Wearing tiny polyester pants affects the sex life of rats. Rocks have distinct brand personalities. Dragonflies have a fatal attraction to black tombstones. Things may look different when you bend over and view them between your legs.
These are just some of the scientific revelations that were celebrated, tongue firmly in check, at the 26th First Annual Ig Nobel Prize ceremony on September 22. The awards are organized by the magazine Annals of Improbable Research, which combs through thousands of scientific journals for amusing (but not necessarily trivial) research news. Recent articles have covered the kissing games of adolescents in Ohio, the health benefits of dirty water and smoking, and feminist glaciers.
This year’s awards—given in honor of “achievements that first make people laugh then make them think”—went to a man who lived as a goat, a man who wrote a multi-volume autobiography on the pleasures of collecting flies, and a team that studied the reception of pseudo-profound bullshit. The awards were held at Harvard University’s Sanders Theatre during a hijinx-filled live webcast that featured genuine Nobel laureates giving out the awards (live tweets gave a taste of the proceedings). The full list is on the Ig Nobel website, but here are a few highlights—and if you happen to be near MIT on September 24, there will be a "half-afternoon" of informal public lectures by the winners.
For studying the effects of wearing polyester, cotton, or wool trousers on the sex life of rats, and for conducting similar tests with human males.
Winners: Ahmed Shafik
Study: "Effect of Different Types of Textiles on Sexual Activity. Experimental study," published in European Urology and "Contraceptive Efficacy of Polyester-Induced Azoospermia in Normal Men," published in Contraception
For assessing the perceived personalities of rocks, from a sales and marketing perspective.
Winners: Mark Avis, Sarah Forbes, and Shelagh Ferguson
Study: "The Brand Personality of Rocks: A Critical Evaluation of a Brand Personality Scale," published in Marketing Theory
For discovering why white-haired horses are the most horsefly-proof horses, and for discovering why dragonflies are fatally attracted to black tombstones.
Winners: Gábor Horváth, Miklós Blahó, György Kriska, Ramón Hegedüs, Balázs Gerics, Róbert Farkas, Susanne Åkesson, Péter Malik, and Hansruedi Wildermuth
Study: "An Unexpected Advantage of Whiteness in Horses: The Most Horsefly-Proof Horse Has a Depolarizing White Coat," published in Proceedings of the Royal Society B and "Ecological Traps for Dragonflies in a Cemetery: The Attraction of Sympetrum species (Odonata: Libellulidae) by Horizontally Polarizing Black Grave-Stones," published in Freshwater Biology
For two projects: to Charles Foster, for living in the wild as, at different times, a badger, an otter, a deer, a fox, and a bird; and to Thomas Thwaites, for creating prosthetic extensions of his limbs that allowed him to move in the manner of, and spend time roaming hills in the company of, goats.
Winners: Charles Foster and Thomas Thwaites
For a three-volume autobiographical work about the pleasures of collecting flies that are dead, and flies that are not yet dead.
Winner: Fredrik Sjöberg
Book: The Fly Trap is the first volume of Fredrik Sjöberg's autobiographical trilogy, En Flugsamlares Vag ("The Path of a Fly Collector"), and the first to be published in English, by Pantheon Books.