Bolsonaro of Brazil, Boris Johnson of the United Kingdom, Narendra Modi of India, Andrés Manuel López Obrador of Mexico, Alexander Lukashenko of Belarus, Donald Trump of the USA, Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey, Vladimir Putin of Russia, and Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedow of Turkmenistan

Why: 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. (They did not collect their prize).

Psychology

Winners: Miranda Giacomin and Nicholas Rule

Why: For devising a method to identify narcissists by examining their eyebrows.

They say eyes are the windows to the soul, but could this be backed by science?

Giacomin and Rule found that narcissists prefer to sport thick brows, as it makes them distinctive and gives them attention.

Two scientists won the prize for devising a method of identifying narcissists by their eyebrows (Picture: Getty Images)

Peace

Winners: The governments of India and Pakistan

Why: For having their diplomats ring each other’s doorbells in the middle of the night, and then run away before anyone had a chance to answer the door.

India and Pakistan are nuclear rivals, and have a history of wars and conflicts. Though these childish pranks have not brought peace to the nations, it is rather funny.

Physics

Winners: Ivan Maksymov and Andriy Pototsky

Why: For determining, experimentally, what happens to the shape of a living earthworm when one vibrates the earthworm at high frequency.

Economics

Winners: Christopher Watkins, Juan David Leongómez, Jeanne Bovet, Agnieszka Żelaźniewicz, Max Korbmacher, Marco Antônio Corrêa Varella, Ana Maria Fernandez, Danielle Wagstaff, and Samuela Bolgan

Why: For trying to quantify the relationship between different countries’ national income inequality and the average amount of mouth-to-mouth kissing.

This study was an online survey of kissing habits of more than 3,000 people in 13 countries.

Winner Chris Watkins, a psychologist at the University of Abertay, said: ‘If kissing, as hypothesised, is an important gesture for keeping a long-term relationship going, our data show that people engage in it more in economically harsher environments’.

Management

Winners: Xi Guang-An, Mo Tian-Xiang, Yang Kang-Sheng, Yang Guang-Sheng, and Ling Xian Si, five professional hitmen in Guangxi, China

Why: For managing a contract for a hit job in an amusing way.

After accepting payment to perform the murder, Xi Guang-An then instead subcontracted the task to Mo Tian-Xiang, who then instead subcontracted the task to Yang Kang-Sheng, who then instead subcontracted the task to Yang Guang-Sheng, who then instead subcontracted the task to Ling Xian-Si.

Each subsequently enlisted hitman received a small percentage of the fee, and nobody actually performed the murder.

Entomology

Winner: Richard Vetter

Why: For collecting evidence that many entomologists (people who study insects) are afraid of spiders, which are not insects.

Insects are defined by having six legs, and spiders (famously) have eight.

Vetter concluded that fear of spiders from an early age was not overcome by a career handling insects.

Medicine

Winners: Nienke Vulink, Damiaan Denys, and Arnoud van Loon

Why: For diagnosing a long-unrecognized medical condition: Misophonia, the distress at hearing other people make chewing sounds.

ASMR Mukbang YouTube videos would be hell for those with the condition.

Materials Science

Winners; Metin Eren, Michelle Bebber, James Norris, Alyssa Perrone, Ashley Rutkoski, Michael Wilson, and Mary Ann Raghanti

Why: For showing that knives manufactured from frozen human faeces do not work well.

There is a story of an Inuit man who fashions a knife from frozen faeces, kills a dog, turns its bones into a sled, and disappears into the night.

Eren and his team proved that this would be impossible. And gross.

To see the full list of winners, visit the Improbable Research website.

Watch the full ceremony below.

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