Every year since 1991, a very strange ballet has taken place around the most serious science, but focusing on the most incongruous objects. These are the Ig Nobels, which reward teams that have sweated blood, water and neurons on subjects that seem absurd but which, like others and sometimes more than them, advance humanity on the path of knowledge.
Ars Technica looks back on these funny prizes, which reward “success stories that first make people laugh, then make them think”as well as on the winners awarded in 2022.
From the sacrificial or therapeutic enemas of the Mayans to the elk-shaped crash test dummy, from the benefits of ice cream in the treatment of cancer to the synchronization of hearts during a first romantic encounter, there is indeed a lot of fun and, perhaps above all, something to be surprised about.
Ritual enemas among the Maya? Ritual enemas among the Maya. This is what Peter de Smet and Nicholas Hellmuth studied in a 1986 paper devoted to the question, written after the study of pottery testifying to this practice, and after the study of the practice itself, which earned them the Ig Nobel for Art History of the Year.
As Ars Technica explains, the ritual enemas would have been carried out with therapeutic aims and sometimes with a sacrificial objective. During his research, Peter de Smet gave a little of his body to science by testing (in particular) on himself the introduction of an alcoholic solution – the Mayas therefore practicing, before anyone else, what the now called ‘butt chugging’.
In applied cardiology, the Ig Nobel 2022 was awarded to Eliska Prochazkova and her team, who studied, out of one hundred and forty
candidates, some of the possible physical reactions to the little thunderbolt that can seize your stomach during a first romantic encounter.
The most telling correlation described in their article published by Nature? Scientists have noticed that if the hearts of people facing each other synchronized, it was a sign of a desire to see each other again and, perhaps, of a budding love.
In biology, the prize of the year was awarded to Solimary García-Hernández and Glauco Machado for a most bizarre study: that of the effect of extreme constipation on the running speed of scorpions and their ability to reproduce .
This funny idea came from the “autonomy” of certain scorpions which, like lizards with their tail, can, in certain cases and to protect themselves from predators, separate themselves from their appendix. Unfortunately, in their case, the anus is torn out at the same time, which causes total, long-term constipation and leads to inevitable death. But before death, no notable change in the existence of these animals without anus.
The science of the heart
In medicine, it was Marcin Jasiński and his team who received the Ig Nobel of the year for a most valuable study on the usefulness of ice cream in the treatment of cancer.
Of course, this has no effect on the disease itself, but scientists have proven that it allows patients to better tolerate some of the side effects of their chemotherapy – swallowing problems, mouth pain , altered taste, etc.
On the literary side, the annual prize went to Eric Martínez, Francis Mollica and Edward Gibson, who did not tackle any novels but sought to understand why the legal documents were mostly incomprehensible.
Their conclusion? The sibylline jargon of legal blah-blah is not made necessary by the technicality of said legal texts, but comes from psycholinguistic factors. It would therefore be possible, with some effort, to make the whole thing much more accessible.
In economics, Alessandro Pluchino, Alessio Emanuele Biondo and Andrea Rapisarda were awarded “for explaining mathematically why success does not necessarily come to the most talented people, but rather to the luckiest”.
In short: meritocracy, in real life, is (a bit) flan and if people become millionaires, it is not because they work a million times more, or a million times better, but because alongside the already known factors, a secret ingredient (luck) also intervenes in everyone’s destiny.
Finally, let’s mention the prize won in security engineering by Magnus Gens. Swedish, the man was interested in 1994 in the regular collisions of cars in the country with young moose leaving the family fold, and their sometimes dramatic consequences, on animals of course, but also on said cars and their occupants.
With metal, rubber, elbow grease and a lot of courage to bear the doubtless somewhat amused gaze of his colleagues, Magnus Gens has therefore made a crash test dummy (anthropomorphic test device or AED in French) not in the shape of a human, but in the shape of a young moose.
He was thus able to test in real conditions the impacts of a simulated animal on Saabs and Volvos, while specifying, as noted by Ars Technica, that his technique is adaptable to other animals with specific formats and ecosystems, such as the kangaroo or the camel.