Ig Nobel Prizes For Year’s Funniest Scientific Discoveries

Sep 30, 2011 12:42pm
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Nobel Laureates, from left, Rich Roberts, Roy Glauber, Dudley Herschbach, Lou Ignaro, Peter Diamond and Eric Maskin perform during the 21st annual Ig Nobel Awards at Harvard University in Cambridge, Mass., Sept. 29, 2011. Michael Dwyer/AP Photo

The Nobel Prizes are announced every fall for some of the world’s most important research in science, medicine, economics and social change. There is great ceremony, and talk of how the honorees have changed the world.

Thank goodness for the Ig Nobel Prizes.

They were awarded Thursday night at Harvard. They’re not necessarily for the least important research, or for work that was badly done, just for, well, the funniest.

Here’s a list of winners. Trumpets, please, and perhaps a few Bronx cheers if you like:

Medicine: To two teams from the Netherlands and the United States who studied how having the urge to pee can affect one’s decision-making. The first team found that when people have to pee a little, they make quicker, better decisions. The second group found that when they really have to pee, they become basket cases, more dangerous on the road than drunk drivers (“Hey! There’s a gas station! I’ll pull over!”).

To quote from their paper in Neurourology and Urodynamics: “The magnitude of decline in cognitive function associated with an extreme urge to void was as large and equivalent or greater than the cognitive deterioration observed for conditions known to be associated with increased accident risk.”

Psychology: To Karl Halvor Teigen of the University of Oslo “for trying to understand why, in everyday life, people sigh.” (No, we don’t do it when we’re sad, or breathe sighs of relief. Teigen’s survey showed we do it when we’re ready to throw in the towel.)

Physics: To four French physicists and one Dutch colleague, “for determining why discus throwers become dizzy, and why hammer throwers don’t.”

Chemistry: Ever had too much wasabi, the bright green stuff at a Japanese restaurant? Makes your mouth feel like it’s on fire, right?

Seven Japanese researchers applied this observation in order to make perhaps the world’s most original alarm for real fires. They calculated “the ideal density of airborne wasabi (pungent horseradish)” to spray on sleeping people in case of emergency.

Biology: To Darryl Gwynne and David Rentz of Australia “for discovering that a certain kind of beetle mates with a certain kind of Australian beer bottle.”

Mathematics: This was perhaps inevitable: To Harold Camping, the California religious broadcaster who predicted the world would end in May. Several predecessors, including Pat Robertson and Elizabeth Clare Prophet, shared the prize. None came to accept it.

Peace: Al Gore? Martin Luther King Jr.? Gandhi? No, the Ig Nobel Peace Prize goes to Arturas Zuokas, the mayor of Vilnius, Lithuania, “for demonstrating that the problem of illegally parked luxury cars can be solved by running them over with an armored tank.”

We covered the story back in August. Enjoy the video:

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