Each year, the Ig Nobel (ignoble, get it?) Prizes are given out to the funniest, most outlandish research produced from around the globe. Hosted by the Annals of Improbable Research, the Ig Nobels have been held at Sanders Theatre at Harvard University since 1991. The awards have been given out to "researchers" who proclaimed that black holes fulfill all the technical requirements of Hell, "biologists" who donned stilts and lived among goats, and "scientists" who have endeavored to discover everything from the existence of the five-second rule to the friction of a banana peel. This list documents the weirdest Ig award winners from the past two decades. Some semi-serious, some seriously satirical, this list of funny Ig Nobel winners is unlikely to disappoint.
The Chemists Who Measured If Humans Swim Faster in Syrup or Water
The 2005 Ig Nobel in Chemistry winners, Edward Cussler of the University of Minnesota and Brian Gettelfinger of the University of Minnesota and the University of Wisconsin, took on the age-old question, will humans swim faster or slower in syrup?
Their 2004 study was part of an initiative among chemists to apply “the scientific and engineering principles that underlie chemical engineering” to “areas not thought to be central” to their profession. To conduct the study, Cussler and Gettelfinger dumped more than 300 grams of the thickening agent “guar gum” into a swimming pool and had 16 volunteers (both competitive swimmers and average joes) swim 25 meters through both water and the guar gum substance, using different strokes. The finding? “Neither water nor syrup [produced] consistently faster times.”
The Scientists Who Researched Constipation in Military Personnel
In 1994, scientists W. Brian Sweeney, Brian Kraft-Jacobs, Jeffrey W. Britton, and Wayne Hansen won the award in Biology for their research into the, ahem, bathroom habits of military personnel. After surveying personnel aboard the USS Iwo Jima LPH 2 during Operation Desert Shield with a “bowel function questionnaire,” they published their results in the journal Mil Med.
Their paper, “The constipated serviceman: prevalence among deployed U.S. troops,” confirmed that “whether constipation is defined as infrequent bowel movements or presence of symptoms of constipation, significantly more servicemen will be constipated in the field as compared to their home environment.”
Because of this increased risk of in-country constipation, the scientists recommended that “preventative measures ought to be evaluated.” Gentlemen, we salute you.
The Scientist Who Created a Guide for Identifying Bug Splatters
If you’re the kind of curious explorer who has often wondered about the size, shape, and demographics of the insect splatters on your car, then you should definitely check out Professor Mark Hostetler’s 1997 book That Gunk on Your Car: a Unique Guide to the Insects of North America. It’s the winner of the 1997 Ig Nobel in Entomology. In That Gunk, Professor Hostetler provides an interactive guide for identifying the insect splatters on automobile windows. Forget the natural wonders you might identify with different regions of the US - check out the bugs instead!
The Royal Navy That Said "Boom" Instead of Using Ammunition
In 2000, Ig Nobel awarded their Peace prize to a rather unlikely candidate: the British Royal Navy. They won the prestigious award after budget cuts reduced the amount of live ammunition rounds supplied to different training sites. As a way to save their live rounds, Royal Navy gunners began shouting “bang” through microphones to indicate the firing of canons during training exercises. Although some in the British Parliament questioned the “quality” of this training, the Ministry of Defense insisted it gave the most “bang” for government bucks.
The Statisticians Who Studied the Link Between Height, Shoe Size, and Penile Length
Let’s all applaud Jerald Bain of Mt. San Hospital in Toronto and Kerry Siminoski of the University of Alberta for taking on the age-old innuendo: “Look at how big his feet are! You know what that means, right?”
Their 1993 paper, “The relationships among height, penile length, and foot size,” set out to “determine whether ‘folk myths’ regarding the relationships of penile size to body height and foot size have any basis in fact.”
However, in true myth-busting style, the two scientists found that, in fact, “height and foot size would not serve as practice estimators of penis length” after studying 63 male specimens. They won the 1998 Ig Nobel in Statistics for their hard work.
The Scientists Who Documented an STI Passed Through an Inflatable Doll
For their pioneering work documenting the first-known case of gonorrhea passed through an inflatable doll, Ellen Kleist of Greenland and Harald Moi of Norway won the 1996 Ig Nobel in Public Health. Their 1993 article, “Transmission of gonorrhoea through an inflatable doll,” tells the harrowing tale of a lonely sailor, his night of passion with an inflatable doll, and its groundbreaking aftermath. Although he told it “with some hesitation,” this sailor’s story enhanced sexual health knowledge and practices, extending them into (plastic) regions heretofore unknown.
The Japanese Scientists Who Promoted Inter-Species Communication
In 2002, Japanese scientists Keita Sato, Dr. Matsui Suzuki, and Dr. Norio Kogure won the Ig Nobel for Peace in recognition of their work in promoting inter-species communication. To promote this peace, they created a device called Bow-Lingual, a computer-based dog-to-human translator. Bow-Lingual is built to categorize dog barks into one of six different emotional categories. Bow-Lingual also includes information on understanding the emotions of a dog’s body language. The emotional category of a dog’s bark, when combined with their body language, should give an owner some indication of how to best serve their pooch. No more of that lost in inter-species translation nonsense!
The Scientists Who Gauged the Prevalence of Nose-Picking in Adolescents
Adolescence can be a pretty lonely and awkward time. It can feel like no one could possibly know what what you’re going through. They couldn’t share in your burden. However, Chittaranjan Andrade and B.S. Srihari of the National Institute of Mental Health and Neurosciences in Bangalore, India, found that one aspect of adolescent life is shared. That aspect is nose-picking. Their study, “A Preliminary Survey of Rhinotillexomania in an Adolescent Sample,” reported that, in a sample of “200 adolescents from 4 urban schools,” “almost the entire sample admitted to nose picking, with a median frequency of 4 times per day.”
They won the 2001 Public Health Ig Nobel for their foray into the compulsive nose-picking habits of youth.