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November 29, 2014

The Ig Nobels strike again

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By Pat Kelly. This year’s Ig Nobel award winners presented the usual bizarre array of research projects and those conducting medical ‘research’ did not let their profession down.

Each year, the Ig Nobel Prize Ceremony strives to present results from the most improbable and sometimes just plain daft research projects and this year yielded a fine crop of mad science.

The 1,200 crowd at Harvard University saw the Medicine Prize awarded to an Australian-Belgian-Dutch team, who measured subjects’ cognitive abilities and decision-making skills when subject to a strong urge to use the bathroom in their study, ‘Inhibitory spillover: Increased Urination Urgency Facilitates Impulse Control in Unrelated Domains’.

The authors explained: “We show that urination urgency correlates with improved performance on color naming but not word meaning trials of a Stroop task. In Study 2 and 3, we show that higher levels of bladder control result in an increasing ability to resist more immediate temptations in monetary decision making. We show that inhibitory spillover effects are moderated by sensitivity of the behavioral inhibition system and can be induced by exogenous cues.” Indeed.

The winners of the Physiology Prize managed to establish that there is ‘No Evidence Of Contagious Yawning in the Red-Footed Tortoise Geochelone carbonaria’ with their project of that name. Meanwhile, the Biology Prize went to another multinational team for their research entitled, ‘Beetles on the Bottle: Male Buprestids Mistake Stubbies for Females (Coleoptera)’, which studied male Julodimorpha bakewelli beetles attempting to copulate with beer bottles and concluded that “colour and reflection of tubercles on the bottle glass are suggested as causes for attraction and release of sexual behaviour”.

However, special mention must be made of the Japanese team who won the Chemistry Prize for their work on developing a ‘Wasabi Alarm’ (there is actually a US patent pending on this one). In the course of their endeavours, the team set about “determining 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”.

And a final honorary mention to Arturus Zuokas, Mayor of Vilnius, Lithuania, who scooped the Peace Prize. Zoukas was honoured “for demonstrating that the problem of illegally-parked luxury cars can be solved by running them over with an armored tank”.

The full list of projects and winners, as well as the list of previous luminaries, is available at http://bit.ly/osKqYF.

pat.kelly@imt.ie