The Ig Nobels have been announced!

ResearchBlogging.orgEvery year, the crew behind the Annals of Improbable Research honor research that "first makes people laugh, then makes them think." These awards, known as the Ig Nobels, honor some of the most entertaining research published in the past year. The competition is fierce, and the prizes highly coveted. But without further ado! This year, the winners are...


Acevedo-Whitehouse, K., Rocha-Gosselin, A., & Gendron, D. (2010). A novel non-invasive tool for disease surveillance of free-ranging whales and its relevance to conservation programs Animal Conservation, 13 (2), 217-225 DOI: 10.1111/j.1469-1795.2009.00326.x

One of the biggest problems in modern wildlife veterinary research is that it's not always easy to get baseline samples from wild, healthy individuals. This team of girls won the ig nobel for engineering a remote-controlled helicopter which allows researchers to collect expelled breath samples from surfacing whales, thus allowing for studies of the mucosal communities in whale snot - a truly remarkable contribution to the ongoing study of cetacean health.


RIETVELD, S., & VANBEEST, I. (2007). Rollercoaster asthma: When positive emotional stress interferes with dyspnea perceptionâ Behaviour Research and Therapy, 45 (5), 977-987 DOI: 10.1016/j.brat.2006.07.009

Asthma is a serious and rising health concern for many people nowadays, and especially for children. This team won the Ig Nobel for discovering a potentially remarkable therapy: roller coaster rides. Apparently shortness of breath due to asthma is reduced after a loop-di-loop or two. Asthmatic kids everywhere are printing the paper out right now..."See mom?! You simply have to take me to Six Flags!"

Transportation planning

Tero, A., Takagi, S., Saigusa, T., Ito, K., Bebber, D., Fricker, M., Yumiki, K., Kobayashi, R., & Nakagaki, T. (2010). Rules for Biologically Inspired Adaptive Network Design Science, 327 (5964), 439-442 DOI: 10.1126/science.1177894

Who knew slime mold could be so smart? Turns out that when given the task fo finding its food sources, it always lays out a consistent, efficient network between them. The use of this research in city design is still pending.


Lianne Parkin, Sheila M Williams, Patricia Priest (2009). Preventing winter falls: a randomised controlled trial of a novel intervention
Journal of the New Zealand Medical Association, 122 (1298)

Now the physics awards always seem to get a bad rap for being too obvious to too ridiculous, but this study truly uncovers a very important phenomenon. It turns out that wearing socks on top of boots improves traction on icy surfaces. So now you know.


Stephens, R., Atkins, J., & Kingston, A. (2009). Swearing as a response to pain NeuroReport DOI: 10.1097/WNR.0b013e32832e64b1

The next time you spew a sizable string of profanity in response to stubbing your toe on a piece of furniture, you can take comfort in the knowledge that although you just taught your kids some very bad words, you probably helped yourself deal with the pain of the incident. That's because this research team found that swearing does increase pain tolerance. Although, the study does have its limitations, since it used cold-induced pain not trauma, heat, or other means of pain production. However, I feel confident that the findings will hold true no matter how the pain is produced.

Public health

Manuel S. Barbeito, Charles T. Mathews, Larry A. Taylor (1967). Microbiological Laboratory Hazard of Bearded Men Appl Microbiol, 15 (4), 899-906

This team received the Ig Nobel for their substantial contribution to the safety of male microbiologists everywhere, even though their work was published over forty years ago. They discovered that beards can actually serve as vectors for transporting dangerous, disease-causing bacteria out of the lab, putting the scientists, their loved ones, and even the general public at risk. This was found to occur even when the beards were washed with soap and water. So bearded microbiologists beware! You are risking your own and others lives with your facial hair decisions.


The executives and directors of Goldman Sachs, AIG, Lehman Brothers, Bear Stearns, Merrill Lynch, and Magnetar for creating and promoting new ways to invest money -- ways that maximize financial gain and minimize financial risk for the world economy, or for a portion thereof.

While not for a particular research team, the Economics Ig Nobel was none the less given to a worthy group who demonstrated some key economic principles.


Pluchino, A., Rapisarda, A., & Garofalo, C. (2010). The Peter principle revisited: A computational study Physica A: Statistical Mechanics and its Applications, 389 (3), 467-472 DOI: 10.1016/j.physa.2009.09.045

Conventional wisdom suggests that promoting the hardest working, most dedicated or most intelligent employee is the route to success. Not so, suggests the research of this team. Utilizing the Peter Principle, which states that people will continue to get promoted until they end up in a position beyond their capabilities, the team modeled a hierarchical organization and found that a degree of randomness was the most efficient promotion strategy. Which, while very interesting, I'm fairly certain is already in place in much of the business world, at least based on my experiences.


Project Deep Spill. Dr. Oistein Johansen, SINTEF & Dr. Cortis Cooper, ChevronTexaco, 2001.

This award honored an eight-year-old project which intentionally released hydrocarbons off of Norway to determine the fate of such compounds should a deep oil leak occurred. If only they had known BP was going to give them real world data less than a decade later! For providing this support of the research, BP was given the award as well... though, go figure, no one from the company chose to attend the awards ceremony to accept the honor.

And last but never least...

Tan, M., Jones, G., Zhu, G., Ye, J., Hong, T., Zhou, S., Zhang, S., & Zhang, L. (2009). Fellatio by Fruit Bats Prolongs Copulation Time PLoS ONE, 4 (10) DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0007595

No longer will it be refered to as the "birds and the bees," thanks to the key contribution of this team of biologists. Using hours upon hours of bat pornography, they demonstrated that fellatio is a regular part of bat copulation, and indeed, even prolongs mating duration. It turns out oral sex is a natural sexual phenomenon with potentially important reproductive benefits - a fact frat boys everywhere have been trying to convince sorority girls for decades.


More like this

You can always tell it's Nobel season -- because that's when the Ig Nobel prizes are announced! The 2010 laureates have been announced. Here are some "highlights:" ENGINEERING PRIZE: Karina Acevedo-Whitehouse and Agnes Rocha-Gosselin of the Zoological Society of London, UK, and Diane Gendron of…
The autism spectrum disorders (ASDs), including autism and its milder cousin Asperger syndrome, affect about 1 in 150 American children. There's a lot of evidence that these conditions have a strong genetic basis. For example, identical twins who share the same DNA are much more likely to both…
Falsehood!!! Sometimes people say this because it seems reasonable to them ... what, with life originating so long ago and so much geological mushing-around happening since then. But sometimes people say this, and sound quite innocent saying it, because they want to throw the average person off…
Many humans whinge about not getting oral sex often enough, but for most animals, it's completely non-existent. In fact, we know of only animal apart from humans to regularly engage in fellatio - the short-nosed fruit bat (Cynopterus sphinx). The bat's sexual antics have only just been recorded…

Wow whoever wrote up these ignobel descriptions must be at least 60 years old.

"a fact frat boys everywhere have been trying to convince sorority girls for decades"...

lol.... how behind the times is this?

We're numerous decades beyond the sexual revolution, actually. Hello?

By Jack Sprinkauer (not verified) on 01 Oct 2010 #permalink

Well that's the first time I've been accused of coming off older than I am :)

But I'm confused - are you arguing that frat boys don't still try to convince sorority girls of the extreme benefits of oral sex? Because if so, I suggest you spend an evening at a few frat parties...

Still, I would imagine that reproductive success is something that both frat boys and sorority girls would try to avoid.

Reproductive success, maybe, but prolonged duration of copulation... I think most of them would be happy to have that!

Awesome write-up! Nice to see a good summery of the ig-nobels :) I might even do a write-up of the bearded microbiologists one myself, as a non-bearded microbiologist :) Would be interesting to see the affect of long hair though, surely they'd pose just as much, similar threats as beards?

[and I have to say something about the last sentence. It sticks out in an otherwise great article. Things that make me hate it: heteronormative interpretation of 'oral sex' (although mitigated as that seems to be what the bats were using too XD) humour found in the fact that it's still less socially acceptable for woman to express desire for sexual things, general support for the outdated idea that sex in general is about men trying to 'persuade' woman to do stuff they'd rather not]

delete the bit in brackets if you want. but please read it :)

This award honored an eight-year-old project which intentionally released hydrocarbons off of Norway to determine the fate of such compounds should a deep oil leak occurred. These all are great to know about it.

Well the churches that condemned fellatio as "unnatural" can't do that any more, so what do you bet they will just turn around and condemn it as "animal".

I agree Christie, although being a perfectly splendid idea when it comes to my male perspective, it may not be found such a one from the fairer sex. But considering the 'heat of the moment' I'm sure accommodations can be made.

As for the comment "how behind the times is this" none what so ever. To know we all share a 'history' is not the same as expecting all born after you not to create their own.

We might learn from others mistakes, but that never stopped me from making my own, and I expect the same rule to work generation after generation. :)

An interesting summary.
What excites me most is that after the DunningâKruger effect with the Peter Principle, the discovery of an other psycho-sociological phenomenon has been rewarded. Recently a paper on democratic elections tackles a similar problem. In particular why democratic principles result in leaders that are only slightly better than average, which goes into the direction of the Dilbert Principle, a similar but not yet proved phenomenon.

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