Ig Nobel Prize 2013: Who Made it and Who Didn’t? | Top Universities

Ig Nobel Prize 2013: Who Made it and Who Didn’t?

By Jane Playdon

Updated June 26, 2015 Updated June 26, 2015

Harvard University recently hosted its annual Ig Nobel Prize ceremony – an occasion of supreme silliness involving paper airplanes, men dressed in mice suits, and research to set your eyes rolling while wondering about Sherlock.

Winners of these spoof Nobel Prizes include a team for discovering that “people who think they are drunk also think they are attractive” (they won the psychology prize), and another for concluding that “the longer a cow has been lying down, the more likely that cow will soon stand up” (probability prize).

Meanwhile the Peace Prize went to the combined effort by Alexander Lukashenko, president of Belarus, for making it illegal to applaud in public... and his eager police force for arresting a one-armed man for applauding.

The awards are organized by the Annals of Improbable Research, a scientific humor magazine, with the tag-line: “Research that makes people LAUGH and then THINK.”

All the research recognized by the Ig Nobel Prize is legitimate (except for three apocryphal studies in 1991, the first year of the awards). The alcohol study mentioned above appears in the May issue of the British Journal of Psychology, testing placebo effects. And the cow study appears in the April 2010 issue of the journal Applied Animal Behaviour Science, looking at diagnosis of bovine disorders.

If you think the research in the Ig Nobel Awards is bizarre, there’s even more silly science out there! Here are three research conclusions that COULD have received an Ig Nobel – but didn’t:

1. “Drink before you go out, and you’ll end up drinking more overall”

According to a study published in Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research (February edition), “Higher alcohol consumption occurred on evenings with predrinking (7.1 drinks on average) compared with on-premise only (4.2 drinks) and off-premise only (4.3 drinks) evenings.”

So basically, if you drink before you go out, you end up drinking more over an evening. It gets better. The researchers also found if you drink at home first, you end up spending more money than if you hadn’t, and you’re more likely to experience “risky consequences”.

Any ideas why this didn’t get an Ig Nobel Prize?

2. “Snacking and super-sizing is a dieter’s worst enemy”

Research published in PLoS Medicine (June 2011) concludes that contributory factors towards the obesity epidemic are increased snacking and super-sizing, and not so much the energy density of the food. So, it’s not so much the calorie content of each item that makes a difference, but rather how much and how often people eat.

Pass it on people: eat in moderation and you won’t get fat. (I know, who’d have guessed?!)

Perhaps this gem didn’t make it to the Ig Nobel list because it was beaten by a team who determined “the ideal density of airborne wasabi (pungent horseradish) to awaken sleeping people in case of a fire or other emergency, and for applying this knowledge to invent the wasabi alarm” (Ig Nobel Award 2011: Chemistry Prize).

3. “London riots were caused by resentment and sense of injustice”

Many politicians speculated about the cause of the London riots of 2011. A paper was produced called ‘Reading the Riots’, looking into possible motivations. Perhaps China Miéville, a weird fiction author who read the research, sums it up most succinctly:

“What they have discovered, through extensive research and interviews, is that what motivated many of those on the streets was resentment of police, and a deep sense of injustice. Eyes roll with the duh.” – from Miéville’s essay called ‘London’s Overthrow’.

However, ‘Reading the Riots’ also contains information that was not so widely reported, such as the fact that gangs “suspended ordinary hostilities to focus on other targets”, and that “traditional media, particularly television, played a large part” in telling potential rioters where to go, with some interviewees saying it influenced them “more than Twitter, texts, Facebook or BBM”.

So, after much research (coffee and Google), it’s clear that this was never going to beat the study done to determine why coffee spills when you walk with it (Ig Nobel Award for Fluid Dynamics: 2012).

Is this ‘silly science’ really so silly?

Further research (mine, largely based on coffee and Google) has established that there is always going to be research that seems obvious to some and not to others. Making a value judgment can always be argued, and also laughed at. It may seem like just ‘silly science’, but there is always going to be a benefit in looking into things deeper – and if it happens to provoke a chuckle or two… that’s good, right?

What’s the silliest research project you’ve ever heard of? Who would you nominate for an Ig Nobel Prize? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

Image credit: Main picture byMike Benveniste, Annals of Improbable Research

This article was originally published in September 2013 . It was last updated in June 2015

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Written by

Jane Playdon is a TopUniversities.com author and blogger.

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