A treatise on "pseudo-profound bullshit," biologists taking their work too seriously and the scandal-laden German carmaker VW have won prizes at the annual Ig Nobel awards. The prizes were announced late Thursday.
The Improbable Research group announced the winners at the awards ceremony in Harvard University. The Ig Nobel Prizes serve as a celebration of whackier scientific research, albeit often also highlighting how unusual projects can yield useful practical data. As the organizers put it, the awards honor "research that makes people laugh and then think."
The Reproduction Prize was awarded to the late Ahmed Shafik "for studying the effects of wearing polyester, cotton or wool trousers on the sex life of rats, and for conducting similar tests with human males," Improbable Research wrote on their website.
Charles Foster - a British biologist who spent time in the wild as a badger, an otter, a deer, a fox and a bird - won the prize for medicine, together with Thomas Thwaites. Thwaites was honoured for his innovative design of prosthetic limbs that enabled him to move and spend time roaming the hills as a goat would. Thwaites was at Harvard - in his goat avatar - to personally receive his prize.
Two 'prizes' for Germany
German carmakerVolkswagen received a rather tongue in cheek Chemistry Prize. VW was honored for "solving the problem of excessive automobile pollution emissions by automatically, electromechanically producing fewer emissions whenever the cars are being tested," Improbable Research said, in reference to the so-called Dieselgate scandal in which VW used special software to get its cars through US emissions tests.
German scientists also clinched an award for medicine, for a study on itch-scratching. Christoph Helmchen, Carina Palzer, Thomas Münte, Silke Anders and Andreas Sprenger discovered that if you have an itch on the left side of your body, you can relieve it by looking at a mirror and scratching the right side of the body, and vice versa.
A tribute to the absurd
This year's Ig Nobel Peace Prize went to Gordon Pennycook, James Allen Cheyne, Nathaniel Barr, Derek Koehler and Jonathan Fugelsang for their study called "On the reception and detection of pseudo-profound bullshit."
According to the researchers, bullshit is "something that is designed to impress but that was constructed absent direct concern for the truth. Pseudo-profound bullshit, more specifically, "is merely a collection of buzzwords put together randomly in a sentence that retains a syntactic structure."
In a summary of their research paper, Pennycook and his colleagues say that "bullshit is common is everyday life and has attracted attention from philosophers." However, there has been no evaluation of how this "bullshit" was received by its audience. "We are interested in the factors that predispose one to become or to resist becoming a bullshittee," the study's authors say.
A visibly pleased Pennycook tweeted a picture of him holding the certificate.
The LIterature Prize was awarded to Swedish author Fredrik Sjöberg, for his three-volume autobiographical work, "The path of a fly collector," on the pleasures of collecting dead and "not yet dead" flies.
A study called "An unexpected advantage of whiteness in horses: the most horsefly-proof horse has a depolarizing white coat," by Gabor Horvath, Miklos Blaho and their group of German, Swedish, Spanish and Swiss scholars won the Physics prize.
A study on "The brand personality of rocks: a critical evaluation of a brand personality scale" won the Economics Prize. Researchers Mark Avis and Sarah Forbes attended the ceremony at Harvard.
Japanese Atsuki Higashiyama and Kohei Adachi won the Perception Prize for investigating whether things look different when you bend over and view them between your legs.