On Rats, Rocks, Goats and Liars: Presenting The Ig Nobels

On Rats, Rocks, Goats and Liars: Presenting The Ig Nobels


Goat Man at work and play

With the world too much with us, we honor the winners of the 26th First Annual (yes) Ig Nobel Prizes, celebrating goofy and likely minimally useful science research projects around the world. The brainchild of the science humor magazine Annals of Improbable Research, this year's Ig Nobels were presented Thursday night by real-life Nobel-winning scientists at a chaotic ceremony at Harvard's Sanders Theater. Winners were awarded a $10tn Zimbabwean bill, worth about 40 cents.

Among the winners: The Economics Prize went to a study of the personalities of rocks from a sales and marketing perspective; the Reproduction Prize went to an analysis of the effects of wearing trousers of various fabrics on the sex life of rats; the Literature Prize went to a Swede's three-volume autobiography about the pleasures of collecting flies both dead, and not quite. The Biology Prize was shared by two Britons: one lived in the wild as a badger, otter, fox and stag; the other researched and infiltrated a herd of goats, complete with a set of prosthetic goat legs. "Goat Man" wrote of having a "goat buddy" and almost sparking a goat mob: "I was just sort of walking around  chewing grass, and looked up and suddenly realized everyone else had stopped chewing and there was this tension which I hadn't kind of noticed before, and then one or two of the goats started tossing their horns around..."

A surprise winner for the Chemistry Prize was the law-breaking Volkswagen, for solving the problem of excessive pollution "by automatically, electro-mechanically producing fewer emissions whenever the cars are being tested." They were given a nearly worthless Zimbabwean bill to go toward its massive legal costs. Two prizes seemed especially timely in this election season. The Psychology Prize was given to a coalition from the US, Canada, Germany, Belgium and the Netherlands for studying how often and how effectively 1,000 liars lie - though the researchers also acknowledged the liars might have been lying to them all along. Drumpf was evidently not one of the 1,000.

Finally, the Peace Prize went to a group of philosophers from Canada and the US who published a paper, "On the Reception and Detection of Pseudo-Profound Bullshit." The researchers asked 280 university students to rate the “profoundness” of real and invented statements, often using gibberish, buzzwords and meditative-sounding doggerel like “hidden meaning transforms unparalleled abstract beauty.” They found those students most “receptive to bullshit” were “less reflective" and more likely to hold religious beliefs. “There is little question that bullshit is a real and consequential phenomenon,” they wrote. “Bullshit may be more pervasive than ever before.” Word.

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