Have you ever wondered why so many people do not read manuals or how many calories are in the human body? Or that sticking a voodoo doll that represents your awful boss with pins can help reduce tension in the workplace? The winners of this year's Ig Nobel prizes have covered you. These and other unusual research themes were honored tonight during a ceremony at Sanders Theater at Harvard University.
The Ig Nobels, founded in 1991, are a good-hearted parody of the Nobel Prizes and honors "achievements that make people laugh and think about it". The prizes were always seen as a celebration of scientific follies, an impression reinforced by the ceremony of the unapologetically competitive awards. The festivities include mini-opera's, scientific demo's and the 24/7 lectures, where experts have to explain their work twice: once in 24 seconds and the second in just seven words. Acceptance speeches are limited to 60 seconds, strictly enforced by an eight-year-old girl with the nickname "Miss Sweetie-Poo", who interrupts those who exceed the time limit by repeating: "Please stop, I'm bored." Until they stop.
"The research that is being honored may seem ridiculous, but that does not mean that it has no scientific merit."
It's all fun and fun. But there is also a serious side to the Ig Nobels. The research that is honored seems ridiculous at first glance, but that does not mean that it has no scientific merit. Take the Ig Nobel from 1912 for physics, awarded to French researchers to investigate why dry spaghetti often breaks into more than two pieces when it is bent. That work led to a new flexible paint brush in Adobe Illustrator 5. More importantly, it is critical to investigate how cracks form and spread in different types of materials, is crucial for detecting imminent failure in, for example, bridge spans or human bones. Last month, MIT physicists published a follow-up document. But probably more people will read about breaking spaghetti than reading an academic paper entitled "Checking fracture cascades by turning and extinguishing."
Founder Marc Abrahams admits that when he first made the Ig Nobel prizes and the accompanying Journal of Irreproducible ResultsHe struggled to come up with a snappy slogan that captured the company's full intentions. He relied on science that can not or may not be reproduced, but in his head he has always told only half of the story. Only after years of talking with a reporter did he strike the current slogan.
The reporter in question liked the opportunity to scoff at what he considered a frivolous and therefore useless science, referring to a married couple who invented a special kind of underwear that contained a carbon filter, the better to catch gases from, well yes, fart. Abraham pointed out that the woman in that couple was suffering from Crohn's disease, a serious inflammation of the bowel that affects 1.6 million people in the US alone. One of the side effects is mainly the emission of miserly gases; the underwear was a way to improve her quality of life.
One of my favorite articles in 2015 was from a few Berkeley physicists who noticed a peculiarity when they scattered their wedding rings with coffee one day. They decided that a wedding ring would turn more like a boomerang than a coin because of the hole in the middle. The work has that silly element of Ig Nobel. But it can also help one day to improve the design of hydrofoils, speedboats or race cars, for example to achieve a better balance between the dueling forces of friction and aerodynamics as they glide over a surface.
Even when there is no direct benefit, there is still a strong argument to make on the basis of pure curiosity. Scientists naturally have a curious mind and it is good to occasionally encourage a random line of research. At least one recipient of Ig Nobel, Andre Geim, has won a bona fide Nobel Prize, albeit for a different line of research.
It is in this spirit of curiosity and sense of play that we offer you the 2018 Ig Nobel Prize winners.
Laugh: Marc Mitchell and David Wartinger, for the use of roller coaster rides to speed up the passage of kidney stones.
To think: Kidney stones account for about 300,000 visits to emergency care every year, and patients usually wait for the stones to pass, which can be a long and painful process. The receivers heard enough anecdotal reports from people who more easily passed stones during bungee jumping or riding roller coasters (such as the Big Thunder Mountain Railroad ride in Walt Disney World) that they found it worthwhile to investigate. If you have ever had kidney stones, you appreciate that a rear position on a roller coaster is a good way to pass them on faster.
LaughTomas Persson, Gabriela-Alina Sauciuc, and Elaine Madsen, for gathering evidence, in a zoo that chimpanzees humans imitate so often, and about as well, as people imitate chimpanzees.
To think: Imitation is the purest form of flattery. It is also crucial for human development, especially when it comes to social ties and the transfer of skills and knowledge. It has been assumed that chimpanzees and other non-human primates were not involved in imitation games. This research into the interactions between chimpanzees and visitors to the zoo suggests that this may not be the case. The chimps turned out to be more like humans by mixing in imitation games than previously thought.
Laugh: Paul Becher, Sebastien Lebreton, Erika Wallin, Erik Hedenstrom, Felipe Borrero-Echeverry, Marie Bengtsson, Volker Jorger and Peter Witzgall, for proving that wine experts reliably the presence of a single fly in a glass of wine.
To think: Feminine fruit flies release a pheromone with a strong unpleasant odor that is easily detected by humans, making them a great way to separate male and female fruit flies. The researchers were able to identify the specific pheromone so powerful that a single female fly could spoil a glass of wine. After all, fruit flies love fruity things, like diving into that glass of wine that you try to taste. Thanks to science, when a fly gets into your wine, you will immediately know the "out" smell and taste if it was a female fly. You can mourn her passing along with the loss of an excellent year.
LaughPaula Romao, Adilia Alarcao and the late Cesar Viana, for measuring the extent to which human saliva is a good cleaning agent for dirty surfaces.
To think: Admit, you are known to occasionally use a little saliva to rub a stain every now and then. Conservationists prefer their own saliva when cleaning delicate surfaces such as gold leaf or painted ceramics. The experiment of the authors showed that intuition is a good science: saliva cleans gilt surfaces in particular better than other cleaning agents used by nature conservationists. They even identified the responsible component, bringing us a step closer to producing a synthetic version of saliva for cleaning.
Laugh: Akira Horiuchi, for the medical report, "Colonoscopy in the Sitting Position: Lessons learned from Self-Colonoscopy."
To think: Colonoscopies are never pleasant, but some people have more difficulty than others. There is a long tradition of scientists who use themselves as guinea pigs – in this case to investigate whether it might be better to perform a colonoscopy while sitting in a seated versus the usual lying position. That is exactly what the receiver did, not just once, but four different times, with varying discomfort. So even the experiences of some patients can vary. He called for further study to compare sitting and lying positions to determine if the former might be better for problem patients.
Laugh: Thea Blackler, Rafael Gomez, Vesna Popovic and M. Helen Thompson, for documenting that most people who use complicated products do not read the manual.
To think: The people who design our consumer products (mobile phones, DVD players, etc.) often complain that customers do not read the manual and thus never use all the great advanced features. The customers feel overwhelmed by "feature bloat" and find those manuals not very useful, they often prefer to find out things by tinkering themselves. As the recipients say in their newspaper: "Life is too short for RTFM." Insight into who RTFM can and can not help companies to design better manuals in the future, which, let's face it, most of us will still not read.
Laugh: James Cole, for calculating that the calorie intake of a human cannibalism diet is significantly lower than the calorie intake of most other traditional meat diets.
To think: Why would anyone want to calculate the nutritional value of the human body, except members of the Donner party? Someone who is interested in studying the rare cases of cannibalism throughout history, that is who – not only in modern people but also in fossil relics from the Palaeolithic era. It turns out that the human body does not have a particularly high nutritional value, especially compared to other types of meat. This suggests that there were mainly social and cultural reasons that made use of cannibalism.
LaughFrancisco Alonso, Cristina Esteban, Andrea Serge, Maria-Luisa Ballestar, Jaime Sanmartin, Constanza Calatayud and Beatriz Alamar, for measuring the frequency, motivation and effects of shouting and cursing while driving a car.
To think: Most of us tend to mumble a little bit of cursing when they get stuck in traffic, but about a quarter of us are particularly aggressive when it comes to shouting and cursing with other drivers (especially, it seems, in Spain ). The recipients examined the frequency of this behavior and the possible stress factors behind it, as well as the impact on road safety. Most people regard such behavior as relatively harmless, while that level of aggression is in fact related to a higher number of accidents (a major cause of death and injury worldwide).
Laugh: John Barry, Bruce Blank and Michel Boileau, for the use of stamps to test whether the male reproductive organ functions properly – as described in their research: "Nightly wound tumescence monitoring with stamps".
To think: Impotence is certainly embarrassing, but it can also be a symptom for more serious conditions (eg diabetes, lymphoma or arteriosclerosis). One way to see the difference between impotence that is "psychogenic" and impotence with an underlying physical cause is whether or not the patient gets an erection while sleeping. Of course you can join your member at night on a tension meter or ask your sexual partner to follow your nightly erections. But it is so much easier to wrap the "stamp ring" (similar in size to Christmas stamps) around it at night and simply check the stamp ring & # 39; at night broke through the perforations because of an erection.
Laugh: Lindie Hanyu Liang, Douglas Brown, Huiwen Lian, Samuel Hanig, D. Lance Ferris and Lisa Keeping, to investigate whether it is effective for employees to use Voodoo dolls to take revenge against insulting bosses.
To think: Even the recipients state in their paper that "it is difficult to offer direct practical implications of our study." But if you have a supervisor who routinely subjects you to public ridicule, scapegoat or other abuse, chances are you will eventually retaliate as a reflexive attempt to restore a sense of justice. That usually escalates the situation and can ultimately have a negative impact on the company results. A visit to a voodoo doll that represents your manager with pins can be purifying. It is a kind of psychological tool to restore the balance of the feeling that you are at a disadvantage, and it could be a trigger for discussion on other non-confrontational strategies to address this general problem in the workplace.