Offbeat: Winners of the 2011 Ig Nobel Awards

Published: October 8, 2011

The 2011 Ig Nobel winners, awarded at Harvard University by the Annals of Improbable Research magazine. PHOTO: WWW.GUARDIAN.CO.UK

The 2011 Ig Nobel winners, awarded at Harvard University by the Annals of Improbable Research magazine. PHOTO: MAGBLOG.AUDUBON.ORG The 2011 Ig Nobel winners, awarded at Harvard University by the Annals of Improbable Research magazine. PHOTO: JOELJEAN.WORDPRESS.COM The 2011 Ig Nobel winners, awarded at Harvard University by the Annals of Improbable Research magazine. PHOTO: FORUM.SANTABANTA.COM The 2011 Ig Nobel winners, awarded at Harvard University by the Annals of Improbable Research magazine. PHOTO: WWW.LIFESLITTLEMYSTERIES.COM The 2011 Ig Nobel winners, awarded at Harvard University by the Annals of Improbable Research magazine. PHOTO: FORUM.SANTABANTA.COM The 2011 Ig Nobel winners, awarded at Harvard University by the Annals of Improbable Research magazine. PHOTO: WWW.GUARDIAN.CO.UK The 2011 Ig Nobel winners, awarded at Harvard University by the Annals of Improbable Research magazine. PHOTO: POPSCI.COM The 2011 Ig Nobel winners, awarded at Harvard University by the Annals of Improbable Research magazine. PHOTO: FORUM.SANTABANTA.COM The 2011 Ig Nobel winners, awarded at Harvard University by the Annals of Improbable Research magazine. PHOTO: FORUM.SANTABANTA.COM The 2011 Ig Nobel winners, awarded at Harvard University by the Annals of Improbable Research magazine. PHOTO: FORUM.SANTABANTA.COM
The 2011 Ig Nobel winners, awarded at Harvard University by the Annals of Improbable Research magazine. PHOTO: FORUM.SANTABANTA

PUBLIC SAFETY: Candian Psychologist John Senders for his experiments which simulate driving on a highway by a blind driver.

In this prize-winning experiment, the visors repeatedly flapped on the driver’s face, temporarily blinding him, while he drove on a major highway.

The psychologist risked his life — and arguably those of fellow drivers — when he took a spin on an eight-lane highway while wearing an unusual hat with a visor that intermittently impeded his vision. The goal of this experiemnt was to figure out how long a driver can afford to look away from the windscreen, while still managing to drive safely. 

MATHEMATICS: Dorothy Martin of the US, (who predicted the world would end in 1954), Pat Robertson of the US (who predicted the world would end in 1982), Elizabeth Clare Prophet of the US (who predicted the world would end in 1990), Lee Jang Rim of Korea (who predicted the world would end in 1992), Credonia Mwerinde of Uganda (who predicted the world would end in 1999), and Harold Camping of the US (who predicted the world would end on September 6, 1994 but subsequently changed the doomsday date to October 21, 2011), for teaching the world to be careful while making mathematical assumptions and calculations. 

PSYCHOLOGY: Karl Teigen for his research on sighing.

Ever wonder why people sigh? Karl Halvor Teigen of the University of Oslo took up this unusual query to research on and consequently found out that people sigh when they feel that they have “given up” on something but think that other people’s sighs are a sign of sadness. Teigen has won the Ig Nobel for psychology.

MEDICINE: Matthew Lewis, Peter Snyder, Robert Feldman, Robert Pietrzak, David Darby, Paul Maruff, Mirjam Tuk, Debra Trampe and Luk Warlop for studying the effects of holding in urine.

We all hold our urine in every now and then. But did you know that if you have to pee urgently, it can adversely affect your cognitive function? Apparently, the need to urinate causes temporary decreases in the function of attentional and working memory, according to findings of a recent research done by European scientists. This Ig Nobel prize-winning research also reveals that people who have better control over their bladders also make better financial decisions.

We’ve all heard of the Nobel Peace Prize, but have you heard about the Ig Nobel Prize? The IgNobels are awarded each year by the Harvard-based Annals of Improbable Research as a light-hearted counterpart to the Nobel Prizes. These offbeat prizes, intended to ‘first make people laugh, and then makes them think’, celebrate the unusual, honour the imaginative and consequently spur people’s interest in science, medicine, and technology. Or perhaps not?

Read more and decide for yourself!

CHEMISTRY: Makoto Imai, Naoki Urushihata, Hideki Tanemura, Yukinobu Tajima, Hideaki Goto, Koichiro Mizoguchi and Junichi Murakami for their wasabi alarm.

How do you wake a deaf person in the middle of the night in case of a fire? By squirting wasabi at them. This fire-alarm system comprising horseradish, invented by Japanese researchers, proved to be a lifesaving device. And their imaginative innovation actually earned them the Ig Nobel prize. Japanese scientists and engineers constructed the 50,000-yen (Rs56975) wasabi alarm. They tested hundreds of different types of odours, including the smell of rotten eggs, before choosing this particular native condiment — a favourite of sushi lovers. Its active ingredient, allyl isothiocyanate, acts as an irritant in the nose that works even when someone is asleep. “That’s why [people] can wake up after inhalation of air-diluted wasabi,” explains Makoto Imai of the department of psychiatry at Shiga University of Medical Science — a member of the winning team. 

PHYSICS: Philippe Perrin, Cyril Perrot, Dominique Deviterne, Bruno Ragaru and Herman Kingma for trying to determine why discus throwers become dizzy, while hammer throwers don’t.

The prize-winning research by European team explains that hammer throwers are able to use spotting techniques to keep their balance which prevents them from getting dizzy. However, discus hurlers move their heads in a manner that may induce motion sickness and hence feel lightheaded. 

BIOLOGY: Daryll Gwynne and David Rentz for discovering that certain kinds of beetles try to mate with certain kinds of Australian beer bottles.

Beetles mate with beer bottles? Yes, that’s apparently true. Certain Australian beetles will attempt to mate with specific used bottles — brown ones with bobbly bits.

The study of buprestid beetles by Daryll Gwynne and David Rentz’ started coincidentally one morning, while both were on a field expedition in Western Australia. They discovered that the insects tried to mate with brown “stubbies” left by the side of the road. “It was just co-incidental that my area of research was Darwinian sexual selection and how sex differences evolve, and here was a classic example taking place in front of my eyes where males were making mating errors,” says Professor Gynne. “It was very obvious the beetles were trying to mate.”

PEACE:  Arturas Zuokas, mayor of Vilnius, Lithuania, won the Ig Nobel peace prize for his heavy-handed way of dealing with parking offenders.

Vilnius, Lithuania apparently has a big car parking issue: entitled luxury car owners use bike lanes as their personal free parking. It’s such a widespread phenomenon that the mass media constantly shows photos of people flouting parking laws. But the city’s mayor, Zuokas, has apparently had enough of these transgressions. He has shown that the problem of illegally parked luxury cars can be simply be solved by running them over with an armoured tank. 

LITERATURE: John Perry for his theory of procrastination

To be a high achiever, one must work on something important, in order to avoid doing something that’s even more important. John Perry reached this conclusion after scrutinising his tendency to avoid seemingly important duties that he’d laid out for himself. He figured out that while he was procrastinating on those tasks, he was actually productively diverting. Mr. Perry advises procrastinators to make a list of the many things they hope to accomplish, and then place a goal like “Learn Chinese” at the very top. “You have to have good self-deceptive skills,” he said. “That’s the key.” 

PHYSIOLOGY: Anna Wilkinson, Natalie Sebanz, Isabella Mandl and Ludwig Huber for their study “No Evidence of Contagious Yawning in the Red-Footed Tortoise.”

Yawns are notoriously transmittable in the human species. It’s almost as if every time one person yawns, the whole world ends up yawning with them. Roughly 40 to 60 per cent of the time this is true. But the contagiousness of the yawn is not just limited to humans; many other primates like dogs are also likely to ‘catch’ yawns from their species and even humans.

But behaviour of tortoises refutes the ‘contagious yawn theory’, as shown in the research by Wilkinson and her colleagues. Why? Because they don’t yawn after seeing their counterparts do so, thus refuting the notion that the ‘spread’ of the yawn is a reflex physical action. This research shows that contagious social yawning is probably the result of complex social interactions rather than an involuntary physical reaction.

Published in The Express Tribune, October 8th, 2011.

Reader Comments (1)

  • John W Senders
    Oct 10, 2011 - 8:28PM

    The article says:
    “PUBLIC SAFETY: Candian Psychologist John Senders for his experiments which simulate driving on a highway by a blind driver. {Canadian, perhaps??} and goes on:

    “In this prize-winning experiment, the visors repeatedly flapped on the driver’s face, temporarily blinding him, while he drove on a major highway.

    The psychologist risked his life — and arguably those of fellow drivers — when he took a spin on an eight-lane highway while wearing an unusual hat with a visor that intermittently impeded his vision. The goal of this experiment was to figure out how long a driver can afford to look away from the windscreen, while still managing to drive safely.”

    Utter nonsense! The person who wrote the commentary alleged to be about my experimental procedure either did not read what I wrote, did not listen to what I said, or, possibly, cannot read or understand English.

    ‘Blind driver’ has nothing to do with my research. In these experiments the translucent (but not transparent) visor attached to the motor-cyclist’s helmet occluded my vision except when I pressed a foot-switch to raise it for a predetermined time such as 1/2 second. It had nothing to do with being blind. Whenever I wished to look at the road I looked at the road. I suspect that you do the same – you look when you think you should. It was a method of measuring the attentional demand of driving. It becomes, therefore, a way of finding out how much attention can safely be directed to things other than driving, like cell-phoning or texting.

    I was not risking either my own or any other person’s life. If I needed to look at the road continuously I merely pressed the foot switch repeatedly so the visor never stayed closed.

    John Senders,

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