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.
“Does knuckle cracking lead to arthritis of the fingers?” This is the question that Dr. Donald L. Unger of Thousand Oaks, California, spent 50 years trying to answer. And it won him the 2009 Ig Nobel in Medicine. To conduct his research, Dr. Unger cracked only the knuckles on his left hand at least twice a day, never cracking those on his right hand. “Thus, the knuckles on the left were cracked at least 36,500 times, while those on the right cracked rarely and spontaneously."
After 50 years of cracking, Dr. Unger found that “there was no arthritis in either hand, and no apparent differences between the hands.”
Talk about dedicating your life to science!
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!
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.
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.