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 "Mathematicians" Who Incorrectly Predicted the Apocalypse
The 2011 Ig Nobel in Mathematics had six independent recipients. It was awarded to individuals who taught “the world to be careful when making mathematical assumptions and calculations.”
The recipients? Dorothy Martin of the USA; Pat Robertson of the USA; Elizabeth Clare Prophet of the USA; Lee Jang Rim of Korea; Credonia Mwerinde of Uganda; and Harold Camping of the USA.
What did they have in common? Each predicted a specific date for the world’s end, and it turned out their predicted apocalypses... weren’t so accurate. Because of this, Ig Nobel applauded their (dis)service to the world of mathematical predictions.
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 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 Physicists Who Measured the Friction Between a Shoe and a Banana Peel
In 2012, a team of Japanese physicists took on a question that has plagued cartoon-viewers for decades: can you actually slip and fall on a banana peel?
To answer this question, the physicists measured the friction created between a human shoe, a banana peel, and linoleum. They found that, in fact, a banana peel produces less friction between the shoe and the floor than another similar object would. In other words, the banana peel kind of creates a slipping hazard! They blame the peel’s “follicular gel” for the added lubrication that reduces friction. This research won the 2014 Ig Nobel in Physics.